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A Change of Plans : Nonstop partying in exotic locales? Not this spring break. As many college students take stock of their lives--and wallets--serious pursuits take priority. Some opt for volunteer work or--gasp!--studying.

March 28, 1994|GLEN JUSTICE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ft. Lauderdale. Daytona Beach. Palm Springs. Lake Havasu. All are time-tested spring break datelines.

What about Bluff, Utah? Or East Palo Alto?

As the weather heats up and classrooms empty out this week and next, TV newscasts will glow with images of sand and surf. But many Los Angeles students say their spring breaks won't be anything like the party on TV.

Rather than head-banging, some choose to do volunteer work locally or abroad. Others head home to the folks' house to dodge the costs of living for a week. And still more work traditional jobs, flipping burgers or pulling heavy hours at an on-campus site to finance the coming semester.

Dinesh DeSilva, a 22-year-old USC senior, spent last year's break painting houses and doing light construction work on a Navajo Indian reservation in Utah.

"(Partying) can be done anytime," he said. "But an opportunity like (that) doesn't come very often."

Alternative spring break programs--low-cost trips sponsored by colleges and universities that offer an educational or public service component to the vacation--are catching on. "It's a growing national thing," said Martin Gonzalez, a graduate assistant at USC's Student Volunteer Center. "A lot of universities are doing it."

USC has been offering programs for three years. Stanford has been doing it for nearly a decade. UCLA also offers a program, and Loyola Marymount has in years past.

At Stanford, the goal of the spring break alternative is articulated clearly in the promotional flyer.

"Within the walls of a private, privileged institution, one is sheltered from poverty and other problems that a large portion of the world's population experiences," it says. "Thus, Alternative Spring Break Projects are designed to help students go beyond their Stanford campus to explore and learn about issues concerning the community."

Stanford's program sends students to Native American reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as Oakland, East Palo Alto and San Francisco's Chinatown.

At USC, students can opt for the reservation in Utah or choose to learn about environmental issues while cleaning fire damage in Altadena. A third program focuses on the roots of homelessness and the crisis in public education locally by taking students to an elementary school in the Pico-Union district, a homeless shelter in Pasadena and a women's shelter in South-Central Los Angeles.

All USC trips cost about $100, Gonzalez said. Students eat their meals and spend their nights in the shelters or on the reservation and, when they aren't working, are treated to lectures by experts.

"It's a great interactive experience," Gonzalez said. "Last year, we got people who had done no volunteer work and found it intriguing. We get people who just want to do something, and we get people who are looking for an adventure."

Susana Bugadin, 20, is enrolled in USC's Homelessness and Education program that will take place here in Los Angeles. A sociology major, Bugadin said the project is a way to keep productive over the break.

"Volunteerism, for me, is a distraction from school work," she said. "I enjoy it tremendously. Most important is the sense of satisfaction I get from doing something for the community. I like to give. I'm not rich, so what I give is time and dedication."

DeSilva said last year's trip was entirely different from anything he had done before. He liked it so much that he is going to volunteer again this year, this time locally.

"Instead of the normal 'go to Cabo' spring break, I was able to go to a community I'm completely unfamiliar with and help others," said DeSilva, whose major is international finance. "It's nice to help people who really need it and to make a difference, even if it's a small one. It's nice to get out of L.A. and submerge yourself in a culture you know very little about."

Whether or not they are volunteering, many students have chosen this year to pass on the traditional party destinations. Although Mexico, Hawaii and other holiday locales continue to draw, travel agents say exotic destinations are becoming less popular.

"(Students) don't have the disposable income to spend on a week drinking in Mexico," said Lucie Lena, manager of the travel service at UCLA. "Times are changing."

She said concrete figures were not available but added that the number of students traveling this year is probably lower than last year, despite a recent surge in last-minute travel plans. Other local schools report the same.

"There are less people traveling," Lena said. "A lot just don't have the money to go."

*

Frank Harris, a Loyola Marymount University freshman, said: "I have to work. It's a drag, but then I'd probably just sit around here anyway. Most of my friends aren't doing anything for the same reasons--work and finances."

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