Columbia College | Columbia Engineering

Project Development Resources

Not Sure Where to Begin?

Start by considering these questions:

  • What are your objectives? What issues do you want to explore? What kind of civic engagement work do you have in mind? What social justice issue interests you?
  • Where, geographically, would you like to be? Can you get there?
  • What is your ideal budget?
  • What will your role as an outsider be and how can you best fill that role?
  • What is the cost per participant?
  • Are the dates compatible with the university calender (i.e., do not conflict with class schedules)?
  • What organizational connections do you have or can you create in the country selected?
  • Are you able to set-up the project on your own or do the realities of the site necessitate partnering with an outside organization?
  • Will local groups or community partners trust you as outsiders and be candid or would you need a third party to facilitate this?
  • Is it cost effective or prohibitive to have an organization arrange your logistics?

Working with Your On-Site Sponsor Organization

Your sponsor organization plays a critical role in your experience, and you cannot overlook or underestimate the importance of your relationship with your on-site contacts.

As you communicate with them, keep the following in mind:

  • Housing: Will the host organization provide it for you? Can they recommend churches, hostels, campgrounds, or schools that might offer a safe, inexpensive place to stay? Where can you shower? Will you be in private rooms with beds and linens or on a multi-purpose room floor in sleeping bags with one common sleep space? Are there curfews or other rules?
  • Cost: What fees are associated with partnering with this host? Who is the money going to?
  • Meals:What meals can they provide? Can they accommodate vegetarian and other special diets? Can you store groceries and prepare your own meals? Where can you find cheap eats?
  • Work time vs. free time: When will you have free time? What time are you expected to start and end your meetings or service projects? What are the local attractions?
  • Service: Does the civic engagement project include service? What does the host hope to have your group accomplish? What skills are needed? What alternate arrangements can be made in the event of bad weather? Will the host provide an on-site orientation that covers the context of the work and any safety concerns?
  • Community interaction: To what extent will you have the opportunity to interact with a community? Will you engage in service projects with community members? Will the host provide structured opportunities to interact with local community members? Other social activities?
  • Education: Does the civic engagement project include educational meetings with local universities, political or religious leaders, or local community organizations?
  • On-site fees: What is included? What forms of payment are accepted? If there is no set fee, is an honorarium or customary donation expected?
  • Transportation: Who is responsible for on-site transportation? Is the transportation fee all inclusive (gas, parking, driver, insurance, etc.)? Students must be AUTO certified to drive a van.
  • Safety and liability: What kind of insurance does the organization have? To what extent does it cover your participants? Where are the nearest medical facilities? Will you be under constant supervision? What liability forms need to be completed before you travel?
  • Communication: Is there a phone number that you can use to receive incoming calls? Fax? Can you send and receive e-mail? What are the costs and restrictions?
  • Input and flexibility: What are your strategies for accommodating your group’s preferences, desires, and dissatisfactions with on-site activities or conditions?
  • Reflection: Are on-site leaders willing to conduct reflection-sharing-processing sessions with project participants? Or will you be responsible?
  • Relationship post-project: How will you build consensus and commitment with participants for post-project processing?

Creating an Itinerary

As you look to fill your blocks of time during the project, it is okay to let the schedule evolve throughout your planning process, but it is a good idea to provide updates at each orientation. Be prepared for everything not to go as planned. Prepare your group to be flexible and shift the schedule as needed.

Timing and Sequencing Play a Big Role

Try to present activities in a logical flow, with appropriate transition activities.

  • Move your group from low-risk bonding to high-risk sharing activities.
  • How can your speakers build upon each other? How can your participants apply what they are learning?
  • When creating your own itinerary, remember to note additional fees, meeting locations, etc., and to schedule daily reviews and reflections. Be sure to schedule some fun activities and leave some unscheduled time for natural group bonding.
  • Past experience reveals the importance of developing “intelligent” questions that force participants to question their roles in the communities being studied.
  • Be sure that you have a finalized and complete itinerary distributed to the group and on record with the Office of Student Engagement at least two weeks prior to departure.
  • In your final itinerary you will need to include a master list of all phone numbers for accommodation and local contacts, as well as detailed directions for getting from one place to the next.
  • Always remember that it takes a group of 10 or 15 people significantly longer to do ordinary tasks—such as exchanging money, eating meals, and showering—than it would a single person. Build this extra time into the itinerary.


Below is a list of organizations you could consult as you think through the specifics of your project.

  • Break Away, an excellent resource for project leaders, is a national organization helping universities to organize alternative breaks. You can search the site bank database for organizations that can host an alternative break project (contact Pete Cerneka for log-in information).
  • U.S. State Department's website is a comprehensive resource on international travel, including helpful hints and travel warnings.
  • The CIA's World Fact Book is an excellent source for general information on other countries.   
  • Global Exchange is an organization that can help students coordinate civic engagement projects. Global Exchange is experienced in holding "Reality Tours" which promote socially responsible travel. Projects focus on social, economic, political and environmental issues.
  • Amizade is a global volunteering and service-learning foundation, offering programs in Bolivia, Brazil, Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania, Mexico, Northern Ireland and the Navajo Nation.
  • Solimar Travel is a sustainable tourism agency in DC promoting travel to Costa Rica and Jamaica.
  • Witness for Peace organizes human rights, peace, and justice grassroots travel-education delegations in Latin America: Colombia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Mexico.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions offers volunteer programs around the world.
  • African Diaspora Culture Yourworld is a company that organizes civic engagement projects to Brazil with a focus on the African Diaspora Culture.
  • Transitions Abroad is a magazine with guides to work, study, travel, and living abroad.
  • World Neighbors is an international development organization that provides training for communities to find long term solutions to poverty, hunger, disease, and a healthy environment.
  • ProWorld's mission is to promote social and economic development, empower communities, and cultivate educated compassionate global citizens. They coordinate service-learning programs in Peru, Belize, Mexico, India and Thailand.
  • International Partners cultivates leadership capacity and create personal partnerships with grass-roots leaders in developing countries to bring education, health, and opportunity to people in impoverished communities. They organize delegations to El Salvador.
  • Travel Alive offers volunteer, Spanish language and adventure programs in Nicaragua and Ecuador.
  • Global Vision International provides opportunities to work on conservation and humanitarian projects around the world including: Mexico, Seychelles, Patagonia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand and Laos.
  • Intrepid MAD Projects work on community development projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
  • American Hiking Society builds and maintains trails across the US.
  • COPRODELI works with Peruvian communities to provide fundamental needs, education and job training. They will help you organize an alternative spring break project.
  • Foundation for Sustainable Development supports the efforts of grassroots development organizations in Latin America, East Africa, and Asia that are working to better the communities, environments, and the economic opportunities around them.
  • Sustainable Horizon can help to create customized alternative break projects with an environmental focus in Latin America.
  • The International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is an association of non-governmental organizations involved in international volunteer work and internship exchanges. IVPA is an association of volunteer sending organizations but does not organize or run its own volunteer programs.  IVPA can serve as a guide to anyone considering volunteering abroad or developing international service opportunities.
  • UBELONG offers volunteering opportunities to live in a community and work on a local project. UBELONG has over 80 projects in multiple countries and fields, and is led by international development professionals and former volunteers.
  • Travel Guide is an awesome travel resource, full of useful information for travelers, especially students. It goes over travel planning and checklists, travel safety, foreign travel, passports and visas, health while traveling, studying abroad and more.  Created by the students at Monument Charter School.

Alternative Break Program


515 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: 212-854-1371

9:00 a.m.–5:00p.m.