I’ve come a long way since my freshman year. I started at my university as a declared bio major, and I thought for sure I’d go down that path—nope! You have to be flexible.

Two years later, I’m now a happy public health major with a focus in epidemiology. I love the major itself and its ability to incorporate the hard sciences with the social sciences. That being said, one thing hasn’t changed with my switch: my desire to study abroad.

However, if I want to graduate in time, I can't take any class other than the ones intended for my major. And the study abroad program doesn’t offer many of my required classes. Instead of stopping my pursuit, I looked for different options—and found one.

If you are stuck in the same dilemma, consider taking a service trip instead.

What Are Service Trips?

Many universities and colleges offer service trips in which groups of students get to volunteer in different communities. On these trips, students fully immerse themselves in the culture of the community they visit, learning different things and starting amazing dialogues and partnerships.

Typically, service trips focus on a singular social issue within an area. For example, taking a trip to a foreign country to help with purifying its water. Keep in mind that you will likely need to pay for these trips out of pocket. Personally, I want to go abroad to help others, so a service trip is right up my alley.

Service trips often occur during winter and spring breaks. That way, you don’t have to interrupt your semesters and can continue to take your normal classes. I like that this also means that I won't have to worry about classes while on my trip—I can just enjoy the environment and help others.

Certain campus groups may also make trips to places and open those opportunities up to the larger community. These trips are usually geared more toward cultural engagement, so their primary focus is exposing you to the way of life of others. For instance, at my school, a club takes a group of students to Israel free of charge every winter break. I’m currently trying to see if I can get on that one.

Where To Learn More

If you’re interested in a service trip, the best place to get information is your school’s International Programs Office (IPO). At the IPO, you can sit with advisers who will tell you the best program to use to stay on track with both financial aid and your academic track. They can also provide deadlines for trips, as well as other opportunities for students to travel.

While I am in college, I don’t want to pass up studying abroad. These are the best years to do so—and probably the most financially responsible way to do so as well.