Alternative Spring Break 2019: Washington D.C.

For Spring Break 2019 (March 16-23) PBHA students travel to Washington D.C. for a transformative service trip supporting a local school and grappling with American history through the city's numerous national landmarks. Hear about their trip in their own words.


Our long night of travel started with pizza and group bonding at the “Lowtel” at Harvard on Sunday before our 10 hour night ride to Washington D.C. When we arrived in DC, it was straight to the DC International School campus to meet the faculty and start working with students. After an afternoon of getting to know some students, aiding in computer science and language classes, and participating in a student panel, we headed to the Airbnb in Maryland (only after we lost and found Karissa on the Metro). Then we finished the night with a massive shopping trip for the week and the discovery of our group’s love for “cubing”.


Ibti: We woke up bright and early at 6am in order to prepare our lunch and then take public transportation to the DC International School. After missing the bus, we had to walk a mile to the metro station, and from there we took the train to Columbia Heights. From CH, we took another bus alongside many students to DCI. At the school, we were each assigned different helpful tasks for the 8 periods of the school day, which ranged from one-on-one advising for 9th-grade students to assisting teachers and administrators with their work and, overall, doing anything with which the school needed help.

For my part, I was on two panels for 10th-grade students and two others for 11th-graders. For each one, 2 to 4 of us sat at the front of a classroom and answered students and teachers’ questions about a wide range of topics. They often asked about the transition from high school to college, the application process, how to build a college list and choose which university to attend, academics and social life at Harvard, and our financial aid program. We tried to answer those questions drawing from our personal experiences at Harvard, all while giving students broad advice that could be helpful regardless of where they ended up studying. It was great to see that many of them, especially juniors on the verge of applying to universities, were very motivated and eager to hear about our experience.

We then had our lunch break, during which all ASB participants got the chance to unwind, know each other better, and attempt to solve a Rubik’s cube under the guidance of our trip leader, Jack. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the panels and classes to which we had been in the morning, and to chat with a couple of students who stopped by the office about their own interests and life at Harvard. We agreed that DCI teachers did a great job of keeping classes fun and project-based instead of focusing on lectures and memorization. I also appreciated the school’s multilingual focus, where every student spoke at least 2 languages and many of them took classes like Art in languages other than English thanks to the diverse language abilities of the teachers.

I later helped the college and career counselor with administrative work and then attended an IT class with Manasi. We helped answer some of students’ questions about the hardware components of a computer and Computer Science majors and courses in college. For the last period of the school day, I worked with Derek on a proposal for activities that students could do in their families; a family is a group made of a dozen of students across high school levels with a teacher as their family head. We built a list of reflection and bonding activities that they could do during 20-minute periods to get to know each other better while talking through their life experiences so far.

After leaving DCI, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery to see the famous presidential portraits, walking by Chinatown. We then went on a walking tour to visit the Washington Monument, the Ellipse Park, the Reflecting Pool, and the White House (where we met a squirrel friend!). It was great to witness the history of the area again and reflect on how it has changed since the last time I had visited DC. We also reflected on seeing tons of children with MAGA gear—it gave us a lot to think about. We stopped for quick pictures before heading to the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, then we went to enjoy a home-cooked dinner and go to bed after a busy but enriching day.


Swathi: We woke up a little bit earlier, cooked breakfast, and didn’t miss the bus this time! We made it to the school nice and early before heading to our classes. It was another awesome day, and I went outside to play soccer and basketball with some of the students during lunch. There’s so much energy in the school—it rocked!

After school, we made our way to Georgetown to find the amazing cupcake shop Baked and Wired and we stuffed ourselves with the awesome snacks. After that, we headed to Adams Morgan, a super hip area of DC which had multicultural shops and restaurants, as well as record stores where we could’ve stayed in for hours. Some of our group wanted to head back to get to bed early, but some of us stayed in Adams Morgan a little longer to go to a free concert held in a cute coffee shop nearby. The vibes were 10/10!


School was great but super rainy! The weather was 1/10 today :/

After school, we stopped at the cute and bougie juice place: Joe and the Juice. It was close enough to school and our group dinner location that we camped out there for an hour or so before going through the rain to dinner. We went to our Pizza and Public Service Dinner with three amazing public service people in DC — Richie, Rachael, and Arielle. They were AWESOME. They told us all about their experience in the State Dept, the Intelligence Community, and in nonprofits. The dinner was a whopping four hours long because the conversation was 15/10! It was still pouring by the time we left, so we quickly came back to the AirBnb, made a warm batch of cookies, and slept all through the night.


Since we didn’t have school, we slept in. Finally! Much needed…. We then scrambled to return the house to its original state, threw out the trash, etc, before heading to the bus station on Branch Ave one last time. We headed to the Metro, stashed our bags near Union station, then embarked towards the National Mall to explore museums. Some of us headed straight to the Museum of African American History and Culture, while others made a b-line for the Natural History Museum. We ogled at the Hope Diamond, saw tarantulas attack crickets, and touched a piece of Mars. At the AfAm museum, a few of us shed tears over the past and present atrocities committed against black people in the US, especially when viewing the casket of Emmett Till. The museum was moving, and even those who spent 4 hours there did not make it through its entirety. Some enjoyed a nice Southern meal at the museum, which had everything from fried chicken and cornbread to sweet tea and stir fry. We all headed out to the Metro on our last trip to Union Station. We scarfed down a quick dinner before heading to the bus. Thankfully, we made it on time! Even though our bus stopped during the snowstorm, we made it back Saturday morning!