Frequently Asked Questions




Why did you develop the 5 Pillars of ABE?

As service trips became more popular more opportunities were provided on campus. We began to ask ourselves, "What makes our trips unique? How are they different than other experiences provided?" We developed the 5 Pillars of ABE as a lens, offering a framework for how we view our service experiences. It is our hope that these elements provide a transformational experience for you - one that stretches your experience from just one short week to the rest of your lifetime.

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What kind of service work can I expect to do?

The kinds of service opportunities offered are as varied as the locations to which we travel. Most of our trips include some sort of hands-on direct service component, while others address other types of service as explained by the SOCIAL CHANGE WHEEL.  For some trips, the service you provide doesn't happen until you return, whether it is by teaching others about your experience and social issues encountered, engaging in advocacy work or making new lifestyle choices.

Do not be surprised if your Co-Leader does not know exactly what kind of service work you will be doing five months before you arrive.  Many times, the site does not yet know what their needs will be.  Do not forget that we are here to work with the site community with whatever their needs are at the time. Your experience may be very different than the group that traveled to your site a year ago, as the site needs will change with time.

Be aware of your own expectations, as to avoid traveling with a sort of "service agenda" that may distract you from truly immersing yourself in the experience.

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How do you choose your trips?

We put a lot of thought and time into selecting Alternative Break Experience sites. Sometimes, ABE staff finds sites and other times students, staff, and faculty offer suggestions for future sites. We generally determine trips one year in advance of their departure date. When making decisions about adding or no longer continuing a trip, we factor in a number of considerations.

1. Feedback from leader and participant evaluations: One critical component of deciding whether or not to continue a trip is by reading all of the evaluations that students, sites, and leaders complete. These evaluations offer insight into the trip experience.

2. Distance: Most trips are only one week long, and thus we are limited by the distance that can be traveled during that time whether we are driving or flying.

3. Cost: Our Benedictine and Catholic values remind us to be careful stewards of our resources, and financial resources must be considered very intentionally. Sometimes, there are great sites to visit, but the financial expense makes the trip unsustainable. Often, we can find a similar site that addresses the same issues but in a more financially sustainable way.

4. Aligns with our 5 Pillars: We aspire to have our trips connect to our 5 Pillars of ABE.

  • Social Justice: Does the trip address a social justice issue? Are participants challenged to understand both charity and justice, moving them beyond only direct service?
  • Community: Are there ways participants can continue building their relationship with the community when they return from their experience?  Does our institution and/or diocese have a historical partnership with this community?
  • Reflection: Each experience should allow time and space for participants to gather every evening and reflect on their experiences together. Sometimes, site hosts integrate reflection into their programming, and at times they are even invited to join our nightly reflections as well.
  • Learning: Do participants have an opportunity to learn about the site, the geographic region, its history and people? We want students to take their experience to a deeper level, beyond simply observing another environment to intellectually analyze the social context as well.
  • Intentional living: Are there opportunities for participants to be challenged to live their lives in a different way? Participants should be prompted to think about the ways in which each of us, by our own individual and communal actions, affect our local, national, and global community.

5. Contribution to community: This consideration has questions that are two-fold. What is the site host's contribution to their own community? How are they working with and empowering those they serve? In addition, how are we as volunteers contributing to the community in a way that is meeting their needs? We want to be careful that we are working in solidarity, or rather a mutual relationship with the community versus coming for one week to "do for" them.

6. Cultural immersion: ABE wants to do more than travel to an exotic location to build a house and return without any interaction with the host community - it's people, places, and customs. We want participants to meet with people, to talk to them, and to learn about their lives.

A cultural immersion does not have to mean a participant has to travel to a far away location. Often, there are subcultures in our own neighborhoods that we may be unaware of due to factors such as our age, race, gender, social, or economic situation.

7. Solidarity: We are sensitive to making sure there is a sense of mutuality of service in our experiences. Mutuality is a key component of our partnerships, which is characterized by both communities sharing their gifts. It is not making a distinction between the "haves" and the "have nots," but rather characterized by trust, interdependence, making shared plans and decisions, learning, and advocating together.

8. Strong issue focus: If participants are going to go beyond charity and incorporate justice into their trip experience, we must provide a strong issue focus for them to explore. Examples include: Child poverty, environmental justice, sustainable living, rural health care, immigration, etc.

9. Ease of communication: Logistically, this is an important aspect of trip planning. Due to the high level of participation in our programming, we need to be able to communicate and plan effectively with our host site.

10. Site transportation: Each time we add a trip, we have to think logistically about financial and personnel aspects of transportation. How easy is it to get to the site? How easy is it to get around the site? 

11. Lodging: Participants should not expect to stay at a fancy hotel with all of the modern amenities provided. However, lodging should be clean, safe, and supplied with basic amenities to accommodate simple living.

12. Safety: Safety has to be a primary concern for the ABE program. The poverty and injustice we seek to address through service can be, in some situations, inherently dangerous ie. construction, loading, unloading and site transportation. ABE works closely with host site leaders to promote a healthy environment, understanding that some aspects of a trip may be changed or cancelled to address safety.

13. Sustainability: ABE trips are not deemed sustainable unless they are generally financially self-sufficient and do not rely on any one individual in order to continue. If an individual wants to pursue building a new trip, it must be one that can continue in their absence.

14. Metamorphosis: Participants should be provided the opportunity to change and grow both individually and as a group, challenging them to return transformed.

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How do I apply to go on an ABE trip?

To apply for an ABE trip, simply fill out the online application. We believe in giving groups time to form community, fundraise, learn about their site, and get to know each other prior to their trip, therefore we have a primary application due date in the fall. Keep in mind important dates.

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How do I apply to lead an ABE trip?

Being an ABE Co-Leader is a demanding but very rewarding commitment.  Before you apply to be a Co-Leader, please review the Co-Leader page and discern whether you are willing and able to dedicate your time and energy to our program.  It is those leaders in the past who have so generously offered their time, gifts, talents and energy to our program that have made these trip experiences unforgettable. To apply to be a Co-Leader, simply fill out the online application.

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How do I apply to advise an ABE trip?

Being an ABE Advisor is a year-long commitment.  Before you apply to be an Advisor, please review the Advisor page and discern whether you are willing and able to dedicate your time and energy to our program.  To apply to be an Advisor, simply fill out the online application.

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How do you decide how many people should be on each trip?

Often, this is determined entirely by logistics. Most domestic trips use 12 passenger vans, which allows for a total of 11 participants. International sites generally have the same transportation space limitations. Other factors may include site food and lodging capabilities.

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Why didn't I get interviewed for my first trip?

Many factors go into shaping and forming the trips. These factors are not subjective, but rather based on general logistical questions. Will we have enough drivers? Do we have representation from each class on the trip? How many spots are on the trip compared to the number of applicants? How many interviews are our Co-Leaders reasonably being asked to facilitate? These are just a few examples of some of the questions we have to sort through before placing people on trips. Everyone who returns from an ABE trip, regardless of destination, believes they were on 'the best' trip, so if you don't get your first trip don't be disappointed. You are still going to have a fantastic experience with a wonderful group of peers.

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Why do all the trips cost the same?

It is our firm belief that a student's financial situation should not determine the kind of trip they are able to choose. Each student payment helps to subsidize the entire ABE program, not just your particular trip. In this way, we are able to make all trips affordable for everyone. Remember, it is the base cost that is the same.  If you are signing up for a trip that includes a flight, you are responsible for the base cost PLUS the additional flight costs.

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How does fundraising work?

The Alternative Break Experiences program does not receive institutional funding. Therefore, all costs associated with the program are fund-raised both by ABE and participants.

There are 3 levels of trip fundraising efforts:

1. ABE Fundraisers:

ABE has three main means of raising money for our programming. We provide fall and spring care packages, organize a 5K Family Fun Run during Family Weekend on campus, and solicit grants. The money raised goes towards providing some scholarships.

2. Group Fundraisers:

Each pair of ABE Co-Leaders are required to provide at least one fundraiser for their Participants, however energy and effort devoted to group fundraising is very much dependent on each particular group's initiative. Past ideas have included Bennie/Johnnie bread sales at home parishes, music concerts, t-shirts, coffee and more.  Group fundraisers will be a helpful supplement as you fundraise, but remember to do your own fundraising for further success! See group fundraising ideas!

3. Individual

Often, Participants mistakenly expect that they will fundraise the bulk of their trip cost through group fundraisers. Our past experience shows time after time that this is not the case. Those Participants who are able to raise enough money to cover the cost of their trip do so primarily through their own commitment to personal fundraising. ABE is committed to helping you succeed with your fundraising goals. We organize movie ticket and gift card sales for Participants. Opportunities you can organize on your own include selling Bennie/Johnnie bread at your home parish and requesting donations.

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What is the payment schedule for my trip?
  • Trip deposit:
    $100 is due upon accepting an offer for a trip. This deposit is NON-REFUNDABLE.
  • Flight deposit:
    Once all Participants have been selected for their trip, each member must make a $200 flight deposit. This flight deposit is NON-REFUNDABLE. Once each participant pays their deposit, ABE will purchase flights.
  • Final payment:
    All payments must be made by the final payment dates, or you will not be allowed to participate in your trip and no refund will be issued to you. Check due dates.

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How can I pay online?

Credit and debit card payments for your ABE trip can be made by clicking here.  After completing the necessary information, you will receive a receipt in your CSB/SJU email inbox. If you have any questions, please call the CSB Campus Ministry office at 320-363-5074.

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How much will my flight cost?

We cannot predict what your flight will cost due to the variability of airline pricing.  Flight costs can change very drastically from one year to the next, as prices are affected by anything from fuel costs to the time of the year in which you are travelling.

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Are scholarships available for ABE trips?

Each year, ABE fundraises in the hopes to offer scholarships to those who apply for our trips. We divide our scholarship money between those who request financial assistance, so please, only ask for what you need, as anything beyond that might take funds away from someone else who might have a greater need. Scholarship applications are due by December 3rd for Winter Trips and February 1st for Spring Trips.

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How do you purchase flights?

When purchasing flights, ABE must keep in mind institutional and student needs.  We travel as a group, and thus always purchase tickets as a group.  The first step in purchasing flights is making sure each and every participant on the trip pays their $200 non-refundable flight deposit and submits their online waiver and health forms (including uploading a copy of their passport/enhanced ID, if applicable).  Once all deposits are made and forms are submitted, we contact travel agents, review online purchasing sites, and contact airlines directly.  After negotiating and comparing prices, we find the most affordable flight that can hold all group members and then we purchase the tickets. 

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Why can't we book our own flights?

If you find a reasonable ticket price, please feel free to notify our office.  We will do our best to find the most reasonable group rate available.  Due to the short time frame of our trips, we do not allow students to book their own flights.  When you agree to participate in an Alternative Break Experiences trip, you agree to be in community and travel not as an individual but as part of a group. 

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Can we use frequent flier miles?

Unfortunately, No.  Each year we have approximately 90-100 students purchasing flights through us.  Logistically, we do not have the capability to accommodate each student's individual needs at this time.   

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What is ABE's alcohol and substance policy?

First and foremost, ABE participants are representatives of the College of St. Benedict and Saint John's University.  As representatives of our communities, they do not engage in any activities that could compromise our relationship with the site, host community, and positive reputation of our program. 

ABE follows the "Break Away Alternative Break Connection, Inc." standard, which states, "Issues of legality, liability, personal safety and group cohesion are of concern when alcohol and other drugs are consumed [or purchased] on an alternative break."

Some of the sites that we will be serving with have a history of issues with alcohol and illegal substances.  It would be insincere if students were to work with some populations that struggle with these issues, and then go abuse these substances themselves. 

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What should I do before I depart on my ABE trip?

Make sure to give your parents/guardians a copy of your itinerary and your passport. They should know who to contact in order to get a hold of you for emergency situations.  You may have to take time to discuss finances as well as how available you will be for phone calls and emails.  Often, internet access is minimal and it is possible that either you will not have much time for phone calls, or that you will have limited or no cell phone reception.  Before you leave campus, make sure you have a list of phone numbers of each person in your group.

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What should I pack?

Your Co-Leaders are responsible for contacting your site in order to learn what items you need to bring for your particular trip.  Don't forget to look at the organization's website as well as our site lists for information that is particular for your trip.  Look at your site's page (in the right hand sidebar) to find a complete packing list. 

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What paperwork and forms do I need to turn in?

Every trip Participant needs to turn in the following forms:

1.  Group Agreement 

Coordinators will bring this agreement to a group meeting in which everyone will review the agreement and sign it individually.  If you are unable to sign this agreement at this time, please contact your Coordinator for alternative arrangements.

2. Health Form

Participants traveling on an international trip need to upload a copy of their passport on this form. Participants traveling domestically but flying need to upload a copy of their enhanced ID on this form.

3. Waiver

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Why do I not receive some information until just before departure?

Although all Participants and Co-Leaders will receive all necessary information for their ABE trip we understand that it can be frustrating not receiving all information far in advance of departure. However there are several factors that influence when we can give Participants and Co-Leaders information about their trip. ABE is working very hard to gather all important information as soon as possible. The sites are also working very hard to gather the information and plan but oftentimes they are relying on a 3rd party as well in order to get us the necessary information. Sometimes, due to complications with sites or special circumstances (host family stays, changes in leadership at the site, etc.) certain information may not be made available to ABE until just before the trip departs. As soon as ABE receives important information for Co-Leaders and Participants to know we will pass it on.

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Do you have any solidarity resources ABE recommends in order to prepare me for my trip? 




  • Adeney, Miriam.  "McMissions." Christianity Today Nov. 1996: 14-15
  • Jeffrey, Paul.  "Beyond Good Intentions: Short-term Mission Trips." Christian Century Dec. 2001: 5-7.
  • Slimbach, Richard. "First Do No Harm: Short-term Missions at the Dawn of the New Millenium." Essay.  Asuza Pacific University, 2007.
  • Van Engen, Jo Ann.  "The Cost of Short Term Missions." The Other Side Jan/Feb. 2000: 20-23.
  • Walling, Sherry M. et al.  Cultural Identity and Reentry in Short-Term Student Missionaries. Journal of Psychology and Theology.  Vol. 35.2 (2006):  153-164. 
  • A Case Study in Global Solidarity: The St. Cloud-Homa Bay Partnership

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