Interim: Temporary Diversion or Lasting Impact?

It’s that time again.  During the week prior to Fall Break, all students in grades 9 through twelve eagerly awaited their opportunity to nab a slot on a coveted trip that is still months away.  Each February, SAS high school students take a week-long trip, local or abroad, to immerse themselves in a new adventure, culture, or service. We refer to this as interim. The first trip may have taken place nearly three decades ago, but the excitement SAS students have around interim still remains. From the number of trips offered to the vast number of countries students have the chance to visit, it’s difficult to not be excited by interim.

Students riding in an ox cart, a popular mode for transporting goods or people around rural villages near Bagan, Myanmar (Burma).  Photo taken on the service trip “Documenting Democracy: Digital Storytelling in Burma.” Courtesy of Chloe Shin-Gay.

There are three categories of trips available to students: eco-adventure, global studies, and service. According to the interim semester tab on the SAS website, each of these trips serve a different purpose: eco-adventure trips allow students to “learn and develop physically, emotionally, and intellectually while being fully immersed in the natural environment,” global studies trips teach students to “deepen their understanding of the world through a focused area of inquiry,” and service learning trips give students the opportunity to “learn and develop through active contribution in thoughtfully prepared service that meets the needs of a community.” Whether a student chooses to go on an eco-adventure, global studies, or service trip, all interim experiences are supposed to create an impact in both the students’ learning experience and in the world around them.

Interim trips typically span a full week and, while it seems like quite a lot of time to be away from traditional SAS classrooms, that’s time worth spent if students are soaking up the (supposed) rewards of these non-traditional educational experiences. The type of trip a student chooses will determine the nature of the “impact” that he or she might have. What sorts of impacts are we talking about?  Last year, on the service trip “Documenting Democracies: Digital Storytelling in Burma,” students were expected “to take a critical look at the emergence of democracy in Burma by documenting the stories of Burmese citizens who are experiencing it.  The goal was to value and develop the power of storytelling, with a specific focus on digital storytelling,” says trip sponsor Robin Worley.

Three young Bhutanese boys posing for the camera in the Rinpung Dzong Buddhist temple in Paro, Bhutan, taken on the service trip “READ Bhutan.” Courtesy of Priyanka Sidhu.

For junior, Anika Khanderia who went to the Children’s Home in Thailand for service last year, her first experience of interim was a positive one, which she believes was impactful for both the children and herself:  “The one I went on I really liked, because we were involved in direct service with the kids, and when we went to the village to help with building the roads and the pathways, they were always there and [the kids] were helping us out too… like you would see them forming the assembly line to help us pass the cement down the line. It was hands on and you saw the impact that you were making, and we taught them English; they had a lot of fun that day too, I think.”

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Sunset over U Bein Bridge in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), taken on the service trip “Documenting Democracy: Digital Storytelling in Burma.” Courtesy of Kristi Yang.

However, some might argue that there isn’t enough of an impact created by these trips. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that on her service trip last year, there wasn’t much meaningful service done, “I think it’s absolutely another vacation,” she says.

Another student who went on a separate service trip says, “The thing is that these service trips: they don’t benefit anybody. Even if we go build a house, the houses don’t really help a lot of people,” she continues, explaining, “I know of this one organization which is just for foreigners to come build a house and then [after they leave] they (the people of organization) just remove it, they break down the house and then a new person will come and build it; it’s not actually being used. And most of the time, if you go spend time with the children for one week, it does nothing, it doesn’t help them in the long run.”

Without a doubt, interim programs provide a high level of adventure and enjoyment for the traveler.  Many options and opportunities deliver valuable life lessons – even generous doses of authentic, hands-on learning.  We must consider, however, if the more philanthropic interim options are providing a real service to those communities and causes that they target, or if the actual service is to the students seeking that ever-attractive padding to resumes and applications.   Even when the intention is genuine and heartfelt, it remains to be seen whether the investment of relatively little time warrants the label of “service.”

Author: Kristi Yang

Kristi Yang is a senior in her seventh year at SAS and is a third-year reporter for The Eye. She was born in New York but raised in New Jersey, Beijing, and Singapore—where she currently resides. Despite having lived in Asia for the past nine years, and in Singapore for the past seven, she still considers New Jersey to be home. You can find her running late to class (from Starbucks), leading painless workouts at House of Pain, or loitering around the media lab in the wee hours of the night (just ask campus security). She can be contacted at

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