Alyxandra Vernon is like many college students in the sense that she spent her 2012 spring break in a warm, sunny location in the Caribbean.
What makes her different, however, is the fact that her tropical location was Haiti.
Vernon, a junior on the swimming team from Fair Oaks, Calif., made the trip with several other Vanderbilt student-athletes to help the Haitians, who are still recovering from the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the region.
"We got to Haiti, and I was so overwhelmed at the beginning," Vernon recalled. "There were crumbling buildings everywhere, people yelling."
As soon as the group began their work in an orphanage, though, things began to click.
"We just got to play with kids all day, and it was so much fun! We did a soccer clinic with them, so I attempted to play soccer. I wasn't very good. But they're very good, and they had so much fun."
Vernon's home is the pool. She enters this season as one of Vanderbilt's top IM swimmers, with last season's second fastest team time in the 200 IM and third fastest in the 400 IM.
She has high hopes for this season, which has only just begun for the Commodores. Vanderbilt is three meets in, and will continue at home this coming weekend against Tulane and Western Kentucky.
"Our team has definitely come together a lot more this year," said Vernon. "We all are much closer than last year. My teammates have my back. They will tell me to get in gear if I'm struggling, and I want to have their backs.
"Personally, I would love to final at the SECs. My club coach in high school always thought I couldn't final at the SEC Championships, and that definitely put a fire in me. That's been my goal since I've been here, and this year I feel I could do it."
It's clear that life is much more than swimming to Vernon, however. She is very candid about how her trip to Haiti changed her perspective on what's important.
"At first, I really thought, wow. These people have nothing," Vernon said. "But, by the end of the trip, I realized that they have everything I feel our society lacks: good intentions and a focus on family. Yes, Haiti certainly has a lot of political and social problems, but the people truly care about each other."
Alyx Vernon is very similar to many college students in certain ways. She knows what she wants to do upon graduation and what the next step will be.
What makes her different, though, is that next step is the Peace Corps. That goal is what led her to Haiti in the first place, and what is leading her to take another international trip this coming spring break.
"I feel that it's so easy to just write a check if you want to help. But I think that it's very important to be the change you want to see in the world. If I'm going to sit here and say that I want to help, I want to be the one who actually gets out there and does it. I don't care where I go. I just want to go!"