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Thoughts on Service Learning

As the world’s work force becomes more advanced, students need to graduate university with the necessary skills and experiences that will make them stand out candidates. One of the tools that can give students leadership and cross cultural understanding is service learning. Service learning provides students with real world experiences, where they can apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a professional setting. Here’s what a few of the top service learning organizations have to say.

Sarah Noel, Outreach Director of Amizade Global Service-Learning: At Amizade Global Service-Learning our mission is to empower individuals and communities through worldwide service and learning. For us, this means connecting with the communities where we work, listening to their needs and goals and then serving with and learning from them. For volunteers, this offers the opportunity for learning beyond the classroom through intercultural immersion, reflective inquiry, and consideration of global citizenship. Service learning is a growing field and our experience has shown us why, it just makes sense. Service learning allows for mutually empowering experiences where volunteers learn and grow and communities are served in the process.

Li Quach, Senior Manager of Communications at Cross-Cultural Solutions: Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) defines service learning as a unique volunteer experience that complements education. Service learning is growing as a field because it allows students to combine experiential learning with formal academic studies, while transforming theory into tangible realities and first-hand knowledge. As a type of learning experience, CCS believes that service learning allows for students to have the exceptional opportunity to undertake a holistic exploration of the community in which they are living through volunteer work. Furthermore, it is an intentional integration of service and learning, which addresses both human and community needs together in a structured environment. CCS offers service learning opportunities in 12 countries with start dates year-round.

Francisco Pastor, Ecuador Volunteer Foundation: The Ecuador Volunteer Foundation offers the highest quality Volunteer and Service Learning Programs, tailored to each group’s interests and needs. Whether the subject is Spanish, teaching, conservation, or anything else, Ecuador Volunteer provides unique opportunities that allow visitors to see inside the true Ecuador. Service Learning Programs are more than classes and service projects. Through service learning, students learn to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom to real life situations. Additionally, our programs support sustainable local projects that allow students to make a long-term impact in the lives of local communities. Our projects began as local initiatives, where each project benefits the communities and ultimately strengthens and empowers them.

Laura Nuñez, Regional Coordinator of Latin America for Global Citizens Network: Global Citizens Network participants and community members work and learn side-by-side on projects that are pioneered and directed locally. At GCN, we do not see service learning as an activity that is part of the trip, but as the entirety of their travels as they observe and reflect on new experiences. As the world gets smaller and smaller due to knowledge availability through internet, social media and other ingenuities of technology, students seek more meaningful, palpable and unique opportunities to engage locally and globally. Service learning is filled with emotions, insights, excitement and anticipation that energize participants. As we become a more digital world, we will continue to seek out those real experiences that make us feel more alive and interconnected.

Michele Gran, co-founder and senior VP of Global Volunteers: International volunteerism and study abroad programs have emerged on college campuses as necessities of a well-rounded education. Today, students must have a global perspective on business, the arts, politics, journalism, health care, and general scholarship. To live, work, and dream in this interconnected world, we must relate to different people, cultures and lifestyles seamlessly and respectfully. Global Volunteers’ full-time service learning opportunities prepare students for life, and for life-long learning and service. Students help deliver essential services to local people on service programs which are integrated into study abroad curricula, semester coursework, field research, and independent study components on many campuses.

Arianne Newton, Director of Programs at the International Partnership for Service-Learning™ & Leadership: IPSL (the International Partnership for Service-Learning™ and Leadership) is a unique volunteer service experience with the ultimate goal of serving and empowering local organizations to make change and help themselves. Volunteers consistently report receiving far more than they give when engaging in a quality service-learning™ experience. There is an opportunity to build deep cultural understanding, personal insight, good will, listening skills, leadership skills, self-confidence, language development and a life -long commitment to the ethos of service. Ultimately, true Service-learning™ is “academic”, sustained and is modeled on reciprocal understanding and mutual benefit to both the giver and the receiver and this is exactly what is needed now more than ever in our increasingly “shrinking” world.

Daniel Radcliffe, Executive Director of International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ): Through taking the time to volunteer abroad and teach in developing communities, not only do volunteers give through teaching but they also receive as they learn about different communities, living conditions, learning environments and the way in which different cultures learn. Many of our volunteers often comment that on completion of their volunteer programs, they feel they have received more than they have given. Volunteer teaching abroad is growing as people see the benefits that this service can have, not only upon the community they are working with, but also with respect to their own personal growth and learning. Having taught abroad in a volunteer capacity, people are finding they are more employable and potential employees value the experience that this has given them.

Matthew Manning, Outreach 360: There is a famous quote that says: “My ideas are too big for paper, I must now write them on the earth.” There’s no way to convey the importance of traditional classroom learning for high school and college students. Reading helps to develop consciousness, critical thinking, and curiosity. Yet books can ultimately only take a student so far – they can make you smarter, but only experience can make you *wiser*. Service learning – whether for language or anything else – is actually an adventure. Embarking on an Outreach360 service learning adventure starts with uncertainty, and ends with more confidence in what you know – and even who you are.

Adam Saks, Director of Custom Programs, ProWorld: Service learning is more than just volunteering.  It is an experiential form of education that provides meaningful benefits to the community and hands-on learning to those providing the service.  Service learning starts with volunteers and communities, adds education and reflection, and results in mutual growth and development.  Service learning allows participants to understand their role in service and to realize it is not only an act of charity, but that they too gain a reciprocal benefit, gaining valuable experience and problem solving skills while also providing a greater impact to those they serve.

Joan Perreault, Marketing and Alumni Relations Director of Spanish Studies Abroad: Service learning opportunities abroad offer students the chance to gain rewarding professional experience while developing their language skills and giving back to their host communities. Many times service projects serve as a gateway to unique aspects of a culture often hidden from study abroad students or travelers. Those who participate in service projects are likely to get more than they give from the experience, and develop important personal skills in tolerance, open-mindedness and a greater sense of independence. As Spanish Studies Abroad student Hendrix Berry wrote, “It was truly a beautiful experience…I came out with great contacts, feeling accomplished as a member of the community.”

Katherine Dayton, VISIONS Service Adventures: Service learning in the VISIONS context is aesthetic learning in the highest form. The experience is not focused on information-gathering. Rather, the program experience is process-focused. Aesthetic knowledge is derived from and anchored in the experience of living within the culture, relating to and learning from community members by participating in daily life and the rhythms of life within the culture. Aesthetic knowledge and “information” are different, and rightly so. At the same time, only the experience of acquiring aesthetic knowledge can round out one’s “information” about any group of people living in different time and space, speaking a different language, governed by different political entities, social and cultural norms and historical traditions.

Volunteer organizations: Have service learning stories you want to spread? Looking for students for your next global volunteerism project? Tell us more at info@studyshare.org

StudyShare is a place where studentsvoluntary organizations, and employers from all over the world can gather to find out how through working together they can all benefit.

Students can find programs where the skills that they are learning can be used by voluntary organizations so that they receive credit while helping others, and themselves by improving their employment prospects.

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