Global service learning trips blend academics, action, reflection
Providence College now offers three semester-long courses that combine an international service immersion experience with study of the issues affecting those communities and reflection on the response through a partnership with an overseas nonprofit organization.
“With these global service-learning courses, students have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of an issue, but even more importantly, they get real-world experience trying to address the issues they are learning about by working side-by-side with people doing innovative work in these areas internationally,” said Dr. Nicholas V. Longo ’96, associate professor of public and community service studies and chair of the Department of Global Studies.
Several of the service trips are long-standing “alternative spring break” or service trip options at the College, sponsored by the Feinstein Institute for Public Service. But the College wanted participants to take more away from the program experience, said Adrian G. Beaulieu, dean of international studies.
“With alternative spring break, the students didn’t have enough context going into the experience, and neither did they have an opportunity when they returned to unpack the experience and say, ‘Exactly what did this mean? What did we learn?’” he said.
As a part of Supporting Community Literacy in Nicaragua, 14 students went to El Manzano, Nicaragua, during winter break with Longo and Dr. Nuria Alonso García, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Foreign Language Studies. The students worked with Waves of Hope, a non-profit organization promoting education in that rural community.
Also during winter break, 19 students enrolled in Visualizing Peace and Justice, traveled to Quito, Ecuador, with Dr. Jeffrey D. Pugh, assistant professor of political science, and Eric Sung, associate professor of photography. They used photography and art to promote social justice through the Center for Mediation, Peace and Resolution of Conflict.
In addition, students taking Community Development in the Americas, taught by Dr. Eric Hartman, adjunct assistant professor of global studies, and Kaytee Stewart, Feinstein’s program coordinator, are traveling to one of two locations during spring break. One group of 11 students and Hartman are in Monti Cristi, Dominican Republic, to assist with public health and education initiatives at an orphanage with Outreach 360. Ten students and Stewart are helping build homes for residents and immigrants in Tijuana, Mexico, through Esperanza International. They are also visiting other social justice ministries to learn about community development, Stewart said.
The three four-credit courses, cross-listed in other academic areas as well, are offered by the newly established Department of Global Studies and can fulfill the civic engagement and diversity requirements in the College’s Core Curriculum. It provides an option for students who seek an in-depth cultural experience without dedicating an entire semester.
Global service-learning grants from Santander Bank, N.A. subsidized the travel, in addition to fundraising by the students.
“I think this approach is much more valid, much more sound academically,” Beaulieu said. “It really gives the students greater preparation to have a more fruitful experience on site, because they really are well prepared. They know what questions to ask.”
Longo said the trip to Nicaragua validated Beaulieu’s point.
“One of the most powerful things students learned is the importance of not staying on the sidelines as observers, but instead that they have a tremendous capacity to address really big issues through their actions — actions that often might involve building relationships across cultures, countries, and languages,” Longo said.
“On the trip, I was so inspired by the way the students went outside their comfort zones, in speaking Spanish, leading workshops, trying foods, and building community. They are now bringing this sense of possibility back to Providence in our course for the semester.”
The students worked with members of the community to help build a library for a new high school, Alonso Garcia said.
“It was powerful for all of us to see that, even in a short period of time, we could support a dream,” she said.
In addition to literacy work with children and adults in the community, the students led a day-long empowerment workshop for young women, creating a safe space to discuss self-identity and gender tensions through art, photography and storytelling, she said.
“The students really threw themselves, challenged themselves, put themselves in a vulnerable place, and I think that was truly empowering,” Alonso García said.
Students appreciated the opportunities provided through the course as well.
“The reflection aspect of it, as a class, has been hugely valuable,” said Emma Lane ’14 (Mansfield, Conn.), a student leader for Community Literacy.
During the semester the students have been volunteering with CityArts!, an after-school program for preteens, using some of the photography and art created by the women in Nicaragua.
“I’ve never been part of a group that so intentionally created a bond between what we experienced with an international community and what we experienced here back at home,” Lane said. “I spent a lot of time coming back home after an international experience and realizing how different my life was. This very intentionally finds those ties and emphasizes the importance of finding those ties.”
— Liz F. Kay
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