Cultural Experience | Resources

5 Ways to Incorporate Service into Your Time Abroad

How to incorporate service into your time abroad

One of the best things about traveling abroad is getting to know the culture, customs, and often people of another country. A great way to do that can be by volunteering or engaging in some form of service while abroad! Here are five ways to incorporate service into your travels – whether on study abroad, personal trips, or travel for academic credit.

• Service-learning courses

One of the best ways to be of service abroad is through a service-learning or community-engaged course that might be offered by your institution. More and more colleges and universities are implementing service-learning programs that often encompass an academic course or research with time spent abroad putting the theories learned or studied in the classroom into practice. My favorite thing about these programs is that there is often a plan in place for long-term mutual engagement, avoiding problematic “drive-by” service.

• Sorority/Fraternity ties or international programs

Many Greek organizations have chapters’ throughout the world. Before you venture to wherever you’re headed, check and see if your organization has members or a chapter in that location. By doing this you will not only get to meet more of your sisters and brothers, but you can possibly join in on a service project they already have planned.

Example? My sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. just chartered its first chapter in the Middle East. So, the next time I’m in the UAE I’m going to contact my sisters to see if I can join/support them in their efforts to be of service not only to their community, but to all mankind.

• Non-profits/social ventures/NGOs

No matter what country you’re in, I can almost guarantee there will be a non-profit, social venture, or NGO that is working around an issue you are passionate about. If you know you are going to be abroad for an extended period of time, why not see if you can work with them to advance their mission by getting involved in whatever they are doing to work with the community around them towards common goals and mutual betterment. If you know you are only going to be in an area for 1-2 weeks, it might not make sense to get involved in community work. In that case, it might be better to offer your services in other ways – as an office assistant, grant writer, or photographer. In this situation, you want to be of service in non-problematic ways that will assist the organization you are working with, without harming the community or greater cause at hand.

I recommend: UBelong, United Planet, and Unearth the World as some great organizations who partner people interested in volunteering abroad with communities/non-profits/NGOS this do work in ways that are both ethical, responsible, and fun!

•  Your school’s alumni organization activities

When I was in Thailand last January, I embarked on a day of service with the Cornell Club of Thailand. Our mission was to plant trees along a river to replace some that were lost due to climate change and weather oriented phenomenon. I never actually left the boat because monkey’s who jumped in and took the bananas our boat driver brought for them traumatized me. Regardless, it was nice to meet other Cornelians and the other students on my trip did plant the trees making for a really cool day and great way to be of service to the global community.

• Join a service-oriented club/society at the institution you’re attending

Cornell has over 900 students run clubs. When I studied abroad at the University of Warwick this fall, I was delighted to find out that they also had a number of student- run clubs that they call societies. Joining a society at Warwick was a great way to get involved in campus life, make friends, and gain a true perspective on college life at Warwick. If the institution you study at has student clubs or societies and you want to figure out a way to be of service to your study abroad community, then join a service-oriented club! You will make friends, have fun, and give back. It doesn’t get better than that!

Engaging in some form of service while abroad has always enriched my travels immensely. Hopefully, these tips help you figure out ways you can incorporate service into your time abroad.

Gabrielle Hickmon

Cornell University | 7 stories

Gabrielle Hickmon is a senior at Cornell University who just returned from studying abroad at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @gabgotti. She rants and writes regularly on her blog The Reign XY. But, when she isn't, you can find her laughing with her friends, binge watching way too much Netflix, and planning her next adventure!

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