6 Reasons Why You Should Do Service While You’re Abroad
Take time off from all the travel to give a little back.
While studying abroad in Bologna, Italy, I took a wonderful class called Human Rights and Global Change. This class afforded me the opportunity to do service as an EFL teacher throughout the semester in Bologna where I was living. Students in my class were placed with different organizations around the city including non-profits, working with the homeless and working with girls affected by domestic violence. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and would urge anyone studying abroad with any program to do some research and try to get some service hours in while there. Here’s why:
1. We better understand the less fortunate from that part of the world
This social sciences class taught me about the lives of immigrants living in Italy, living in the same neighborhood as my dorm building. I had no idea, really, what was going on in that part of the world before I arrived there. I was seeing immigrant’s everyday. I noticed how they were treated, how the news talked about them, how the locals talked about them. Through my service as an EFL teacher, I was able to meet people and learn about their lives. Many of them are just looking for opportunity and a safe place.
2. We were doing something good amongst everything we were doing for ourselves
It’s easy when you’re abroad to get caught up in the travelling and exploring. You go shopping and go out to eat. You do things for you, of course, because that’s why you’re there. It was a nice change of pace for me to come home from a weekend away to teach ESL classes. It brought me back down to earth and made me remember that it’s not all about me all the time. Yes, I was abroad to experience the world and have an amazing semester, but doing service is part of that experience and it made my semester better than I could have imagined.
3. We met people who’s stories changed us
Learning about the lives of my students and their families affected me in ways I didn’t expect. These people had experienced things in their lives that I would not even come close to experiencing. Their stories changed my view of that part of the world and my own part of the world. Some of the bad things that happen to me don’t seem so bad anymore. I read the news and I am more interested in immigration issues.
4. It helped integrate us into the community
One of my classmates explained, learning about the community through experience is very different that learning from teachers or peers. Helping members of the community showed us what it would be like to struggle in that setting, which is very different, yet similar in some ways, from struggling in America. Gabbi Hasselden, Santa Clara University said “I actually felt like I was making a difference for these people with every event that I planned and every house visit I made.” She did her service with a non-profit working with the homeless.
5. We were helping their lives in a bigger way
The following is from Claire Wojda, Spring Hill College, who taught in the same EFL program as me, but a younger class.
“I began to love teaching EFL when I finally realized that I was doing positive good for the young students I taught. At first I had a lot of uncertainties about teaching English to students in Italy, many of whom already spoke two or three other languages. I felt like I was just perpetuating the oppressive idea that everyone should learn English because it is more convenient for those in power in places all over the world and particularly in the U.S. Why should the students have to learn English if they are going to live in Italy? But many of the students I taught each week were not native Italians—they came from places like Eritrea and Sri Lanka, and I realized through talking to peers and mentors that they may not have been planning on staying in Italy for the rest of their lives. Maybe they were planning on moving to the U.S. or another country whose official language was English to better their lives there. Maybe life in Bologna was the step between those two realities. After realizing that this language instruction really could help my students down the road, I was able to focus on making that happen. I had so much fun teaching those wonderful and joyful young students about my culture and language, and learned so much more about theirs in the process.”
6. It taught us about communication
The following is from Mirelle Raza, Santa Clara University, who was placed in Oikos, a home for women affected by domestic violence.
“Most of the girls didn’t speak English so the service was unlike anything I’ve done before because communication was a lot more physical with body language. The nice part was, even with the language barrier, we were all able to connect and have a sense of mutual understanding without having to have full conversations. At the end of the day they weren’t different than teenage girls I’ve worked with in the states, who are obsessed with boys, watch MTV and day dreaming of moving on to bigger things.”
So, do some research and find a place near your school, dorm or apartment to give a little back to your new community.