When one thinks of “education abroad,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Study Abroad. Students often forget that there is more than one way to earn credit abroad. You can of course study abroad, but there are also opportunities to intern, do research, teach, or do service abroad for academic credit.
As both a sophomore and a junior, I took advantage of service learning trips to Guatemala and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Here, I hope to persuade one to take the plunge and earn academic credit while completing service abroad, because my experience serving abroad changed my life in more ways than just one.
One of the first questions a student is inclined to ask when looking at programs that are service oriented is, “So what exactly will I gain by doing service abroad?”
As with every education abroad opportunity, those who go abroad to do service will gain a new insight of a different culture and often return with reduced stereotypes and a greater inter-cultural understanding. By doing service you will feel like you have an improved understanding of social responsibility and citizenship skills, and not only that, but the hope is that when you return stateside, you will have a greater involvement in community service within your everyday life. It is often the goal of a service abroad trip to have students come back with a greater sense of personal identity and growth in moral development. It is one thing to read about the hardships many endure throughout the world, but it is incredibly difficult to understand this adversity unless you see it for yourself. Learning on site is invaluable.
Through my service abroad experience I learned more about myself than I thought possible. I learned about my own personal beliefs and how they compared to reality in Guatemala, and I also I developed interpersonally in the fact that I enhanced my ability to work well with others, all while building leadership and communication skills and exploring an incredible country!
For a little over a week I served in a small village outside of Guatemala City through a service learning course. I spent the week building a house for a family in dire need of shelter, staining wood homes, and most importantly, I engaged in the community and interacted with the beautiful people of Guatemala. On a daily basis our project team would visit a small community school to interact with the children of the village. The people we met were some of the friendliest, care free, and loving people I have met in my life. They taught me as well as my entire group the value of living life to the fullest. Though they do not have much at all in terms of material items, they have more than enough to be happy. What they do not have in material items, they make up for in heart. They do not need the newest shiny electronic devices to be happy. All they need is relationships with their family and community, and the smallest things seem to bring them happiness. A single hug or high five from us “Gringos” was enough to leave them smiling for the entire day.
Service learning in any location is going to leave a lasting impression on those who are a part of it, and I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and take part in the precious experience. Though it may be hard to understand if you have never been a part of a service abroad trip, the best part about service abroad in my opinion is that you realize that you are not only serving the people, but more importantly, the people you are serving are actually the ones serving you. That realization is priceless.
Photos and post by Courtney Smith
Courtney is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Psychology. She is a Junior at Transylvania University, and she participated in a Semester at Sea Program.