This posted was featured in Youth Service America‘s Back to School blogger series. As students head back to school, YSA is highlighting education and service in our Back to School Education Read blog posts from students, educators, and service-learning experts about their experiences with education and service.
Many students choose to study abroad during their four years of college, but I chose a different route to enhancing my classroom learning with an international experience. I spent summer 2010 on a student-run international service trip called the Bosnia Project (BP). Living with a host family, we spent our weeks teaching English to Bosnian elementary students. The BP team received a tremendous amount of support from different offices within our university at the College of William & Mary to support this trip. The Office of Community Engagement and the Reves Center for International Studies supplied grants totaling over $12,000 to help cover the cost of flights, living, and partnership fees with local NGO’s.
I was attracted to the Bosnia Project over other service trips because of its sustainability. The length of the service experience – one month – was more than other service trips on campus. This truly allowed us to engage more with the local community. BP connected to my academic interests such as my government courses in International politics and team members also enrolled in a service-learning course prior to the trip to learn about Bosnian culture, history, and education. BP alumni are actively involved in various aspects of the trip from recruitment to development. In its ten year history, two BP alums have received Fulbright Scholarships to Bosnia; many go onto work in international organizations and government, and several have founded their own nonprofits focusing on cross-cultural communication. The Global Playground is just one example.
My relationship with my Bosnian co-teacher in the school grew over long afternoons of enjoying traditional Bosnian coffee in the local café. My continued relationship with my co-teacher and the NGO leader played an important role in a sustainable project that continues to build inter-cultural understanding between Americans and Bosnians. As a result of our team’s successful partnership, we sent twice as many BP volunteers to Sarajevo in 2011.
“Education is a vehicle for social change.”
This driving idea is what inspires me today to continue working in international education. It is my hope that as the BP continues to grow it will continue to build cross-cultural relationships and creative thinking skills among youth in recovering Bosnia and Herzegovina. Service trips abroad can inspire new ways of thinking – for both the participant and the local community. By experiencing this, I am better able to expand how I will apply my academics to my career and my service experiences.
What options for international service does your University offer? What good comes from sending short-term volunteers to a country, and what harm must be considered if that service is unsustainable?