FRANSEN: Service component is a bonus for study abroad

elena_newAt a university which toots its commitment to service, many students vehemently incorporate it into their college experience. Some take classes with a service-learning component while others join organizations devoted entirely to service. Be it service for the Milwaukee area or for national causes, Marquette gets involved.

Unfortunately, I haven’t done much community service since coming to college. In my first three years, I focused primarily on academic and extracurricular activities while juggling my studies and life outside of school. I never had a class that required service-learning and haven’t found the time to investigate other options fully. I probably could have managed all of my interests but as I have a history of over-committing myself, I thought it might be smart to focus on just a couple. As a result, my service experience hasn’t been stellar.

So when I found out a component of my chosen summer study-abroad program to South Africa was service-learning, I was thrilled. I thought I could work some service in with my experience abroad, knocking out two items on my college bucket list.

I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first time doing service as well as traveling abroad, but I hoped it would help me learn more about the country I was staying in for three weeks and the people who lived there. Nothing could really prepare me for that.

I was placed at the Saartjie Baartman Women’s Centre in a township outside Cape Town, a shelter for women and children who were abused, and though I spent just six days there, I gained a greater perspective of the current social circumstances facing individuals in the community. I connected with my surroundings and while it might have been easier to remain ignorant to the troubles facing South Africa, I became aware of what is being done to address them and aid those affected.

Being abroad is a beautiful experience, with picturesque sights, interesting people and exotic foods, but I think some people take it to be this great escape from reality instead of a glimpse into another reality. For me, doing service in another country turned out to be a huge wake up call to the hardships people in South Africa and the United States faced. I also got some semblance of an idea of what I want to do after graduation, an added bonus for me and my slightly overbearing family.

It is unfortunate that Marquette’s semester program in South Africa is the only Office of International Education affiliated program that incorporates service heavily. Based on what I learned from my time in Cape Town, I think more programs should offer service placements to students while abroad. Marquette-supported service opportunities should not  be limited to Milwaukee and the United States if students are to be more globally-aware citizens through study abroad.

I learned from my experience that I want to take the time to serve the Milwaukee community and stay connected to the progress made in South Africa. Every country has its struggles and more students can benefit from the added perspective of taking an active role in in-country solutions.

Service is important to Marquette and its mission, so it only makes sense for service to be a priority in its sponsored study abroad programs. Service could be optional but students may enjoy a better opportunity to serve as a part of a new community, something I found deeply enriching to my abroad experience.

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