Learning to Serve: Service-Learning in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Hello all! If you’re hoping to call me or hang out in person soon, you may want to wait until after the 19th of this month. I will soon be traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia to participate in a service-learning experience with students and staff at Slippery Rock. I’m very excited to go abroad once again (I studied abroad in Spain five years ago) and to support a long-term project in a Latin American community.

Map of South American with a pinpoint on Cochabamba, BoliviaA zoomed-in map of South America focused on Bolivia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who are you going with? And how long will the program be? I am going with staff members and student leaders within SRU’s Office for Community-Engaged Learning as well as other undergraduate students at Slippery Rock. Our team of 12 is getting ready for the upcoming altitude shift (over 7,000 feet!). The trip should be a little over two weeks and I’ll be staying with a Bolivian family via homestay.

Logo for the Slippery Rock University Office of Community-Engaged Learning
Connect; Tranform; Inspire.

Who put this on? This international alternative break is a joint partnership between SRU’s Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL) and the Pittsburgh-based non-profit, Amizade Global Service-Learning. OCEL is the hub for student volunteerism and civic engagement on campus. Throughout the Fall and Spring semesters, OCEL leads long-term service projects within Butler county and the Pittsburgh area as well as short domestic Alternative Breaks during short breaks. One framework that they abide by for their projects is Place as Context; Service-Learning as Strategy; Civic Engagement as the Goal. Below is more detail about their alternative break programming:

The Office for Community-Engaged Learning develops alternative breaks for students to learn about partner communities through the lens of direct service. The knowledge gained through service and pre-departure education will serve as context as students confront the social issues of the partner communities, unpack personal responsibility regarding these issues, and create a plan to continuously address these issues to create positive social change.

Amizade, which means ‘friendship’ in Portuguese, is has been hosting service-learning experiences in multiple countries (including the United States) for 20 years.  One important aspect of their work is their focus on Fair Trade Learning, based on the move toward fair trade labor in developing countries. Overall, they focus on how service should be reciprocal and beneficial to all parties participating; they don’t just focus on American students “feeling good” about their service but helping students reflect meaningfully on their global citizenship while providing members of the community served with their own professional development and adequate compensation. Learn more about their work in Bolivia here: https://amizade.org/site/bolivia/Logo for Amizade Global Service-Learning

What are you doing there? Part of our days will be service for a local primary or secondary school in Cochabamba, which will include construction. We will then return to our homestay families for the largest meal of the day, lunch, and family time. Every day our team will participate in whole group reflections focusing on our impact, our cultural transitions, and group dynamics. Some days we may travel to a nearby city or go salsa dancing at night, or go to church with our families. I’m

How did you prepare for this experience? There were some logistical pieces like getting my passport ready, getting a few vaccines, and filling out some forms but with a few months of prep time during the semester, it worked out well. One great part of the program was our monthly pre-departure programs touching on topics such as site specific, group dynamics and member roles, cultural humility, and community development through Fair Trade Learning.

Goals: I want to be as flexible as possible during this trip so I’m hesitant to make goals that are too specific, especially before I better understand that context of our service and stay. However, I do have some hopes that I’d like to share below that I will further reflect on when I get back (and through a new post!):

  1. As one of the four members of our trip who know Spanish, I hope that through this experience I can be less shy speaking the language. I’m excited to be able to connect to my homestay family and learn more about their lives and help my teammates connect as well.
  2. One of the main reasons I joined our team for this trip was because I wanted to learn more about service-learning and it’s function within higher education, first-hand. Last Spring, I interviewed our site leader, Jeffrey Rathlef, regarding his role as Director of Community-Engaged Learning about this functional area. Through this interview, I gained insight into theories such as Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’, David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, and civic engagement associations such as Campus Compact. I hope through this trip that I can see these models in action and see where I can apply them once I’m back on Slippery Rock’s campus.
A photo of Sammie Walker with her Spanish homestay family
Meeting my Spanish parents during Summer 2013

3. I will (not hope to!) commit myself to journaling and documenting my thoughts, feelings, unique experiences, and cultural observations during my two weeks abroad. I previously studied abroad in Spain for the summer after my first-year in undergrad and so appreciate the blogs that I wrote my my family and friends. I now realize that I also wrote them to myself, giving myself a glimpse of who I was then and reflections on how hard the transition was at first. I hope it’s a little easier for me now five years later.

4. After the program, program participants and member of the SRU administration will attend a re-entry dinner where we present about our unique experiences. I’m excited to have to opportunity to share what we’ve learned and leave something for future participants in programs like this. Though I’ll be graduating in May, I hope that I can further educate about Amizade’s mission and service-learning to my cohort mates.

Follow along my journey via my Twitter account. I’ll see if I can tweet out pictures and experiences after our long days! I will be keeping a journal of my travel experiences and I’ll be sure to post the highlights before the end of the month. I’ll see y’all again when school starts!

Bonus! Slippery Rock University has posted an article about our trip here: SRU group to practice fair-trade learning during service trip to Bolivia

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