Serving to Learn: Personal and Cultural Shifts

Hello all! Amizade Global Service-Learning reached out to me after our recent Winter Break program experience in Bolivia (described in my introductory blog here) to write a post-program piece. Please take the time to read the below reflection of this life-changing global experience. I can’t thank Slippery Rock University enough for organizing and engaging us students to learn and grow in such powerful ways.

https://amizade.org/serving-to-learn-personal-and-cultural-shifts/

SRU 2018 Bolivia Group
Finishing our service at la Escuela Caramarca Otavi in Vinto, Bolivia, photo by Marshall Tuten

Header photo by Javier Collarte on Unsplash 📸

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

Header photo by Milos Hajder on Unsplash 📸

NASPA.edu: The 9,400 Square Foot Campus

This past spring as I was applying and interviewing for summer internships, I wanted to find a position that would allow me to distinguish myself as a professional with experiences both in and adjacent to the campus environment. As these interviews went from the first to second rounds, I realized that the pull of interning in a more generalist higher education space was where I needed to be to grow into a more dynamic professional. During this summer internship period in Washington, D.C. at the NASPA Central Office, gained a macro-level view of the function of student affairs and our role within higher education as a whole. I was also able to compare and contrast the values, environment, and structure of this association to the campuses that I’ve attended and worked at. Below are my observations on NASPA University!

NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education lol

Mission and Values

NASPA seeks “to be the principal source of leadership, scholarship, professional development, and advocacy for student affairs” by serving “a full range of professionals who provide programs, experiences, and services that cultivate student learning and success in concert with the mission of our colleges and universities.” NASPA indirectly touches the lives of the students that professionals work with daily, helping them gain skills and relevant, up-to-date knowledge on how to serve them. When thinking to the model of a university, I’d say that NASPA members are like the students at the university, gaining the practical knowledge needed to do the best work for the campus community. NASPA is an educational place, for graduate students, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers, and as we invest in professional development, we invest in all who we work with and serve+.

Locations and Spaces

NASPA’s “main campus” exists in the Central Office located in Washington, D.C. The association additionally has “branch campuses” in Denver where our BACCHUS Initiatives are housed as well as the multiple locations across the country where NASPA staff members work remotely. NASPA also extends their online ‘campus’ component to their constantly updated blog and constituent contributions and the many online tools that connect the team together. As NASPA continues to make its mark online, this placement mirrors the growing number of online learners who attend classes virtually.

Office Structure and Roles

The office structure and roles at NASPA often mirror those of on-campus Student Affairs offices. As illustrated on the NASPA Staff page, the organization is lead by a President and three Vice Presidents for the three overall organizational divisions at NASPA: Professional Development, Operations, and Research and Policy. Under these auspices are the directors for various departments, their assistant directors, often times a departmental assistant, and interns.

Member and Student Interaction

Throughout the year, NASPA hosts multiple work-study students from neighboring universities who aid in departmental work in accounting, membership, educational programs, and in research and policy. And of course, during the summer NASPA hosts graduate, undergraduate, and high school interns that work with full-time staff members to create and deliver well-rounded services to 16,000 members and counting. Though students aren’t always buzzing around NASPA’s office on the daily, our association still has direct connections with students through the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP), the Graduate Associate Program (GAP), and the New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC). In addition, if you find yourself in the DC area during the summer, NASPA hosts an open house and rooftop reception!

For members, NASPA’s Constituent Groups (such as the Divisions, Regions & Areas, Knowledge Communities) serve like majors and ‘student’ organizations on a campus, bringing together people through content interests and identity affiliations. These co-curricular and often digital spaces allow us to transcend our physical campuses, if only for a little while, to gauge best practices for students and for ourselves.

CTAG2017

Staffing the joint-located Closing the Achievement Gap and Symposium on Financial Well-being conferences with NUFP Intern, Thalia

Having the privilege of serving as the 2017 NASPA Summer Graduate Intern allowed me to have a myriad of unique experiences, ones that I may not have had if I had interned on a campus. From staffing a 500 person joint-located conference, to planning and translating a national social media campaign centered around our field’s progression, many of these learning moments and opportunities for me to grow were unique to a higher education association. I challenge all incoming and current graduate students to think of the multiple spaces adjacent to the campus environment and to think how their degree can often translate far past a campus. As my supervisor Lucy explained in one of our last meetings, our degrees are often focused on the training and development of young people, skills which can easily be used on campus, in various non-profits, and even for-profits! Look for the spaces that excite you, that bring you toward new experiences, and that will challenge and push you. I did and I’m thankful for graduating from NASPA U!

Header photo by Susie Ho on Unsplash 📸