Across the Globe with Service-Learning

By Ruthanne Bandy

This summer three Northeastern University faculty members will lead Dialogues of Civilization (DOC) with a service-learning component. These faculty members are charged with fostering an environment of learning and growth for their students, while respecting the country in which they are guests. Dr. Lori Gardinier will be traveling to England with students partaking in the DOC Nonprofits and Social Change in London. Tania Muiño-Loureiro will return to her native country Spain with the Dialogue entitled Spain, Language and Culture. Finally, Dr. Vanessa Johnson will be leading Education and Learning in Ghana with undergraduate and graduate students. Each of these programs is unique in location, course content, and how service-learning will be implemented.

Dr. Gardinier is far from a novice when it comes to service-learning. As the Director of the Human Services Program she has cultivated and sustained many service-learning partnerships with Boston nonprofits. Outside of Boston, she has been leading global service-learning programs for nearly 12 years, before DOCs even existed. Dr. Gardinier explained the complexity that is global service-learning, stating:

“Because service-learning in general in my perspective is a very complicated engagement with community and requires of us to be really in touch with our privilege, really in touch with the institution that we represent, really in touch with what the needs are of the local community, and that just becomes that much more complicated when you do this abroad, because you don’t have the same credibility of the institution locally, you don’t have the same ongoing relationships, and you don’t necessarily have the same understanding of culture.”

This is the first time Gardinier will be leading a Dialogue to London, and she hopes it won’t be the last. One of her main goals when leading global service-learning programs is to “develop long term relationships with these organizations and to ideally develop partnerships that extend beyond just the service-learning experience of the Dialogue to potential co-ops and other opportunities.”

When Gardinier’s students arrive in London they will work with a non-profit or social service organization for 25 hours a week, learning about the various forces that influence non-governmental organizations functioning in London. This Dialogue has a project-based service-learning component in which students implement a capacity building project. Northeastern students will work collaboratively with their organization’s staff in order to ensure their work is culturally competent and is making a significant and necessary contribution.

Not too far away in Spain, Tania Muiño-Loureiro will be leading Northeastern students in an intense immersive experience in Seville and Barcelona. These students will participate in a home-stay for four weeks, take Spanish language courses with students from around the world, participate in cultural activities, and engage in service-learning. Students will be serving at a variety of sites including a soup kitchen, an after school program for children, an organization for the mentally disabled, and a residential home for the elderly. By allowing students to indicate their preference for service placements, Muiño-Loureiro aims to foster strong connections between students and partners. This immersive experience allows students to engage in service while practicing their language skills, an opportunity that cannot be replicated in an American classroom.

Finally, Dr. Vanessa Johnson and her students will be travelling throughout Ghana. Dr. Johnson is the Director of the College Student Development and Counseling Program at Northeastern, through which students become college administrators with a counseling foundation. Naturally, Dr. Johnson is familiar with service-learning and how it impacts education but this will be the first time she is including service-learning in the coursework of her Dialogue. Throughout this trip, students will engage with education in Ghana in all levels – from primary school to colleges. Her DOC is designed to examine the differences and similarities in education and learning between Ghana and the United States.

Dr. Johnson’s students will be participating in various types of service-learning, including pre-departure activities such as raising money through Northeastern’s Catalyst page to buy braille equipment for a school for the blind and collecting soccer equipment to take with them. While in Ghana, students are “doing everything” said Johnson. They will be engaging in direct service by leading presentations to Ghanaian students, coordinating a spelling bee for students, reading to students at a special needs school, and participating in physical activities such as painting buildings. Along with the service-learning component, students will attend various lectures from local professionals. A variety of topics will be covered, including: the history of education in Ghana, women’s education, and technology. They will visit five institutions of higher education, the United States Embassy, and the United Nations headquarters in Ghana. To further advance their understanding of Ghana, students will also participate in a variety cultural activities.

Whether in London, Spain, or Ghana, students from Northeastern University will have the unique opportunity to experience service-learning on a global scale and will hopefully create mutually beneficial partnerships that allow for intentional service. When she led a Dialogue to Ghana in 2008, Dr. Johnson saw first-hand the vast needs of Ghanaians and decided that if she returned she would incorporate a way for students to help whilst on their trip. Service-Learning allows just that. Dr. Johnson explained, “I want [the students] to leave something there. I want [the Ghanaians] to know that we’ve been there and also that we cared.”

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