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Volunteer Service Learning
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The Benefits of Study Abroad

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In a hospital for the mentally handicapped a music therapist, Ernesto, held a washboard-like instrument up to Miquelito’s face, peering through the spaces between the chimes. As he gently drew the mallet across the instrument, Miguelitos’s eyes searched for the source of the sound. Finally, they rested upon Ernesto’s chimes and began to follow the even rhythm of the playing.

Caitlyn Bodine, who assisted Ernesto at the hospital, recalls this moment as her most meaningful service-learning experience. “Since Miguelito had severe Down’s syndrome, which made him minimally responsive and usually unable to fix his eyes on objects, this seemingly small event was a big step in the motor development of this little boy.”

Caitlyn, a music and Spanish language major from Southwestern Univ., met Miguelito through her music therapy service project while studying in Santiago with the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES). Rather than requiring students to decide between studying in a university atmosphere and volunteering in third-world countries, IES service learning lets students combine a community service project with a credit-earning academic course.

While Chile is a typical service-learning location because it is considered a developing nation, Johanna Richards, a psychology major from William Jewell College, found that there are service-learning opportunities in European countries too. While attending IES Amsterdam, Johanna taught English to asylum seekers at the Bos en Lommer Refugee Center and the Kurdish Community Center. She learned how the asylum-seeker system worked, and also experienced Amsterdam’s diversity.

“I worked with people from Africa, the Middle East, and European countries,” says Johanna. “The greatest memory I have is from the experience of dancing with the Kurds I taught.”

Students like Caitlyn and Johanna consider service learning to be an important part of the study abroad experience because it enhances academic study, assists with cultural immersion, helps develop language skills, and provides international work experience.

“While many students choose to participate in internships while abroad, I feel that service learning is a great opportunity for students in non business-related disciplines to step out to their comfort zones and participate in a professional context of a different kind,” says Caitlyn. “Due to this incredible experience, I am pursuing music therapy as a career.”

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