Issue 378: 4 / 11 / 2011

Service-Learning Joins Study Abroad for Overseas Adventure

Pictured are (left to right ...

Pictured are (left to right) Shannon Little, Aaron Alexander and Denise Malloy in the conference hall at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville for the Volunteer TN Statewide Service-Learning Conference.

Aaron Alexander, a Southwest sociology major, recaps his service-learning experience in Macedonia.

In March I travelled to Nashville to participate in the Volunteer TN Statewide Service-Learning Conference. The conference was a congregation – or a meeting of minds, on different ways to combine service-learning with other projects the participants were involved with. There were representatives from a broad spectrum of education, state agencies and projects ranging from Habitat for Humanity to AmeriCorps. Department Chair for Social and Behavioral Studies Shannon Little presented a session on the impact of Service-Learning on retention and graduation; Professor of Sociology Denise Malloy represented the Center for Service-Learning at Southwest, and I presented an exhibit on my own Southwest Service-Learning Study Abroad experience.

My program was about a Service-Learning Study Abroad trip that sent 10 other students and me to Macedonia, just north of Greece in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Southwest's International Studies Department not only brings exchange students to the school, but also sends students every year around the world to study subjects in other countries. This year the International Studies Department is sending 72 students to study abroad in countries ranging from Denmark to India and, more and more, service-learning is being integrated into their programs.

Our study abroad experience combined class time – which actually started here in the states – with community involvement through service in a small town called Negotino, Macedonia. The class was a second-level sociology course, Social Problems, and in this course we learned about social patterns of behavior that can create or address problems in society. Each morning in Negotino we had class time for about an hour and then we would go out into the local community and apply what we had learned in class to what we were seeing in Negotino.

The beauty in this course – and the service-learning portion of the class – was that while we were studying the problems of societies through the lens of class time, we could more clearly see what we as individuals might view as admirable elements of society. Also, being in another country helped us see our own societal issues in the states. For me it was an interesting blend of perspective that allowed me to examine my own life with a larger hemisphere. It is this syncretism that makes International Studies, in combination with service-learning, enthralling, and I would like to see Southwest continue in this area of education.

The conference was an opportunity for us to present our ideas on service-learning and pull new service-learning ideas from others. The other attendees at this conference were full of insight on the subject of service-learning and I would imagine the students of Southwest will soon see some of these ideas made manifest. From statistical data to student testimony at this conference, I think it has been overwhelmingly proven that this area of education works, and I was honored to have been invited to a conference with those spearheading this new area of education.