The passion for cross-cultural learning has been for us an inspiration to always look for new service learning and community engagement opportunities.
Like every semester, students have the possibility to choose one of this type of activities and carry it out during their time in Italy. Each activity can be considered a valuable experiential learning that can be applied to fields like biology, nutrition, sociology or education. What is unique about all of these opportunities is that once the students start their chosen activity they are automatically connected with the community and the world around them. Engaging with the community becomes a way to observe, learn, reflect and contribute. Here is the secret formula of success and well-being! Students involved in community engagement activities say that they quickly adapt to their new home, as they become part of the community they work with and make a difference.
Community Garden, for example is designed for students who like outdoors activities and gardening. Depending on the work scheduled and the season, activities vary from planting trees and monitoring them, to taking care of the irrigation system and the park in general including cleaning and restoring wooden benches. It is a way to learn about sustainability, biodiversity and habitat preservation. The founders of the association that takes care of the park organize clean up days throughout the year, which very often end up with a large buffet or a BBQ offered by the residents in the neighborhood, as a way to thank all the volunteers who worked hard to make the park always look beautiful.
Through the community service project, I have been able to make new friends and explore new areas of our neighborhood. I used to garden at home with my aunt, so being able to do the same thing, but in a new location, was a really special way to make connections and feel comfortable in a new environment.
S. Rule, Babson College
Other categories of activities are more linked to Sociology and Education. The English Lab for kids is a wonderful learning experience for students who like to interact with children in a preschool age. Since more and more Italian parents want their children to learn English from a very young age, students organize workshops to interact with kids, through music and games. They have to come up with creative and fun plans to communicate with them.
A similar activity takes place at Scuola Popolare. Since several semesters, students support education programs by helping primary and secondary school students with their homework. This is a great opportunity to gain experience in education and to become really immersed in a new culture and language, gaining self-confidence and improving communication skills.
The Senior Center is a new addition to the community engagement activities, since this semester. The benefits that students are having with this activity, go beyond the language exchange where a group of elders learn some basic English while our students practice what they studied in their Italian language class.
Volunteering at the Senior Center has been much more than just teaching an 'English lab'. Every other Tuesday, we look forward to the time that we are able to sit down with the seniors and exchange words and get to one another better.
J. Guice, Babson College
The Senior center of Garbatella offers already many options for elders, but this lab is becoming another reason for them to go out and feel less lonely. On the other hand, an hour per week represent for our students a full immersion in the Italian context.
Through volunteering at the Senior Center, we have been able to embrace every aspect of Arcadia University’s global education. Through building relationships with this community, we have been able to foster a mutually beneficial, cross-cultural learning environment that continues to evolve every week.
M. Tufankijan, Babson College
Last but not least, Community Service for homeless people and refugees. This activity has always been very popular among the students who dedicate a couple of hours per week, distributing food or helping with the clothing drive for the needy. They get to work side by side with other volunteers and for others which affects profoundly their overall psychological well-being.