Study Abroad Service-Learning Program

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Study Abroad Service-Learning Program Offers Fresh Perspective on Immigration

By: V. Renee Russell
Global Education Office
(804) 828-3636
vrrussell@vcu.edu

Richmond, VA (June 13, 2013) — Virginia Commonwealth University’s Global Education Office has a long legacy of offering students unique, life-enhancing study abroad experiences. This summer, GEO added a dimension to its education abroad opportunities by offering a study abroad program that not only allowed students to participate in language and cultural immersion, but in community service projects at the same time.

Twenty-two VCU students enrolled in the Spanish-Language, Culture, and Service-Learning program in Córdoba, Spain from May 20 to June 14 which was coordinated and directed by Anita Nadal, assistant professor of Spanish in the VCU School of World Studies. The program was the result of extensive planning and collaboration between VCU and the University’s International Strategic Partner, University of Córdoba

Within the program, students were able to enroll in the Hispanic and Latino Immigrants and Aspects of Spanish and Immigrant Cultures in Spain service-learning courses which provided them with an overview of Spanish history and culture as they relate to immigrant populations in Spain. “The Hispanic and Latino Immigrantscourse typically focuses on immigrant populations in the U.S.,” said Nadal. “However, because the program was in Córdoba, Spain, throughout the class we were constantly comparing the differences in how immigrants are dealt with in the U.S. and how they deal with the issue of immigration here in Córdoba.”

To further bring course discussions to life, students participated in service-learning projects with humanitarian organizations dedicated to helping immigrant populations in Córdoba. For example, one organization with which students volunteered was Maisha (meaning “life” in Swahili). The organization provides a garden in which at-risk women can plant and grow produce; once the produce is harvested, the women may keep half of the harvest for themselves and sell the other half.

Kiosko Gallipatos, another organization where students volunteered, provides a venue where goods and services can be exchanged using a bartering system. According to the Lucía Arnedo Chica, Volunteer Office coordinator at the University of Córdoba which hosted the program, the goal of the organization is to remove the exchange of money from the equation and to “provide a system that empowers people with the means to become self-sufficient.”

Christopher Sullivan, a rising senior majoring in International Studies in the School of World Studies believes that this experience provides insights that can benefit him personally and benefit our society as a whole. “I came on this trip because I loved the idea of both going abroad and helping people,” he said. “Because this program had both, it was the best fit for me. I’ve learned so much about the differences in cultures and the differences in how this country deals with immigration, and I think we can learn a lot from them.”

Nadal agreed. “What really sticks out for me, is the level of care and the level of service that these organizations offer to the immigrant populations here,” she said.

“Immigration has been considered one of the most complex issues that the U.S. government has had for years,” Nadal said. “This program shows our students one way that we, as a country, can deal with immigration. These are our future leaders, and they may be able to bring a fresh perspective to this issue because of this experience,” she said.

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