Beyond the Classroom: How service learning works in BestSemester programs

April 30, 2008
Just as service learning has long been a priority on most CCCU campuses, it is also an integral component of BestSemester student programs around the world. Whether students are learning the ropes as a reporter in the nations capital, assimilating into Russian culture, practicing the Arabic language in Cairo or practicing social justice in Sydney, Australia, getting involved in the local community is a must for each cultural immersion experience.

The key for us is this: We believe that the best journalism is done by people who actually know the city in which they are working, says Terry Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center (WJC). Our students are only in Washington D.C. for a semester, but we want them to learn how to relate to a wide range of people. There are important stories to tell on the Hill, but there are also important stories to tell about the lives of the people you pass on the sidewalks and sit next to on the bus. Service learning helps you get out of the classroom and do that.
The Middle East Studies Program (MESP), based in Cairo, Egypt, includes service learning one day a week for nine weeks in one of many wayselderly home care, deaf school administration, Sudanese refugee assistance, Sisters of Charity orphanage, visits to non-Egyptian Christian inmates serving long term convictions at Qanatel prison, and more.
MESP service projects remain one of the most important ways that students connect the head and the heart, breaking through cultural and language barriers with deeds that communicate simple love and care, says MESP Director David Holt. We hope such experiences will provoke students to believe that they can make a difference in small places and spaces, leading them to consider the importance of such endeavors as a permanent part of their vocational lives.
Harley Wagler, director of the Russian Studies Program (RSP) in Nizhni Novgorod, says service projects are integral to RSP because they reflect the incarnational approach to Christian living and learning.
North American students, every day of the semester, encounter many Russians at the academy and in homes, but at service projects they meet an entirely differentsegment of the Russian population, says Wagler.Playing withkids in an orphanage whose parentshave abandoned them because of drinking gives life to statistics showing that alcoholism is Russia's number one social problem. In another location, studentsworking in the bowels of an ancient Russian church, cleaningthe mortar offancient bricks, are told that those bricks are infused with the Spirit of God, as they have accompanied the faithful prayers of generations. Such an experience raises questions about the secular, the sacred, and the meaning of a holy place.
The student perspective
While at MESP, Gordon College (MA) student Sarah Durfey worked at a Coptic-run preschool. It gave me a chance to give back to the community. Its a great opportunity to interact with and work alongside Egyptians while I learn how to communicate in Arabic!
At RSP, Dordt College (IA) student Mark Bonnes helped rebuild an Orthodox Church which had been turned into a bread factory. My experience in Russia would have had a gaping hole in it if I had not volunteered there, he says. I gained friends and insight into the community and the spiritual life of orthodox believers.
At the China Studies Program (CSP), Grace College (IN) student Alyssa Garvin volunteered at an orphanage. Working at the orphanage forced me to get my eyes off of myself and see people who aren't as fortunate, she says. I was humbled and shown how important it is to love those that our Father calls the fatherless.
At the Australia Studies Centre (ASC), Seattle Pacific University (WA) student Kristen Kirk helped cook meals at Newtown Mission. The biggest thing I learned at Newtown was this: we are all the same, she says. Every single person was made in Gods image. We all have our dreams and downfallsconversing with people living completely different lifestyles helped me to fully understand this.
The 12 semester- or summer-long student programs offered by the CCCU are categorized as either culture-shaping programs or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Marthas Vineyard, Mass.); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (L.A., Calif.); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Included in the culture-crossing programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; Russian Studies Program; and Uganda Studies Program. All programs undergo regular site visit evaluations by the Student Academic Programs Commission (SAPC).
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 182 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. There are now 105 member campuses in North America and all are fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 77 affiliate campuses from 24 countries are part of the CCCU. The Councils mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.