Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Immersion Service Learning amazing opportunity to learn firsthand, students say

April 4th, 2017
The 2017 StFX Immersion Service Learning group in Peru with local residents.

Students Elizabeth Wallace and Molly Rutherford have two words for anyone considering participating in StFX’s Immersion Service Learning program: do it.

“You can learn so much about yourself and others. You come back with totally different perspectives,” says Ms. Wallace, a third year honours human kinetics student from Antigonish, NS who travelled to Peru over Reading Week to work with Nexos Comunitarios, a Peruvian non-profit that works closely with high altitude rural communities.

The StFX group worked with locals to build a chicken coop in Cuncani, together implementing tools to help the people improve their lives by having better nutrition and a better environment.

Along with Peru, StFX students travelled for immersion placements at L’Arche Ottawa and in Guatemala over Reading Week and will travel to Belize in late April and early May.

“The experience was incredible on so many different levels, from the people we met, the organization we worked with, fellow participants and our faculty advisor,” Ms. Wallace says. “I was blown away by how positive it was. Everything was really special.

“Service Learning has caused me to think in a different way, to take a different perspective.”

It’s a sentiment Ms. Rutherford easily relates to from her weeklong experience with L’Arche Ottawa.

“It’s the epitome of hands-on learning,” says the third-year honours human kinetics student from Kingston, ON, who says she liked most how immersed she was in the experience

“We were involved in every part of the daily life, and the administrative side of it.

“Meeting the residents and establishing relationships was really nice.”

Creating relationships: StFX student Molly Rutherford and a new friend at L'Arche Ottawa

Ms. Rutherford had participated in a Course-Based Service Learning experience through her StFX movement disorders course this fall, working with L’Arche community members involved with therapeutic riding.

“I’d absolutely loved it. I loved the organization, it’s an amazing organization and I wanted to help people,” she says on what prompted her to apply for the immersion experience.

While in Ottawa, she went to work with the residents, took part in a senior’s program, accompanied residents to Ottawa Winterlude and took part in daily life.

She says the experience impacted her in many ways, including realizing how lucky she is to be healthy, and to try to stress less and see the positive. “Being around the residents, who are happy all the time, made me take a step back and see the positive. Their dedication to family and friends really stuck with me too, family really matters more than you think. And it made me want to continue to give back.”  

She says she learned so much, including how to apply what she is learning in class in a real-life situation. The experience also helped her become more outgoing and more compassionate, she says.

“It made me feel more that I’m capable of helping other people and can have a positive impact, which is a nice feeling,” Ms. Rutherford says.

“It’s rewarding and fulfilling and definitely had an impact. I one hundred per cent recommend it.”

Ms. Wallace, who says she wanted to see a country with a culture different than her own and gain a new perspective, says the experience provided all this and more.

Ms. Wallace, pictured, back row, second from right, with the 2017 Immersion Service Learning group in Peru

She says it changed how she looks at poverty, and made her realize that while the group may have originally thought they went to Peru to perform service placements to help the local people, it was the other way around, with the local people educating them.

She says the experience also helped her learn about herself and that she’s capable of handling obstacles – like navigating altitude sickness – better than she anticipated she could.

“There are so many benefits and positives to the experience,” Ms. Wallace says.

“You really do learn a lot. We all hope that the experience will make us better persons going forward, and to continue to help others internationally and locally.”

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