Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Life-changing lessons: StFX Immersion Service Learning students ready for global education

February 15th, 2018
Pictured, a previous StFX Immersion Service Learning experience in Peru

Life-changing learning.

That’s what a group of StFX students and faculty leaders are poised to experience this coming week as they begin Immersion Service Learning placements that range from visiting important WWII and Holocaust sites in Europe to working in a cloud forest community in Ecuador.

Thirty-five students will travel over the February Reading Week break to Poland and Germany, Ecuador, Guatemala, L’Arche Ottawa and Peru while a further 10 students will travel to Belize in late April. In addition, a credit course and immersion experience is being offered in Ghana from May to July.

Service Learning, pioneered in Canada at StFX in 1996, blends hands-on opportunities and academic study with community service. Immersion experiences connect theory with experience by living and working alongside different cultural communities in another culture in national and international locations. 

Fourth year anthropology student Meaghan Landry will take part in the Germany and Poland experience where participants will journey through the events of the Holocaust and WWII, including spending a few days at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The service component of the trip will focus largely on the remembrance of victims and the telling of their stories. 

“I believe that I am most excited to hear firsthand the stories of the victims and to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This is a place I have read about in countless books and seen in many documentaries. I believe that visiting a site of such devastation, yet of such importance, will be a truly moving experience. I will be creating a podcast during my time there that will be aired on Social Justice Radio the week after I get back, so I am looking forward to having a platform where the voices of victims and their loved ones can be heard.” 

This is Ms. Landry’s third Immersion Service Learning trip. She participated in the Grenada trip in her second year and the Guatemala experience in her third year.

“They were both such wonderful, life-changing experiences that I thought why stop there? The Immersion Service Learning Program offers bursaries and fundraising ideas that have made these trips affordable and possible.”   

As a socio-cultural anthropology major, she says she has a passion for learning about other cultures, both locally and internationally.

“There is always a way to relate one's experience back to their field of study,” she says. “It is an opportunity to explore one's passions and interests, along with discovering one's likes and dislikes. I have done assignments based on my Immersion Service Learning experiences in development studies, women's and gender studies, anthropology and sociology courses. I believe that opening myself up to other cultures and their ways of life has made me a more understanding person. Being an outsider in a foreign country allows you to see the social, political and economic structures at play and how they affect individuals on a daily basis. I found this knowledge to be very beneficial upon my return home, taking note of systematic discrepancies and how they play a role within Canada.”

BROADEN PERSPECTIVES

“I feel these experiences broaden our perspective,” says StFX Schwartz School business professor Dr. Monica Lent, faculty leader for the group that will travel to Belize in April to learn about the preservation of natural resources at the Belize Zoo and community development in a small Mayan village.  

“For example, sometimes we have preconceived notions, formed consciously or unconsciously, which are invariably called into question. By being exposed to how people experience life in other countries, we are able to reflect on how cultures, lifestyles, relationships…vary. Additionally, we become very aware of how privileged we actually are,” Dr. Lent says.

Dr. Lent, who is leading her second immersion trip, says the opportunity to learn and do new things drew her to participate. “In particular, I was drawn in by the community-led, bottom-up nature of the activities our host provides as I have a keen interest in this type of development. I look forward to observing the similarities and differences of the village of Maya Center and other communities I’ve spent time in that have charted their own course,” she says.

She is looking forward to a number of things including the group learning experience, the diversity of activities they’ll be involved in, engaging with the local people, and hopefully, with some local entrepreneurs to learn about their business and how and why they got started.

Along with these placements, other immersion experiences will see students visit an ecological reserve and work with a cloud forest community on environmental conservation and community development projects in Ecuador; exploring fair trade development and social justice in post genocide Mayan communities in Guatemala; in Ottawa, being part of a bilingual L’Arche community, sharing daily life and activities with developmentally disabled adults; and in Peru, joining a non-profit group in their efforts to implement sustainable development, food security and hygiene projects, in rural and impoverished communities.

StFX Service Learning is currently accepting applications for a fully-funded 12-week immersion experience in Ghana, in conjunction with a six credit IDS course “Contemporary Issues and Service Learning in Ghana.” Participants, who only pay tuition for the credit course, will complete the course, and six week placements with local community organizations, in Ghana from May to July of 2018. For more information on this opportunity please visit https://sites.stfx.ca/service_learning/node/130.html

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