Western Education explores the community side of international service learning

By: Cory Habermehl
Friday, March 20, 2015

The traditional focus of International Service Learning (ISL) – where students travel to communities around the world to do voluntary humanitarian work related to their courses – is often on the students themselves.

How did they benefit from the experience? What did they gain in terms of skills, knowledge and aptitude? How will the experience help them in the future?

“Focusing on the students is absolutely warranted,” says Marianne Larsen, associate professor at the Faculty of Education. “But it’s equally important to focus on the communities that host these students.”

Unfortunately, says Larsen, that’s something that doesn’t often happen.

As such, she is putting together a day-long symposium dedicated to exploring the ways in which university ISL programs can better involve host communities, and take into account their needs.  

Taking place March 27 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Faculty of Education, the symposium will feature workshops, case studies and a keynote address from Robenson Luccues, Public Relations director an international NGO hospital in Port au Prince Haiti. ISL researchers, university and community-based program facilitators and host community representatives will also present.

Many of the symposium’s guests were contributors to a book Larsen is editing. Entitled International Service Learning: Engaging Host Communities, the book will be published in the fall of 2015.

“We’re going to take the day to really delve into the ways we can make these programs mutually beneficial,” said Larsen. “What principles can we use, how can we rethink ISL to ensure host communities have a voice and ensure the benefits are reciprocal.”

The symposium will explore principals of mutual learning and solidarity, as well as the principal of Ubuntu, an African philosophy meaning, I am, because we are. Allyson Larkin, associate professor from Kings University College, will present her research on the possibilities of engaging with Ubuntu as a guiding framework for ISL.

Western Education PhD candidate Jen Kozak is a symposium co-organizer, and hopes to have a diverse crowd of attendees.

“Most universities have an international office, and practically every faculty has and ISL component to their programing,” she says. “We want to see faculty members and students, ISL program coordinators and study abroad facilitators – each of these groups stands to benefit from looking into this topic in a more fulsome manner.”

The symposium fits well with both the faculty of education and Western University’s commitment to internationalization and to providing international opportunities for students, however, Larsen says its genesis also lies in her own personal interests.

“I’ve had a long-standing commitment to equity and social justice and strongly believe in the value of listening to the voices of those who have been historically marginalized,” she says. “This conference is about making sure we hear those voices.”

For more details and to register for the symposium, visit http://www.engagingcommunities.ca