8 Tips for Making the Most of Your International Service Learning Experience

    Posted: August 17, 2016

    A service learning trip is a comprehensive course designed to guide you through your entire experience from start to finish. However, it is important for each individual to be prepared and aware of ways in which they can personally get the most out of all that they will be involved in. Here are the eight things we think are most important to take into consideration before leaving home and while on the course.

    1. Do all of the readings

    This may sound quite obvious, but always important to be reminded of. Each reading has been carefully chosen and is connected to the particular service learning course that you have signed up for. A better understanding of the country, service learning, and global engagement will vastly improve how much you take away from the course.

    Take a look and download an example of our curriculum.

    2. Communicate openly with both your facilitator and experts on the ground

    The idea of service learning is that your group is a team and this includes both the students and the facilitators. Try to see yourself as an equal to everyone who is a part of the process and communicate with a belief in the value of your own ideas and suggestions. Be honest about your own views, emotions, and individual connection to the course that you are a part of.

     3. Listen

    Your are a part of a group of unique individuals, amongst knowledgeable experts in their field, and surrounded by a culture different from your own. Take ample time to absorb what people around you are saying, listen to their perspectives, observe objectively, and put your perspective on the back shelf at times in order to simply observe the knowledge that surrounds you. There is much to learn, don’t let your own outlook cloud your vision and stop you from seeing all that everyone around you has to offer.

    4. When reflecting don’t be afraid to be vulnerable

    Verbalizing your reflections and experiences in front of a group can be a bit intimidating at first. However, speaking your truth and being honest about the emotions you are experiencing is the only way to make personal strides and to help aid the development of the group. Getting real and raw about your experiences is the most salient path towards individual growth.

    5. Find your own personal way of documenting your experience

    There will be ample of time to reflect on your experience through journal writing and group discussions. However, it is also vital to express yourself in the manner that you most connect to and that is driven by your own creativity. Think about making a visual journal, creating videos, or starting a blog.

    Further Reading: 5 Ways to Creatively Document Your Service Learning Experience

    6. Dig in and try as many different cultural opportunities as possible

    You are in a new country! Color, music, dance, new flavors abound! Indulge. Try new foods when offered, get up and dance if the opportunity arises, immerse yourself in the local culture in any and every way possible. This is your chance to fall in love with a new place, make the most of it.

    Further Reading: How to Prepare for Your First International Service Learning Course

    7. Notice the similarities between your international experience and your local community

    While you are abroad you will be met with some startling realities that may be hard to digest. Seeing stark poverty, environmental degradation, and crowded classrooms which point to educational inequality can be alarming eye openers. While it can be easy to see these problems as isolated to the country that you are in, try to place your experiences in a global context. This will help you see the international responsibility that we all have as global citizens to address these issues both internationally and domestically.

    8. Connect, connect, connect

    The world revolves thanks to empathy and individual connection. Speak to as many people as you can, try to absorb their stories, share your own experiences, and make understanding your goal. Try to see similarities over differences and let smiles create bridges across borders.

    We would love to hear your personal advice. Let us know in the comments section below if you think there is anything that should be added to the list!

    Think a service learning course might be a good fit for you? GVI is a multi-award winning international Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.