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Day In The Life: An Interview with Katie Ryan, GVI’s Cape Town Service Learning Manager

By 2 years ago

For this week’s service-learning blog, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Katie Ryan, a GVI service-learning manager who has worked with GVI service-learning groups in Cape Town and Southeast Asia, in order to learn more about her approach to facilitating service-learning groups. Below is a complete transcript of the Q and A.

1. What interested you in working in international development and service-learning?

At an early age my parents instilled the value of giving back to my local community and collaborating with others to make a difference in our society. When I started traveling abroad, I continued volunteering and began working on community development and conservation initiatives with local host organizations.

Since then my work has primarily been based in the volunteer sector and study abroad where I’ve collaborated with communities of people from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities. I’ve lived in various urban and rural communities, and my work in the education, conservation, and health sector has shown me the power of communities and their grassroots approaches that unite people together and help elicit their own changes to their society.

2. How does your current role with GVI allow you to practice your knowledge of sustainable development in a learning environment?

Living in South Africa on and off for the past eight years and it’s given me a strong insight to the multifaceted social structure of a nation going through dynamic change. This multicultural environment built upon my existing international experience and improved my abilities to communicate cross-culturally and effectively execute projects. It also instilled in me the value of collaboration. I believe we accomplish more by working together and focusing on our group missions and values than we accomplish by working by ourselves solely toward our individual goals.

Working with my fellow GVI co-workers and our project partners allows me to plan and organize programs where we can measure the impact and create sustainable solutions in our community. Since GVI operates programs year-round, we’re able to set yearly objectives that are based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and create projects for groups that add to our overall impact in the field.

 

      Further Reading: Service Learning: A Microcosm of International Development (Part I)

Working with my fellow GVI co-workers and our project partners allows me to plan and organize programs where we can measure the impact and create sustainable solutions in our community. Since GVI operates programs year-round, we’re able to set yearly objectives that are based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and create projects for groups that add to our overall impact in the field.

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3. What kinds of challenges do you face on the day-to-day? Are there any recurring ones specific to the field of international development or service-learning that you encounter?

One of the challenges that I believe we face in the field of service-learning is being able to generate measurable outcomes to assess the academic side to student learning, when in fact much of the learning takes place outside the classroom, and without the supervision of the course instructor. While two-weeks may seem like a long time to experience another culture and give the student plenty of material to write an academic paper, it’s difficult for students to see the long-term impact of their service in the community, as well as the personal impact it’s left on their life.

While programs strive to prepare students for culture shock they may encounter abroad and when the eventually return home, nothing can truly measure the impact programs like this have on the individual. The learning is something continuously happening during and after the program, and the experience itself is something that can shape the professional and personal decisions an individual makes based on processing their experience abroad long after they return home.

    Further Reading: The Challenges of Capacity Building in Service Learning  

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4. What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

The most rewarding part of my job is working with volunteers from around the world and seeing their progress throughout the program. It’s great working in the same community and being able to work with our project partners on such a close basis so that we can see the long-term effects of our collaboration.

The most rewarding part of my job is working with volunteers from around the world and seeing their progress throughout the program. It’s great working in the same community and being able to work with our project partners on such a close basis so that we can see the long-term effects of our collaboration.

5. Please describe a typical day’s activities, and how you would approach managing a new service-learning group.

A typical day in the office when a group is not in Gordon’s Bay can consist of meeting with project partners, tour operators, and sometimes even filling in as a coordinator on the project site. At the moment I’m currently introducing a new assessment and teaching tools for the teaching volunteer program in the English and Math subject areas at our local primary school. We’re creating more measurable outcomes to track the progress of our student learners, as well as improving our record-keeping in terms of keeping the project sustainable with the influx of volunteers. Additionally, I’m designing the programs for the upcoming groups traveling to Cape Town from May-August this year, and assisting in launching a hub-wide leadership initiative for the Under 18s groups.

When a service-learning group is on site my days are quite different! I’m up early in the morning making any last-minute preparations for the project before eating breakfast with the group and heading to project. My projects have varied from building water tank stands, facilitating a holiday sports program, constructing a garden, as well as holding first-aid and WASH workshops in the community. Typically we’re on project until 3:30 pm and then we return to the accommodation for a little free time. Later in the afternoon, many volunteers walk down to the local shops or beach before heading home for to prep for dinner. Usually we hold a brief reflection session before dinner, and afterwards we continue with our evening program. Some service-learning programs are more formal with a country history presentation; however most are simulation-based and can include games, mind mapping, cultural activities, and guest speaker sessions. 

      Further Reading: Exploring the Role of the Facilitator Part III: Relational Learning 

 

Thanks to Katie, and to the entire GVI service-learning field team (in Cape Town and beyond!) for their hard work and dedication to both sustainable development, and student development.
 
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.