Global Learner Program Expands Student Horizons
Volunteers lend a helping hand in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, India and Peru
BY REBECCA KENDALL
About 100 U of G students are going global this spring. They're all participating in the Guelph Global Learner Program, an international volunteer and community-service program that is a joint venture of the University and Canada World Youth.
With a sense of adventure and foreign-language phrase books in hand, the students are learning about some of the spiritual, social, environmental and economic issues affecting people in developing nations.
It's hoped they'll bring those lessons back to Canada and apply them to how they conduct their lives at home, says Emily Reed, co-ordinator of citizenship and engagement in Student Life, who worked for Canada World Youth before joining the University in 2006.
The Guelph Global Learner Program started last year with a four-week trip to Costa Rica. This year, the program has expanded to five options. Groups of about 20 students and one professional staff from U of G have travelled to each locale, where, in addition to their community-service work, they're enjoying cultural and educational activities.
Reed has just spent two weeks with a group in Peru, where they worked in hospitals, schools, day cares, shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens and clinics.
Jennifer Maddock, leadership education and development adviser in Student Life, is with a group in Costa Rica for four weeks. Laurie Schnarr, associate director of Student Life, is in India for four weeks. U of G ecumenical chaplain Lucy Reid has gone to El Salvador for two weeks. And residence life manager Jen Gonzales is in Ecuador with a group of residence life staff for three weeks.
“The community projects are determined by what the community wants and needs,” says Reed.
“The students have a chance to apply the concepts they've learned in the classroom and personally connect with some of the issues, such as literacy, education and the global economy.”
Fourth-year English and Spanish student Chrystal Bowen Swan participated in the program last summer, and since then has looked forward to returning to Costa Rica to see her “family” and taking on a leadership role for this year's group.
“The people in the community we stay in completely welcome us into their homes, and it's really wonderful,” she says. “Last year, we bonded with the community, and we still keep in touch with each other. It was amazing to learn how the people lived and how their lives compared with ours.”
She says her involvement in this program has been life-changing.
“It has changed the way I see the world. My goal isn't to get a job to make money — it's to get a job that will let me make a difference in the world.”
After working with many universities through her role at Canada World Youth, Reed says U of G stands out as a great partner for a program such as this.
“For some universities, putting a group of 20 people together to do an international community service-learning project was challenging,” she says, but placing 100 students for this program was a piece of cake.
“The number of applications we received outnumbered the number of available spaces, and this speaks to the fact that Guelph students are looking for international experiences where they can apply their skills and learn about life in a unique way.”