Tag Archives: reminiscent

Service learning matters. And here’s why.

“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbour. Do you know your next door neighbour?”
– Mother Teresa
    In a nutshell, this quote is why service learning matters to me. How many of us actually know our neighbours? I hardly knew the two girls in the apartment upstairs apartment of my old student house, let alone the family who recently moved in next door, or the other people living on my street. Neighbourhoods are not what they used to be. It seems that our communities are more private than in the past, and that people are too busy to make deeper personal connections. For example – we no longer chat with the tellers at the bank; we have ATMs that are more convenient. We can ignore the cashier at the grocery store; the self check-out is a faster option.Service learning, according to the Beyond Borders brochures, aims to prepare students as global citizens in a globalized world, effect social change, and make use of our abilities and education in service to others. But this final reflection requires me to answer ‘so what?’. Those ideals are positive, but don’t say much about what I’ve learned this term or why I’m a participant.I’m a big fan of lists. And so, inspired by the infamous top ten lists of David Letterman, I will convince you of the value and importance of service learning.
    top ten reasons why service learning matters:

  1. it holds us accountable. Service learning allows us to (pardon the cliche) “practice Italicwhat we preach.” Through service learning, we are taking ownership of our education by applying what we have learned in a wide variety of circumstances.
  2. it encourages (and requires) dialogue. Through service learning opportunities, we enter into relationships with others. Asking questions, searching for answers, we are constantly in conversation.
  3. you don’t actually need a passport. Turns out, you don’t have to travel overseas to participate in service learning. It can be as simple as spending a few hours a week volunteering with a local organization (i.e., the Working Centre).
  4. mutual empowerment. We are not sent to various international placements with a plan or a solution, to push our Western way of living onto a developing nation. We might not be all that helpful. Through building new relationships in a new culture, we are all on the same footing.
  5. endless possibilities. Service learning is not tied down to any one location or action, it does not have an agenda, it does not have an expiry date. It could be ten hours, or ten months, it could be a lifelong process.
  6. it is frustrating. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means you’re tackling something strange and unfamiliar, and in the meantime, new skills or ideas are likely developed. “It is when you are frustrated, that you really learn.” – Joanne Benham Rennick.
  7. it lays foundations for the future. Talking to Myroslaw was encouraging for Jessica and I, because we are building on success of the past. Five years ago, there were no volunteers at the Internat. Since then, numerous alumni have spent their summer months caring for the girls of this Ukrainian orphanage. In five more years, who knows – the university students of Ternopil may be in partnership with the Internat, working towards minimizing the strong stigma against the disabled. We may not be able to see the impact of our actions, but each individual action is a small step forward. Change is not impossible.
  8. exploration of the unknown. We live in world full of beauty, creativity, and diversity – Henry Miller said it best: “Develop an interest in life as you see it, the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
  9. the lost art of facilitation. Facilitation is an idea explored in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and is an incredibly valuable skill to possess. We do not use the skill of facilitation nearly as much as we should, and we’re really not that great at it. We do not practice it enough to become good, not to mention great, at it. Service learning opportunities allow us to develop facilitation skills throughout authentic education experiences.
  10. in the end, it all adds up. I’ve previously written about the power of our ordinary actions. Throughout the fall term, Scott warned us that we would not really have a significant impact on the communities that we will be serving this summer. I beg to differ. While things may not be profoundly different once we leave in August, I still think that whatever we accomplish in our various placements, no matter how small or insignificant our achievements are, will be worthwhile. If it only serves to teach us a lesson that we will carry with us, or if our visit only gives a disabled child the chance to venture outside of the Internat for the first time, I’d say that alone is a small victory. Baby steps, people… baby steps!



I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparation for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.


Україна | Reach out.

Continuing on with my recent Ukrainian observations – Relationships 101, a very brief look at Ukrainian encounters .

5. I had read in Lonely Planet that many people throughout Ukraine are more generous than they can afford to be. There is so much truth to this! The Ukrainian economy is not strong; most live on less than $200 CDN per month. Yet the hospitality and kindness of people I have met continues to amaze me. Slava feeds me all day long, from breakfast til bedtime. Literally. Ira went out of her way to invite Jessica and I on her class trip to the Carpathian Mountains (a three day adventure complete with several 16 year old companions). Katia arranged for her friends – complete strangers to us – to take us out one night when she had to cancel. Our tutors, all of them, bent over backwards to make this entire experience less overwhelming. I appreciated everything.

7. Grandmothers (also known as babas, or babusias) are highly respected in Ukrainian society. They work hard to maintain close familial connections, and their children as well as grandchildren seem to honour this. (Side note: women also outlive men. Women are expected to live well past 70+ years, while the odds of men living past the age of 60 are low – alcoholism is a national concern.)

8. There is always more room on the bus. “Personal space” means getting to know your neighbour far better than you would like to. Think of the bus as a cage packed with animals, pressed up against one another, sweating onto each other, and that is just the way it goes. Shut up and move on back, to make a bit more room for a few more.

25. I look forward to my regular nightly tea dates with Slava. I am grateful for the unique friendship that we have built over endless charades, drawings, and reliance on our trusty Ukrainian-English dictionaries.

50. We all need a little more lovin’. Hugs, smiles, quality time, a listening ear: a few minutes of your time can actually make a serious difference in someone else’s day. Phone calls from home or a picture from one of my girls at the Internat can carry me through til tomorrow. The little things matter; they really, really do.




What kind of encounters have you had with others while travelling?

How have they impacted you (then and now)?

Україна | Some food for thought.

If you have been brave enough to venture over to my original blog, you may have caught a glimpse of my Ukrainian explorations and experiences. In order to keep you coming back for more, I thought I’d continue to spread the joy of Eastern European life here at my new home – in small (but regular) doses, of course.

With that, I invite you to reflect with me on some blatant cultural differences, quirks and common sights that I grew to appreciate and love in a way that can only be associated with (mmm) wanderlust.

Foodies, rejoice – todays lessons focus on the culinary world of Ternopil, Ukraine.

15. Most foods have been either deep fried, doused with vegetable oil, or heavily salted. However, I am positive that I have lost, rather than gained, weight since arriving in May due to all the walking we do around Ternopil. Nothing is worth eating without a large lump of sour cream on the side, it would be plain unthinkable. Mmmhmmm. No complaints here.

36. Bread is significant. Included with every single meal, kissed when dropped on the ground, never thrown out, a crumb must never be wasted. The yellow bottom of the Ukrainian flag, in fact, symbolizes the importance of agriculture in this nation. Miles upon miles of golden wheat fields stretch throughout the countryside of many oblasts. Not to mention that ‘breaking bread’ and the time spent together over dinner tables is also a valuable aspect of building (and maintaining) relationships and a sense of community.

18. Potato chips have the power to be an entire edible experience on their own. My cravings for the familiarity of salt and vinegar chips will not be satisfied for a few more weeks – I misjudged the oceanic packaging of the calamari chips, and they’re not quite the same. However, my favourite Ukrainian flavour thus far are definitely sour cream and cheese (you read that right – cheese, not onion) as well as the ultra-unique roast beef and mushroom (for real).

19. More than once, I have questioned the very possible correlation between the mystery meat cutlets (a dinner time staple) and the amount of stray dogs running free in this town. Schnitzel?!

46. A few aspects of my days here in Ternopil are fairly routine: my omelette and кава (coffee) for breakfast, my nap once I get home from the Інтернат (Internat, or orphanage). But for the most part, I have come to expect the unexpected each and every day. Random adventures and chance encounters with local strangers are part of the daily routine – and factor into this overall international experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad?

How were your taste buds affected?

What did you crave most from home?