|Bender shares global service-learning goals with University Gazette|
|February 12, 2007|
Dr. Deborah Bender, professor of health policy and administration, and APPLES Director Jenny Huq recently talked with the University Gazette to share information about the Global Service-Learning program they started in Mexico in 2003 and its recent expansion.
Bender is the Global Service-Learning Faculty Fellow for APPLES (Assisting People in Planning Learning Experiences in Service), the student-led program at the University that engages students, faculty and community agencies in service-learning partnerships.
The following article can be found in the University Gazette archives at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/07feb07/morestories.html#7. The School of Public Health thanks the University Gazette for giving us permission to reprint this article in full on our website.
Gazette: Dr. Bender, can you talk a bit about how your work led you to this new mentoring program?Bender: I have worked with APPLES for the past six years. I served as a member of the APPLES Advisory Board. I began to wonder why APPLES didn't do any international service-learning projects. Although I didn't want to diminish APPLES' longstanding commitment to serving the people of North Carolina, I thought that the growing immigrant populations in the state provided multiple possibilities. Jenny and I talked about the possibility, and in 2003, we partnered with the International Partnership for Service Learning and sent the first group of UNC students to Mexico to improve their Spanish language skills and do service learning. This past year, Jenny graciously created a more formal position -- the Global Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, in response to the program's rapid growth and rising participation.
Gazette: The idea behind this service program is to tap into the insights these students return home with after studying abroad, with the understanding that their international experiences better equip them to work with people from other countries who have come here to live and work. Is that right?
Huq: That's exactly right. Students returning from our abroad experiences engage in local service-learning with newly arrived immigrants. Dr. Bender's involvement in this program began as an extension of her board role, but she quickly became deeply integrated into its development and evolution. In 2002, she approached me with the idea of global service-learning, encouraging us to really think about its value. Simultaneously, students returning from their traditional study abroad experiences began to inquire about opportunities to serve and study abroad. They were encountering students from other universities taking advantage of service-learning opportunities that at the time were not approved UNC programs.
Bender: When I approached Jenny about the possibility of developing global service-learning experiences, one of my concerns was that we not let an international program overwhelm the domestic service-learning program. International travel is always romantic -- you can get on an airplane and go some place different and, wow, everybody wants to hear about it. That doesn't meet our goal of serving the population of North Carolina, which is part of the core mission of the University and APPLES.
Gazette: How did you overcome that concern?
Bender: We decided to develop global service-learning opportunities in countries where people were leaving to come to North Carolina. Mexico was an obvious first choice since 63 percent of the Spanish-speaking immigrants in North Carolina come from Mexico. The U.S. Census reports that from 1990 to 2000 the Hispanic population in the state increased by 394 percent. The change is huge because the infrastructure wasn't there to respond. So it was this surge in the Latino and Spanish-speaking population that helped us to focus on what we wanted in a global-local service learning initiative.
Huq: We noticed an increase in the number of Spanish major and pre-med students who were seeking out opportunities to serve in communities abroad in an effort to inform their work with local immigrants. The experiences, the development of language skills and the opportunity to work with immigrant cultures are extremely valuable for students' professional development.
Gazette: How does APPLES identify those students who may be interested in participating?
Huq: Some may have already participated in one of our courses, internships or fellowships, but the majority of them hear about global service-learning from the Study Abroad Advisers.
Gazette: Jenny, tell us about your first project.
Huq: The program is at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, or UAG as it is called. It's the first private university founded in Mexico, and they have a sizeable language school where they teach students from all over the world all year long. That's set up at about eight different levels of language learning. They have other students, including our own, who are offered service-learning experiences. These students go to grammar and conversation classes for three or four hours in the morning and then in the afternoon they go to their service-learning sites.
Gazette: What kind of service learning projects are students doing?
Huq: The majority of service-learning placements for our students in Mexico focus around working with youth in a variety of ways. The children they work with tend to be elementary to middle-school age. Some are boys in residential home facilities where they are away from their parents doing the week, returning home on weekends. Some live in orphanages. When placing our students, we identify a variety of opportunities to meet the varied interests of the students. We encourage them to consider up front the connection between the work that they will do in Mexico and the work they will do once they return.
Gazette: What insights do you think most of them bring back?
Bender: I think the range of experiences they have teach them very valuable life skills. For instance, spending time side by side with a child really makes a tremendous difference in a child's life. These experiences facilitate relationship-building which is a critical skill when working in and with communities.
Gazette: I understand many of the students when they come back to campus participate in a seminar to share their experiences with other students.
Huq: The reflection seminar is designed to create a space for students to continue to engage in their abroad experience from a local standpoint. The course provides students personal debriefing opportunities to help them reflect on their experiences as well as move forward with their lives. They also learn a lot of new information about how they can apply their abroad experiences to working with local immigrant communities.
Bender: All the students who come back from the projects are placed in a local service setting during the semester following their trip. They are also taking the one credit hour seminar that focuses on various aspects of migration transition, including health, education and social justice. Nationally, there are strong opinions on both sides of the fence about undocumented immigration, but at the individual or family level, the issues are much clearer. Families want a better life for their children.
Gazette: Do any of your students work with Latino populations in any of the local schools?
Bender: We've worked at Chapel Hill High, East Chapel Hill High and with the students at Carrboro Elementary. What is most powerful to our students is to discover the migration paths of these students -- how much their hopes and dreams parallel those of the families they met in Mexico. The families coming here now come for economic reasons, by and large. Many of the women I've interviewed talk about their hopes and dreams for their families. What many of them miss the most about Mexico, no matter how you ask the question, is family.
Gazette: So much of what your students learn is that there is a new pattern of immigration that represents a twist to the American Dream.
Bender: What Jenny and I are working on is to create learning and living situations where students' academic knowledge can connect to the local community. I want them to see the patterns of migration where sending remittances back home keep them connected to their families in Mexico. Many families in fact, are sending money home to Mexico to buy a piece of land and build a home.
Gazette: How do the experiences these students gain from this program help them to figure out what they want to do with their lives? Are their experiences laying a foundation for future careers?
Bender: It helps students to think about their professional careers and where they want to go and how they would like to integrate this global experience into their future plans. As a professor of public health, for instance, my interest is health care access for immigrant populations. For an immigrant without health insurance, prescription medicines are quite expensive through the formal health-care system. If a physician understands that from a Latino's perspective, he or she is going to be much more careful to ask questions about what other medicines they might be taking. Have you asked anyone to bring medicines for you across the border? Are you taking any herbal medicines? A doctor should know answers to these questions before prescribing any other medications to prevent possible adverse drug interactions.
Gazette: Are there other countries where this program will be tried?
Huq: We now offer global service-learning programs in Central America, Southern Africa and Vietnam.
Gazette: Both of you have been involved in putting together a delegation of University faculty to represent Carolina at the International Service-Learning Institute at Elon University later this month. What is the significance of that conference in terms of pushing your service-learning model to the next phase?
Huq: The conference will allow institutional teams to come together and talk about opportunities for undergraduate students to connect their academic coursework to serving within global communities. We are interested in providing more access for students interested in this global-local approach, so we've begun dialogue with many constituents across the campus engaging in this type of work. Deborah and I know that on this campus there are a lot of things going on. The UNC delegation is comprised of 15 representatives from various disciplines and administrative roles across the campus. The conference will provide momentum for our initial conversations around increasing collaborative efforts and sharing resources to create more opportunities for students in the future.
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|Last updated February 13, 2007|