Seventeen students from The University of New Mexico (UNM) recently returned from a summer study abroad program in Limerick, Ireland led by David Wright, director of Education Abroad. The trip was geared toward service-learning, a teaching strategy that integrates meaningful community service with learning.
The trip was a part of an initiative to support development of a new service-learning minor at UNM, known as Community Engaged Learning and Research (CELR) through University College. The program is the first of many international education opportunities for UNM students that is designed to be integrated into a student's degree plan.
"Service learning is a legitimate way to learn. It takes the classroom outside the boundaries of Albuquerque," said Kate Krause, dean of the UNM Honors and University Colleges. "International service learning gives a global perspective."
In sixteen days, the students worked with several community organizations in Ireland that ranged from serving the Sunday dinners in Mallow St. Gospel Hall, gardening at Our Lady of Lourdes Crèche, and assisting with the care of the animals at Limerick Animal Welfare in Kilfinane.
The study abroad group also spent time learning about the services and operation of Limerick Youth Service, the Blue Box Project, Northside Family Resource Centre, Novas Initiatives, the Daughters of Charity, and the Franciscan Friars at St. Patrick’s Friary in Moyross. Working with these organizations served as a means to learn the structural elements of how to provide service in a community.
“I gained a taste of cultural newness all over again,” said one of the UNM students. “The friendships I gained are irreplaceable and the memories we shared. We not only learned about Ireland, but we learned about ourselves and how to manage and multitask while learning—taking in the sights and being able to work with people we've never met before. It was most definitely worthwhile.”
Upon their return to Albuquerque, many students commented that they would like to take the information and skills learned abroad and apply those to work they do here in the local community.
"I have never known a group of volunteers to work so hard and to adapt so quickly. They put their considerable energy and skills to work and crossed all cultural and linguistic barriers – there were desserts they never tasted before, words they were not familiar with, accents they had never heard before – with great sensitivity, generosity and ease," said Professor Patricia Kieran of the Department of Learning, Society and Religious Education at the Mary Immaculate College University of Limerick.
The students' direct engagement with the community allowed them to establish a deeper connection to Irish culture. Establishing a relationship with the local people meant learning more than they would simply visiting tourist sites.
"The contributory element for service learning allows students to develop a more thorough understanding of what international travel can mean," said Wright.
Due to the positive experience with the UNM students, it served as a means to establish a new potential connection for exchange programs between the Mary Immaculate College and the University of New Mexico. It also created a huge possibility of offering similar programs in other places around the world.
As service-learning is a field of study that can be applied to most any major, it allows students to view their field of study from another perspective. Bringing the classroom to the community is one of several ways the University of New Mexico continues to broaden education for its students.
Students and parents can learn more about service learning and study abroad opportunities at the upcoming Study Abroad Fair on Thursday, Sept. 1 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Cornell Mall—across from the SUB. Over 50 countries will be represented at the fair along with more than 20 faculty-led programs, 40 different partners, study abroad advisors, and current and past study abroad participants. For more information, please visit studyabroad.unm.edu.