When searching for study abroad programs, it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are language-intensive programs, internships, exchanges, and volunteer opportunities. With so many options, it can be hard to choose which experience is the best for you. I was in this same position. I wanted to have a classroom experience that I wouldn’t be able to have in Athens, yet I also wanted to work with the locals in whatever community I was in. This is how I stumbled across service-learning. Service-learning combines classroom education with civic engagement. Although it often slips through the cracks, it is one of the best opportunities for studying abroad.
The benefits of service-learning programs are two-fold. You are providing sustainable resources and aid in the community, while also fostering your own personal and professional growth. During my program, we volunteered at a local school and provided the teachers with professional development training that will enhance education at the school for years to come. I was also able to gain a sense of intercultural communication and an appreciation for working with a diverse group of people. Through a hands-on learning experience such as this, you will gain interpersonal communication skills, a sense of social responsibility and global citizenship, and invaluable leadership experience. These are technical skills that employers are searching for, and will serve as an advantage to you in your future career.
Will you spend your days gallivanting around a European city drinking wine? Most likely not. But, will you step away from your experience knowing that you made an impact on the community? Absolutely. In my opinion, going on a service-learning trip was the best of both worlds. I spent most of my day volunteering, then had my whole night to explore the city and hang out with the other students in my program. I never felt like I was missing out on the “typical” study-abroad experience, and I now have career skills that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. So, if you’re like me and don’t know what to do, I encourage you to participate in a service-learning program. You will still create lifelong memories while also enhancing the life of someone else.