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Globetrotting service and education

Alternative service-learning opportunities offer unique challenges and opportunities all over the world
Jan 25, 2010
By Colleen Kiphart

This is the third installment in a four-part series on service learning at Ohio University.

The Office of Education Abroad offers a diversity of options for students interested in service learning abroad. Many study abroad programs have service learning components or are entirely structured around service learning. Whether students want to explore programs with a service-learning component or options beyond OHIO-offered study abroad programs, the Office of Education Abroad is prepared to help.

"There are a lot of outside programs out there, and students might not know what they are looking for," said Lori Lammert, assistant director of the Office of Education Abroad.

Advisers can work with students to narrow their focus, and help them find the perfect study service learning abroad experience.

Many students are interested in participating in community service during their trips, but they are hesitant to make it the focus of their time abroad. They have the option of incorporating some service learning into their time.

"There is room, in a lot of these programs, to put as much service in them as you want to," said Catherine Marshall, director of the Office of Education Abroad. "There is a program in Spain where students can work with the forest rangers to clean up trails and maintain the parks. But, if they do it, and how much they do it, is up to them."

The cost of the trip can be a major consideration when starting to plan.

"When I was looking at my program, I saw that the fee was around $12,000 and that didn't include airfare," said Jordan Templeton, a senior economics major and Beth Stocker Cutler Scholar who just returned from a fall service-learning trip to Isaan, Thailand*. "I wasn?t sure how I was going to raise that much money, but I was able to get three scholarships. The entire cost of my trip was covered."

Depending on whom the program is through or sponsored by, all, some or none of a student's Ohio University financial aid will transfer. Federal financial aid will always transfer for any accredited academic program.

The Office of Education Abroad can work with students to determine what they can expect financially.

"The process of filling out all the paperwork was hard, but the Education Abroad people and the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards were so helpful," Templeton said.

Lammert advises that students look into what each program includes in their fees. "The cost might be very different for two programs in the same city, but the more expensive program could include flights, room and board and excursions," she said. "You need to look closely so that you?re comparing apples to apples."

"If you had told me a year ago that I would be studying Thai, and that I would have just spent months in Thailand I never would have believed you," Templeton said.

She had been looking at programs in Africa through the Council on International Educational Exchange*, "but I didn?t really find one that fit what I was looking for," said Templeton.

After digging through CIEE's offerings, she found the perfect fit in an unexpected place, Thailand.

"I had never even had Thai food before, let alone learned the language or culture," she said.

Templeton's determination to find her ideal service learning abroad experience is not unusual. "Students need to know what they want their study abroad experience to be," Lammert said. "We can work with them to help figure that out."

Organization reputation
Before depositing thousands of dollars and traveling abroad, students will want to double check the reputation of their program.

"Any reputable program will be willing to give you names and contact information of students who have gone before," said Lammert. She added that the Office of Education Abroad can help students confirm a program's reputation.

"We have a lot of connections in the industry," Lammert said. "We can ask our colleagues in education abroad what they know about a program if we aren?t already familiar with it."

Making sure her program was vouched for was important to Templeton. "I spoke with Dr. [Charles] Ping about my desire to study abroad. He had worked with CIEE before and recommended them."

Templeton hesitates to recommend relying on only one student's perspective on a program and she suggests that interested students speak with several alumni. "There were so many different kinds of people in my program. Some didn't know what they were in for, so depending on who you asked, you could get a very different opinion."

Additionally, if you will be working with a social-service organization as part of your study abroad, Lammert recommends looking into the group.

"Again, ask for references," she said. "It?s important that you know what you?re going to be doing."

The experience
As a requirement of a scholarship, Templeton kept a blog chronicling her activities in Thailand. It chronicled her class work and life in the rural Thai community.

"There wasn?t really a typical day," she said. "We would take some classes at Khon Kaen University. Some days it was Thai language class and then a briefing about what we were going to do next."

The students would then leave the campus and go to a village where they would live and work for a week. They worked closely with the community to understand their lives and livelihoods, and Templeton was shocked to find how closely she could relate to the problems of farmers a world away from her Athens community.

"We lived and worked with this one community that was negatively affected by a nearby mine," Templeton said. "I was just surprised to find that that was an issue that I had heard around Athens. I could relate."

And while she was learning about the international community, Templeton got to know her fellow students. Many students who choose programs that are not offered directly by OHIO can find that they are the only Ohio University students there. That was not a problem for Templeton.

"I?m much more confident now to do what I want. I can go across the world with no fear of being alone," she said. "Students should not limit themselves."


* Following these links takes you outside of Ohio University's Web site.


Published: Jan 25, 2010 8:00 AM

Jordan harvesting rice

Templeton relaxes after a day of harvesting rice in Yasothon, Thailand.

Joran and Thai students

Templeton gets a lesson in the Thai language from students at the Nong Chai School in Khon Kaen, Thailand.


Templeton embraces her host sister in Nong Jahn, Thailand.

Photo courtesy of: Jordan Templeton 

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