Service learning combines community engagement with academic instruction, focusing on critical, reflective thinking and personal and civic responsibility. Reflective, community-based service learning at an international level can be a vehicle for in-depth understanding of the social issues facing the host country that surpasses education confined to the classroom. It also fosters students’ own personal growth by deepening cultural responsiveness, enhancing cross-cultural navigation skills, and strengthening their ability to be adaptable, all of which are valuable life skills and highly marketable to future employers and graduate schools. In this seminar, we will address topics intended to give students a greater perspective through which to view their service experience. The assignments are designed to help students articulate their own personal growth throughout the program, understand their role as a member of a community (both locally and globally), and inspire them to engage in intercultural dialog throughout their lives.
Service placements give students the opportunity to build relationships with the local community over the course of the semester. For students with advanced level Italian, the Comune di Milano placement will give them insight into the migration crisis at the local government level. What role does the City of Milan have in assisting the migrants, from both an administrative and human perspective? Students will learn from their mentors by shadowing them and helping them with their cases. For students in beginning Italian who are eager to practice their skills outside the classroom, placements at the Centro Sant’Antonio and Qiqajon After School Program will allow them to build relationships with some of society’s most vulnerable members. Students who feel more comfortable in an English-speaking environment are able to mentor teens in the classroom and on the sports field at a local high school for at-risk youth.
The interdisciplinary seminar will support student placements by providing context to deepen their understanding of current social justice issues. Particular focus will be given to the impact of immigration on Italian society. It will cover the historical events that led to the protection of human rights and the right to seek asylum, the subsequent legal framework that developed and how it impacts the migrants arriving in Italy today. It will give students a historical perspective on Italian contemporary society and look at concepts such as collective identity, place identity, regionalism, multiculturalism and integration. We will look at case studies of contemporary activists who fight for social justice and explore different approaches to civic engagement. We will work on intercultural communication and active listening skills to make interactions with mentors and migrants more effective. We will reflect not only on what it means to serve, but also what it means to lead, and explore the often perplexing human experience of giving and receiving. The personal growth that results from the service learning process will inspire students to think deeply and reflect on social issues throughout their lives, and encourage them to be advocates for intercultural dialogue on campus, in their home communities, and in their future workplaces or businesses.