A Bit of Something Different: Why I Chose Service Learning


There are many different reasons why a college student would want to participate in a service-learning experience abroad. Maybe you want to travel for the summer, and this seems like a good excuse. Maybe you wanted a little extra credit, and this sounds better than sitting in a classroom for a few weeks. Or maybe you simply want to do something good, travel somewhere, and learn from the community. I came for all those reasons plus one extra- I wanted a trial run before I leave college and go into the professional world.

As a student studying social work, I have a lot of fields I could pursue after graduation. Most recently, I’ve been considering going into some form of educational child service. While I have some experience working with kids, I don’t have any long-term experience; when I saw the option to volunteer at a family center abroad, I decided this was the perfect opportunity! This could be my chance to see if I really wanted to work with kids.

Five weeks passed into my service-learning program, I absolutely loved it! It was similar to what I was used to in the States but definitely had some differences. In Ireland, where I studied, everything is laid back. Not to say that they are lazy or uninterested, everything is just so much more relaxed. I was expecting a bit more structure- lesson plans to stick to and formal interactions with the kids. Instead, we created our “lesson plan” the morning of and based it entirely on what the kids wanted to do. Our activities were designed to enhance the kid’s capabilities without feeling like an overly structured lesson or chore for them. The more I interacted with the kids, the more it felt like I was teaching through playing with them. Unlike how I interpret the American education system, the educational system in Ireland was not to obsess over structure, but rather to help the children feel comfortable. School was meant to be a place where the students could feel safe and relaxed, which in turn is meant to foster a healthy learning environment. Although it took a bit of getting used to at first, I definitely prefer the way they did things in Ireland.

Volunteering in Ireland taught me how I can do things a bit differently when interacting with children. It certainly was an exciting chance to learn a new way of doing things and I plan on incorporating what I’ve learned into my studies and post-graduate plans.

Lily Mowery is a student at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and an ISA Featured Blogger. She volunteered abroad with ISA Service-Learning in Galway, Ireland

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