Feb 12, 2024

Service-learning students share #BuckeyeLove around the world

No matter where they go, Buckeyes spread kindness. For hundreds of students each year, that kindness is shared on a global scale.

During semester breaks and each summer, undergraduate, graduate and professional students alike depart for more than 20 different service-learning programs in locations such as Guatemala, Indonesia and Malawi. The goal? To work hand in hand with communities, support sustainable international development and to prepare for careers as citizen leaders abroad and at home.

“This program made me realize the significance of community and team cooperation,” said a student on the Sustainability and Social Justice in Ecuador program. “I learned to view different cultures and people without a judgmental lens. We are all human beings. There are differences, that's true, but we have similarities, and that's the basis for us to work together and understand each other.”

Ohio State Global Education service-learning programs are geared toward disciplines as diverse as engineering, education and healthcare. The Sustainable Resilient Communities in Maji Marwa: Tanzania program, for instance, gives budding engineers a chance to assist with community-engaged learning projects, working hands-on with a partnered community to support long-term solutions for food, water, energy and health systems.

“The program significantly affected my passion for humanitarian engineering work and working abroad. I was challenged to put myself in other peoples' position and had the opportunity to learn about the amazing Tanzanian culture and a lot about myself,” said one participant. “I learned that no matter where you are in the world, the fundamental human element of love and sharing exists in copious amounts,” reflected another.

These programs teach students about how development interventions impact local communities, both the good and the challenging realities. Service-learning programs offered through Ohio State include rigorous pre-departure preparation and coursework to help students gain cultural competence for their in-country experiences, and many in-country programs are co-led with an embedded local NGO. This approach ensures input from local communities, addresses community priorities and contributes to sustainable, ongoing relationships to foster development for students and communities alike.

The Guatemala Engineering Service-Learning program, for example, is run in conjunction with local nonprofit Natün. Natün works to “advance education, nutrition & health and economic development, through community-led initiatives which build on existing resources and knowledge,” and students from Ohio State help to support this goal through designing, building and and helping to install useful technologies in the Lake Atitlán region where the organization has its focus.

"We are very fortunate to work directly with a indigenous community-led nonprofit," said Raymond Brooks, a lecturer in the College of Engineering who co-leads the program. "Service learning empowers student to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. More importantly, students should learn to work 'with,' rather than 'for' the communities we visit. Respecting their unique perspective is crucial to the work. Harm can be done to the community if their voice is not considered," explained Brooks.

“This program is a wonderful experience that anybody should be able to pursue,” said one former student who completed the program in Guatemala. “I learned engineering on the fly and was able to model and begin building a project with my team as well as local experts and laborers. I learned about several aspects of another culture and language and developed deep connections in a short span of time with my cohorts, the ambassadors from our partner program and people abroad.”

"Engineering students are preparing for a life of great impact and social responsibility," said Brooks. "It’s important that we prepare them with the skills to empathize with and collaborate with others, even when the power dynamic does not demand it. I’m very grateful to the instructors and researchers who have paved the way for this challenging and rewarding work, and to Natün Guatemala, who works with us to identify community needs and provide much needed context."

Buckeyes making international connections, sharing kindness and caring for the global community – what’s not to love? To learn more about service-learning programs and other global education programming offered through the Office of International Affairs, visit our program catalog.