Real World Education

Sam Brier describes his faculty-led Service Learning program
where students teach English in Bali

A group of 21 psychology and liberal arts students and faculty from Lynn University traveled to Bali, Indonesia, with Academic Experiences Abroad (AEA) to take part in a service-learning program in a remote village this January. The program lasted two weeks, including one week volunteering as English teachers at three primary schools 45 minutes outside of Ubud. Although Bali and central Ubud are well known as travel destinations, few visitors had ever visited this community, much less spent a week there getting to know the people.

Robert Riedel, the faculty member who proposed the trip, wanted to make Service Learning a primary component. “Although none of our students were teachers by trade, they loved teaching at the school,” he said. “It took a while to get there each day, but the experience was the highlight of the trip.”

In preparation for the program, AEA’s staff in Bali worked with local contacts in the schools and communities to find which ones would best benefit from Riedel’s group of students. And which ones would be the most welcoming. Then they got the necessary permits.

There are schools right in the center of Bali that might have been happy to welcome the group. But, the students in those schools see tourists everyday, and they have a lot more opportunity to practice English than those growing up in the rural areas. At the rural schools, it was like being in China 15 years ago. People were curious and very happy to have a visitor. In time, that too will change, but it is an experience that the students and faculty at both schools will always remember.

It was very important to the schools not to disrupt the daily schedule, so students at each were asked to volunteer for special classes if they wanted to learn more English. Each day, after the opening ceremony, those students would join classes with the American students during normal class times. At the end of the morning each day, the American students joined the regular sporting period with the rest of the schools, before heading out to lunch. There were also some special classes: the school children taught the American students something from their culture. On Saturday, the group returned to the schools, just like the students there, to help clean up the school, the playing fields and the surrounding areas.

The rest of the program included, in addition to the main Bali sites and the beach, a visit with the Psychology department at a university, a meeting at a mental health clinic, volunteering at an orphanage and a visit to the National School of the Deaf to get a better understanding of how the people of Bali understand and practice psychology and mental health as compared to the U.S.

“There is so much in the world to experience, and I am so happy I’ve been given the opportunity to experience this,” said Ryan Brooks, a Lynn psychology undergraduate student. “Bali was incredible! The people were so warm and welcoming. I will definitely return soon!”

This was a common sentiment expressed by other participants.

“The children showed me that the simple things in life mean the most and make them so happy,” said one participant. “Awesome trip!”

Ali Wagstaff, said that she “always felt safe,” the service learning experiences was “amazing,” and “the cultures that I thought were so different from mine are really pretty similar. This trip was, overall, amasing.”

Although the hotels were 3-4 star and Ubud town has all of the comforts of home in many ways, students were prepared prior to departure that rural Ubud would be rather different.

“During one of the pre-departure sessions, we were talking about all of their concerns, like vaccinations, food, the water and cultural norms, dress codes, etc., and I realized no one asked about the toilet situation, so I brought it up,” a leader reported. “How many of you have been to Asia? Zero. Have any of you ever used a squat toilet? No one. So I told them that the toilets at the schools were not Western-style toilets, and if they needed to use a Western toilet, there was one near one of the schools that one of the guides could take them to, but I also encouraged them to do as the locals do, if not for the experience, then for the story they could tell later.”

The service learning experience was not the only part of the program that made an impression.

“The people here are so friendly, and it is so safe,” said one participant. “I’ve learned to be more relaxed and appreciative of what I have.” Amanda Wasserman concurred, “I realized how much I take for granted in the U.S.”

But it always seemed to come back to the school and to the people. “I really liked the guides,” said another participant. “They were all awesome. And I felt very safe. But, I loved the schools. The children probably changed my life the most.”

“The program was great,” Riedel said. “We’re doing it again in January, 2012.”

Sam Brier ([email protected]) is director of Academic Experiences Abroad.