Deciding on a service learning program is a multi-layered process. Elements such as where to go, what type of work to engage in, and how long of a trip to partake in are all essential questions to figure out.
However, almost more important is what organization you choose to go with. These are the people who must understand the principles of service learning inside and out. We’ve put together a helpful list to help you determine what elements to look into when deciding on an organization.
1. Look into where your money is going
A reputable organization should practice transparency when it comes to the allocation of their funds. The majority of the program cost should go directly back into the programs themselves, directly benefiting the communities that they are working with. Be wary of companies that are not forthcoming with this information.
2. Find out how sustainable the projects are
If the organization were to shut down their operations would the community suffer as well? A good service learning organization will work with local partners in order to ensure that the work happening on the ground directly involves and is at the request of the local community. Organizations should not work in isolation as this does promote long-term change.
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3. Research their Alumni Network
A huge component of any service-learning trip are the changes that transpire once the project is over. Service learning promotes global citizenship meaning that an effective organization should have a plan for post-program involvement. Typically this is organized through an established alumni network that incorporates staff, participants, and educators.
4. Find out about their health and safety procedures
The chances of something happening are far from likely, however it is important to make sure that the organization that you select has an extensive health and safety plan in place. The company should have pre-departure medical clearance, should run regular on the ground risk assessments, and should maintain frequent communication with local embassies and foreign offices.
5. Evaluate your personal objectives
Any service learning experience should first and foremost align with the personal goals that are held by the school and participants. This might revolve around the type of program whether that be conservation or community-based, it might be the type of educational curriculum that the experience is structured around, or what locations are offered.
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6. Find out about the pre-departure game plan
Education should begin before participants find themselves abroad. An organization should provide both educational resources and assignments that promote targeted and deliberate learning experiences. This means that upon arrival students will already have a context in which they can begin placing their service learning experiences.
7. Ask how will the 5 stages of service learning be incorporated into the program
A comprehensive service learning program will incorporate five key components into their curriculum; investigation, planning, action, reflection, and demonstration. Organizations should have a plan for each element and be able to explain both how and why it is an essential part of their program. To learn more about each element have a look at this helpful infographic.
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8. Look at how the students are incorporated into the decision-making process
Students should play a vital role in the decision-making process regarding their service learning experience. The more of a voice that the students have the more connected they will feel to the experiences and changes that are unraveling. The more involved they feel the more likely they are to continue on the work past the end of the service learning experience.
Investigating these key elements of the organization that you choose will help ensure that your experience is well executed from start to finish!
GVI is a multi-award winning Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.