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Notre Dame Dublin program integrates service learning with study abroad experience

| Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rosie McDowell, the director of international community-based learning outreach for the Center of Social Concerns (CSC), shared her research regarding the community engagement of Notre Dame students in Dublin on Tuesday morning at the Geddes Hall Coffee House. McDowell discussed how Notre Dame’s Dublin program integrates service learning with the study abroad experience.

While students study at host universities like Trinity College and University College Dublin, McDowell said they also have the opportunity to become involved in the community.

“Once in Dublin, the students are placed in a variety of social service organizations, serving at-risk youth in after school programs, young adult refugees, the elderly, those who are homeless and individuals with special needs,” McDowell said.

McDowell said the idea behind this program is supported by research, particularly that of Robbin Crabtree, dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University.

Crabtree’s research has shown that “service learning and study abroad get students out of their comfort zone and also get them the support they need to understand their experiences,” McDowell said.

McDowell said the research of Barbara Parker additionally emphasizes how service learning can complement any study abroad program.

“Students’ effective and cognitive content learning is impacted similarly by study abroad and service learning, but their connective learning, their personal road to development and solidarity to others is enhanced and more strongly impacted by service learning,” McDowell said, summarizing the findings of Parker’s research.

Such an integrated program is of particular importance for students studying in Europe, McDowell said, because many Americans’ image of Europe is “composed of Disney representations.” This program provides students with a more realistic view of European life.

“When a study abroad program is intentionally designed to give students opportunities to encounter the different facets of the community, the students contradict this imagined ideal that they carry with them,” she said.

The service opportunities offered by the Dublin program confront students with the very real social issues present in Ireland, McDowell said.

“They see firsthand the diversity of the immigrant families that are there and in need, the needs of the Irish homeless families, the growing need for after school programs for at-risk youth and the isolation of the elderly whose families may have all emigrated in search of better economic opportunity,” she said.

“These encounters and engagements contrast greatly with the mythical, intoxicating images that students may have in mind on arrival,” McDowell said.

For this reason, “adequate space is provided for unpacking these dissonances and contrasts” through reflection, she said.

This reflection occurs in the form of six journals spread throughout the semester, McDowell said. These journals allow McDowell to see the effect this integrated study abroad and service-learning experience has on students.

“Students gain insight into Irish culture and politics, they make comparisons between Ireland and the United States, they develop some compassion and understanding for those that they serve, and they reflect on the importance of developing relationships and understanding people through dialogue,” McDowell said. “They experience spiritual growth, they experience feelings of belonging, and they begin to think about their long term aspirations and how they might stay connected to the issue they worked on while they were there.”

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