Connections Past Issues

Global Service

by Joanie Eppinga


The words “transformative experience” come up repeatedly when members of the School of Health and Human Services talk about students’ international opportunities—and with good reason.

Mary Dahl Maher, Ph.D. and Marie Bell, Ed.D., assistant professors in nursing who led a service-learning trip to Belize over spring break, report that students engaged in several intriguing experiences: walking through the rain forest and learning about the medicinal properties of plants; taking a water taxi to an island to interview people living there; and listening to a naturopath who had studied with a traditional Mayan healer.

The students’ scholarly focus involved an exploratory study of public health issues in Belize as part of a new credit-bearing course, Global Health. The service-learning component included giving lectures on diabetes at a senior center and offering the day-to-day services seniors need. Those needs were much like those of people everywhere—but the people themselves were different.

“Our students were struck by how heterogeneous the population is,” says Maher. Belize includes people of African, Chinese, Mayan, and Arab descent, as well as a strong Mennonite community.

Kerala, India, is another culturally diverse area. Trip leader Jed Metzger, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, says Nazareth students who studied international social work there also were welcomed graciously. That may have been partly because Kerala, like Belize, is tolerant of differences. In “the spice land,” as Kerala is known, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs live together in harmony, according to Metzger. “The cultural immersion and watching diversity be lived out is very powerful for students,” he says.

For the students who went on Nazareth’s service-learning trip to Jamaica in March, the most powerful experience was working with bedridden children in hospitals. “They intended to help the children do their homework,” notes Mark Primus, M.S.W., the assistant clinical professor of social work who led the trip. “But often the children just wanted to ask questions—‘Where are you from? Why are you here?’ Our students had to engage, and it was very moving for them.”

Primus says Nazareth students are ready and eager for these transformative experiences, and there’s no better way to get them than through international study and service. “When we think of young adults,” he says, “we tend to think of them as self-involved, but they’re not. They really want to engage.” He notes that after exploring other cultures, students are more likely to contribute to their home communities.

To fuel that fire, Nazareth’s social work department also offers programs in Leeds and Carlisle, in England, and plans next to offer a trip to a Central or South American country.

But social work students don’t have to travel to explore different cultures. Virginia David, M.S.W., professor and chair of social work, says they also can do global service-learning projects right in Rochester.

“It’s exciting how the Department of Social Work has embraced the concept of international learning,” David says. The students who participate—and find themselves changed as a result—couldn’t agree more.


Joanie Eppinga is a freelance writer and editor in Spokane, Washington.

Liz David

Liz David '16 (center), donating toothbrushes and toothpaste to a health center in Jamaica during a recent service-learning trip.

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