Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program Returns: Some of What I Have Learned in Three Years of the Program*

[the what] The Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program returned in June from its third year running. Students are back in the swing of things, having started internships and jobs. Professor Nadia Rubaii and I are back to research and planning classes for the Fall 2015 semester.

During our time in Peru for three weeks, the Program, which included this year 18 students and 2 faculty leaders, did a total of 448 hours of Spanish language classes and 56 hours of Quechua (an indigenous language spoken widely in the Andean mountains of Peru) by 2 students at our partner language school, Maximo Nivel, and over 800 hours of service work with our three service partners who you have read about by our posts from our CCPA graduate students (Sarah Glose, Helen Li, Diana Reyes, Dina Truncali, Liz Pisani-Woodruff, and Carolina Garcia): AbrePuertas, Corazon de Dahlia, and the Comedor called Virgin de Fatima.

5.The Group at Corazon de Dahlia

Students were able to see local development, often from the bottom up at all of the service sites. The service sites were all different in how they ‘tackled’ local development and issues of poverty, as one student wrote in a blog post for CCE, “All three of the organizations are doing incredible things in different ways, helping to engage the members of their communities and enhance their lives as a whole.” During their time in Peru, students witnessed and practiced many public service values, and experienced both their challenges and opportunities in the context of Peru, including—issues around equity, effectiveness, community, solidarity, and sustainability.

So, was the Peru Program 2015 a success? If success is measured by building and continuing strong partnerships in Peru and by increasing learning and reflection on important local development questions, the answer is yes, the Peru Program was a success again in its third year.

[so what?] So now it is my time to reflect, given another successful year of the program. I think one of the most fulfilling parts of instructing and leading a class and international service-learning (ISL) program like the Peru Program is working with both the students and our service partners. As I mentioned in the initial Peru Program post, the Peru Program builds ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and also to establish the importance of our relationships with our service partners.

Students: Students come to the Peru Program with a predisposition to want to give and positively influence communities of all kinds. Some know they are going into public service careers like our MPA graduate students and MSW graduate students. Others know they want to go into a career that makes a difference but are exploring options. Students step into the first day of the pre-departure classes of the Peru Program with a desire to give.

6.The Group at Comedor

What I think ISL programs do so well is to complement this desire to give to community. That is, programs like the Peru Program can also foster an even more greater desire to learn. I imagine students knew they would learn something through the Peru Program. Of course they would, right? It is a class, they were doing readings, had papers, engaged in class discussions and the like. However, you cannot step into a new context, in this case Peru, without asking questions, and lots of them. Asking questions fosters learning and also requires that we ask the same questions about our own contexts. I tell students before leaving for Peru, during our pre-departure classes, that they should plan to learn more about Peru, for sure, but also to be just as prepared to learn as much about the U.S.

Service Partners: Our service partners also asked questions while working with us. Like for many of our students, for many of the service partners—both the organizational leaders and those served by the organizations—seeing and working with the Binghamton group was their first experience working side by side with people from another country. They asked a lot of questions and had curiosity about what students were studying, about the students’ families, and what they thought about Cusco, Peru—especially the food!

[now what?] As a professor at CCPA, I commit myself to giving Binghamton students these types of learning experiences. In a last reflection class during our time in Peru, students became critical of some of the macro and structural issues that cause poverty. We should be critical! It can almost seem overwhelming and hard to find solutions. However, what programs like the Peru Program do is put faces to these bigger structural issues. Students can reflect about how their life in the U.S. is related to the lives of the communities and our partners in Peru. Students can continue relations with our partner organizations through social media, information campaigns, fundraising and by returning if possible to Peru. One student explained in the final reflection session that during her time in Peru she was reminded that “people are people.” Indeed, learning and reflection can remind us that all people desire and deserve well being and opportunity, in the U.S., Peru and everywhere.

Looking forward to seeing the Peru Program’s success next year as well!

Susan Appe

Assistant Professor of Public Administration

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)