Overseas service programs offer students a wide selection of volunteer experiences from working with children in Fiji to feeding and caring for animals in a Kenyan elephant orphanage and giraffe sanctuary.
“Everyday was spent half teaching and half constructing the local Nasivikoso school,” junior Paloma Palmer, who worked in Fiji with Rustic Pathways, said. “It was very motivating because we’d teach these kids, and then they’d watch us build their school. We could see what we were building and how we were directly helping and impacting these kids.”
Cultural immersion service trips reflect the Goals and Criteria of Sacred Heart Schools, specifically Three and Four, educating for “social awareness which impels to action” and “the building of community as a Christian value.”
“I think that these service trips encapsulate a lot of our Goals,” Student Activities Director Devin DeMartini said. “Service definitely “impels to action” (Goal 4), but also applies to Goal 5 of “wise freedom.” A lot of students are immersing themselves in another culture, and there’s a lot of freedom that comes with that, learning how to be an independent person and still focusing on the goals of your service.”
Summer, spring and winter break programs take place from Burma to Spain to Ghana. While most programs do not have a due date for registration, they do advise applying as soon as possible as spots fill up quickly.
“We built aqueducts so villagers could have running water,” sophomore Laurel Cinti, who volunteered in the Dominican Republic also with Rustic Pathways last June, said. “Now they don’t have to walk three miles to get water for cooking or toilets.”
Unlike other volunteering activities, global service trips allow students to gain new experiences by immersing themselves in a different culture, according to junior Connolly Steigerwald, who joined Palmer in Fiji and traveled to Costa Rica with Rustic Pathways two years ago.
“For part of our service trip, we lived with the Maasai ethnic peoples in their village, helping them and building a boma for them,” sophomore Natalie Podell, who witnessed the slaughtering of a goat during her service-trip to Kenya and Tanzania with Adventures Cross Country, said. “I honestly don’t know how many people have been given the opportunity to actually live in a Maasai village and see how they live their lives.”
Palmer and Steigerwald stayed with a host family during the second half of their trip, making the experience more meaningful and enhancing their cultural experience.
“As I got more comfortable with my host family, I began to ask more questions about their life and culture,” Steigerwald, whose favorite memory is drinking kava with her host family, said. “Some family members didn’t even know how to speak English, but they were really accepting and loving, giving us hugs and presents at the end. I think that’s a huge benefit because it reminds you of what you’re there for.”
“The benefit of a global service trip is that you take service and put it in a different perspective,” DeMartini said. “You have students who are not only encountering an international experience, but they also feel like they are participating in a global community.”
When students are taken out of the country, they become active global citizens and support local communities working to address local challenges, according to Ann Fuller, a Rustic Pathways Global Community Service Director.
“The rewarding part of my trip was meeting a new family,” Palmer, who still contacts her host family once every week through her uncle, who lives in Fiji, said. “We did a lot of community service, but I don’t think it’s the amount of help we offered the kids. I think it was the experience I took away from it and how I’m using that back here at home where I’m raising money and awareness for Fijians.”
“The trip was very eye-opening because we weren’t traveling as tourists,” sophomore Megan McMicking, who volunteered with Podell, said. “We showered in cold water, ate their cultural food and had no access to electronics. To them, water fountains and toilets were amazing.”
Although participants are often faced with challenges like a language barrier, service trips increase global awareness, according to Cinti.
“It was very different to be in a culture where you can’t just call an Uber,” Cinti said. “You have to take a large, open truck everywhere you go, and everything is miles apart.”
Service-learning abroad programs offer students the opportunity to connect with people around the world and to learn from different cultures and ways of life around the world, according to Fuller.
“Students often reach out to us to let us know that their experiences have had profound impacts on their lives,” Fuller said. “One of the most powerful is the new perspective they gain on their own lives and on their role in the global community.”
Many high school volunteers alternatively participate in global service trips through local community organizations or their churches.
“We gave kids a summer camp where we swam with them in the local river and taught simple English,” junior Kathryn Yu, who taught at a school in Na’an, a province in northern Thailand, with Grace Covenant Church, said. “My favorite part was when we got ice cream with the kids. It only cost 10 cents, but many of the kids could never afford it, and these kids who were 16 or 17-years old were having ice cream for the first time.”
Convent and Stuart Hall’s service trip to Costa Rica in January whetted the appetite for more school immersion trips for some sophomores.
“I enjoyed Costa Rica and love traveling so I decided to do another service trip with the school,” Gabby Gupta said. “In Mexico, we dug trenches and made wheat for their bread.”
International service trips offer a balance between service and leisure, according to McMicking.
“We were given two days to adjust to the time zone,” McMicking said. “We went on a safari and visited a giraffe sanctuary and elephant orphanage, then we drove across the border from Kenya to Tanzania where we volunteered at schools, became certified scuba divers and built bomas [fences].”
Relationships are often created with participants from other U.S. and international schools and with local villagers.
“The locals were some of the nicest people I have ever met,” sophomore Abby Dolan, who worked in a Haitian refugee camp in the Dominican Republic with Global Leadership Adventures, said. “I knew I would probably never see them again so any time I spent with them was very valuable.”
Many volunteers continue to support the communities they visited after returning to the United States.
“Paloma designed and made shirts to fundraise,” Steigerwald said, “and I spent the year putting together a benefit concert at a venue where some people from Convent and Marin Academy performed. The money we raised would be given to the Fijian villages through Rustic Pathways.”
Many international volunteers say that these trips benefit them as much as the communities they helped.
“I’ve always known that there are people who were less fortunate than us,” Yu said. “Really seeing it opens your eyes, and it becomes a reality for you.”