Lucy Bartholomee is an art teacher at Northstar School in Arlington, Texas and a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas. She led her first tour with ACIS in 2003 and has traveled with her students to Italy, Spain, France and The UK multiple times since. In this article, she shares her experience from a trip to Italy she took with her students which incorporated service learning into the itinerary.
Service projects in an international setting bring a new layer of meaning to my educational tours. The whole idea of global citizenship is embedded with developing empathy for others and making meaningful connections across racial, cultural, religious and linguistic barriers. Many of my travelers have their first international experience on my tour, and sometimes they want to hover near the bus, buy a few t-shirts and speak only to the other students on a tour. ACIS offers many fun and enticing opportunities to break out of that bubble and get to know local people, traditions and ways of life.
On a service learning trip to Italy, we saw all the big sights and monuments you would expect, and we engaged in service three different service projects.
We spent a day helping at a rescued animal shelter in the Borghese Gardens. My students helped wash, weigh and measure birds and turtles, clean out their sanctuary, and put them back. They were mostly injured from getting hit by a car or bicycle in the park.
We spent another day helping excavate a tomb from the Appian Way south of Rome. That was one of the best travel days of my life! We dug in the tomb, found pottery and tiny pieces of ancient debris which helped the archaeologists date the tomb to the 3rd century and decide it was a soldier’s tomb. It was amazing (and muddy).
We also spent a day serving lunch to more than 400 homeless people while in Rome. It was moving to see the way my students treated each of these people with dignity and care. They served food, coffee, and water, and helped hand out toiletries and portable food to take away. Some of the people who came to eat wanted to practice their English language skills by chatting with my students. They were certainly surprised to see a cheerful group of teenagers from the U.S. in the cafeteria!
My students’ eyes were truly opened on that trip, finding compassion where it was least expected. Words like ‘refugee’ and ‘homeless’ are not abstract terms for us anymore. We now have a vivid human connection and compassion that we carry forward. A few years after that experience in Rome, one of these students emailed to tell me: “I think about that trip all the time. It was the foundation for much of my career aspirations and values. I still can’t believe all that we got to do.” This student continued to travel while in college and has just begun her graduate work in a field related to global ethics.
The International Baccalaureate program encourages global citizenship and caring in the IB learner profile. The CAS component of the IB curriculum (Creativity, Action, Service) encourages students to step outside their personal comfort zone and grow in empathy, care, and creativity. Service learning trips with ACIS meet and exceed that expectation, and offer an amazing opportunity to connect with our fellow global citizens across the world, changing lives and building a more compassionate fellowship of humanity.
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