Starting this month, Dwight Hall is holding a series of three discussions about volunteerism abroad in an effort to improve its spring break service trips.
The discussions, facilitated by Talya Zemach-Bersin GRD ’14 were created to encourage trip leaders to think critically about international service by considering the long-term effects of their projects. The first discussion, held on Friday, focused on identifying fundamental assumptions and ideologies surrounding global service work.
“What I hope to see is that people go into these experiences with a critical framework,” said Teresa Logue ’15, Dwight Hall co-coordinator, “And when they do have experiences that are frustrating, they have a way of putting them into context,” she added.
Following the implementation of a new service trip code of conduct this year, Dwight Hall initiated the discussions to address concerns about the sustainability and legitimacy of the spring break trips, said Shi Bao Pek ’15, Dwight Hall’s International Network policy director. Dwight Hall’s International Network is working more closely with trip leaders by putting trip proposals through more rigorous review and requiring leaders to attend a series of workshops,he added.
Although most Yale students who sign up for international volunteer work are service-minded, the trips also appeal to students who want the opportunity to travel abroad, Logue said.
The major obstacle Dwight Hall faces is how to ensure that a short-term service trip leaves lasting benefits on the community it hopes to impact, said Xinxin Xu ’16, International Network membership coordinator.
“One of our issues is making people realize that this is volunteerism, not poverty tourism,” Xu said.
Since participants need time to adjust to their new surroundings, less time can be dedicated to service, which is a problem for a trip that lasts for only two weeks, said Divya Balaji ’14, a Global Health Fellow. Two weeks does not leave much time for students to make a significant change, so trip leaders need to consider whether sending volunteers abroad is the best use of their resources, Balaji said.
In addition to this spring’s series of discussions, Dwight Hall members hope stricter service hour requirements and encouraging trip leaders and participants to maintain year-round communication and involvement with their service sites will maximize the trips’ effectiveness, said Ellie Dupler ’16, International Network trip policy director.
While Dwight Hall’s discussions are a step in the right direction for changing how students think and talk about international service, they do not necessarily fix the issues of maintaining sustainable service, Talia Katz ’17 said.
Zemach-Bersin, the discussion facilitator, agreed that the discussions are just the beginning of a larger project for improving service.
“Dwight Hall seems to be moving in the direction of more oversight and more pre-departure requirements,” Zemach-Bersin said, “But there needs to be a much larger effort to think about the broader implications of service programs.”
Ten overseas service trips will be traveling this March.