Over winter break, my sister often complained about how all of her college classmates were in different countries.
She said they were either studying abroad or had opted to go on service trips as a cheaper alternative to visiting other countries or regions.
When service trips are used for personal gain like this — whether it be to take advantage of the service location or to pad one’s resume — participants lose focus on the true meaning of volunteering and giving back.
As spring break approaches and the summer months follow soon after, students should remember to participate in community service with the right intentions: to serve the needs of the specific communities where they are working.
“I feel like it’s our responsibility to give back because a lot of us come from places from some type of privilege,” said Shali Pai, a junior sociology of health major. “I think it’s a good way to center yourself and do things that are very rewarding that benefit other people.”
Pai went to Appalachia as part of a trip through Temple’s Honors Program to work on construction projects for struggling communities in Kentucky. She also went on a service trip to Peru through the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children.
Dustin Miller, a junior secondary education major, is the fundraising chair for Temple’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, an on-campus organization that builds homes for families in Philadelphia. This year, the group is going on a service trip to North Carolina over spring break.
“It’s not just a tourist trip, or something that students are going on for spring break,” Miller said. “There is very real impact [in what] we’re doing. First and foremost it’s a volunteering trip … and were going to help people.”
I hope all students have this mentality when they participate in service trips. Students need to be fully invested in the mission of service trips and dedicate themselves fully to tasks at hand and to the people they’re serving. Students won’t be able to prioritize the communities they’re serving if they’re more focused on padding their resumes or their Instagram accounts.
Donna-Marie Peters, a sociology professor, is the program director of the Jamaica International Service Learning and Community-Based Research program, a summer service trip for which Temple students teach English to Jamaican children. She said the program’s application process works to weed out students who may not take the service aspect of the trip seriously.
“If they go on a trip like this and they expect it to be a vacation that they get course credit for, I think [that] is disingenuous,” Peters said. “We don’t advertise as such. We don’t promote that.”
Students should also volunteer throughout the year, and not just for a week when they have the chance to travel. No matter where you live, there is always a need for service within your community.
There are numerous service opportunities within Philadelphia alone, from organizations like HIAS, which works to resettle refugees in Philadelphia, to Project HOME, which helps provide opportunities for Philadelphia’s homeless population.
“It’s definitely important to put your interests into something that you love and care about,” Miller said.
I hope as students prepare to go on service trips next week or pursue service opportunities for the summer, they think about the ways they can best create a more permanent impact through their service.
They should never lose sight of the true meaning of service: helping others.
Emma Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.