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Service Abroad - An Introduction from the Bonner Foundation

Page history last edited by Kelly Behrend 9 years, 10 months ago

The Bonner Foundation & International Service


Through sustained partnerships with colleges and congregations, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation seeks to improve the lives of individuals and communities by helping meet the basic needs of nutrition and educational opportunity.  We work to support college students to have an access to higher education and an opportunity to serve during college—not only because service to the community is a vital component of the broader mission of higher education, but also because service experience often transforms individuals into global citizens with lifelong commitments to improving our world. 
The Bonner Common Commitments—community building, civic engagement, diversity, international perspective, social justice, and spiritual exploration—represent the core values that we hope that students in the campus-based programs in our network encounter, clarify for themselves, and internalize throughout the program.  International perspective is critical to this journey, yet it cannot be separated from the other commitments.  For example, when a student interested in poverty issues who grew up or worked in suburban New Jersey, rural Kentucky, or urban Atlanta travels to a Kenyan village, Chinese city, or Indian Province for the first time, he or she learns, witnesses, and serves to counter poverty in new contexts.  When a Christian or agnostic student spends a term or summer abroad, living in a predominantly Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist country, she or he has the chance to think about spiritual exploration anew.  An understanding of social justice is refined when a student works with families who are indeed living on a few dollars a day.  In fact, the experiences of working across diverse contexts—be they in the student’s home community, campus context, or even globally—are one of the most powerful aspects of the Bonner Program. 
The power of this experience is borne out in stories and practice (which you can read about in students’ profiles)—but also well documented by our assessment and evaluation results.  For the past seven years, Jim and Cheryl Keen worked with the Bonner Foundation to conduct a Student Impact Survey, including alumni of the four-year Bonner Scholars Program.  They found that academic, civic, and personal gains correlate with four years of involvement in the Bonner Program and that, most notably, the opportunity for dialogue across difference was the strongest factor in a student’s developmental growth.  Dialogue across difference was defined as the opportunity to engage with the ‘other,’ often a peer student or someone on whose behalf they do community service. While international service and study is certainly not the only way for students to have the opportunity for engaging in this crucial dialogue across difference, it is likely an excellent opportunity for many students to have these experiences, as they live and work in an entirely new context, forming relationships with people across many variables of difference.   
Secondly, the Keens found that these powerful experiences were mostly happening in co-curricular contexts, not in the classroom. Traditional service-learning experiences did not have a noticeable impact, yet the opportunity to engage with peers and mentors in co-curricular settings proved important. Serving in an international non-profit stretches the student.  Third, they found that students’ skills in dialogue across difference increased between the junior and senior year; students in our programs often study and serve abroad in the junior year, returning to reflect on, process, and apply their learning.  You can read the full paper, “Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal College Outcomes of 25 Co-Curricular Service-Learning Programs” on our website at: http://www.bonner.org/resources/assessment/EngagingWithDifference.pdf
Hence, international service provides students with an opportunity to learn, inquire about, apply, and refine their knowledge and talents in deep ways and new contexts.   
Over the last decade in particular, higher education has been able to provide many students—even those with low-income backgrounds like Bonner Scholars and Leaders—with affordable, safe, and achievable means to study and serve abroad.  It is exciting that so many of the Bonner Programs have been able to incorporate this work—whether through short-term immersion trips, semester-long academic programs, or full-time summer internships.  We at the Foundation are excited that so many students are now able to take advantage of these life-changing opportunities, through which they may also make important contributions to improving the lives and environment for people around the globe.   


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