Reflection and Service Learning
Guest Post by Elizabeth Leonard, Founder and President, Blue Bridge Project.
3 Reasons Why Reflection is a Key Piece of the Service Learning Experience
Weeks spent volunteering abroad are filled with activity; it is often difficult for volunteers to find time for reflection. Blue Bridge trips are structured to include time for reflection so that students can maximize their experience on our trips and utilize the learning for future endeavors.
With a wake-up call at 6am, our students begin a jam-packed day. Under the hot sun, they help construct a rain-protected bus stop for a rural community, tutor students in English, paint a new classroom, run a kids camp and play a friendly yet intense game of soccer. By the time the sun sets, they are ready for dinner and an early bedtime. Between dinner and a well-deserved night of rest, our students always have structured “downtime” for reflection. Blue Bridge Project was founded on the principle that reflection is a critical part of the volunteering experience. Why?
1. Reflection helps students use their experience in the future
Volunteering abroad challenges students and offers many opportunities for personal growth. Often students find that these experiences offer rich examples that they can use while interviewing for college or for their first job. When an interviewer asks “tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle” our students can provide a multitude of examples from their summer volunteer experience.
Yet, it is crucial that students thoughtfully and sensitively articulate the lessons learned from their volunteering experience. Too often, students get no guidance throughout the program and leave with a very warped perception of international development. Blue Bridge Project was founded on the principle that high school students can learn—through a carefully planned itinerary and guided reflection—that international development is complicated and that they are only exposed to one small piece over the summer.
Because the issues students encounter abroad are complicated, Blue Bridge helps each of our students think about and apply their summer experiences after their trip. Sometimes the best reflection happens once students are home and back in their regular routines. We remain committed to all of our students to help them with this transition.
2. Reflection helps students achieve their personal trip goals
Students start their summer with all the best intentions but these intentions often get lost among the busyness of everyday activities. Setting aside even 15 minutes every day to review individual goals and see how the day’s activities fit into those goals ensures that students don’t return home with regrets. If a student’s individual goal is to practice Spanish with local kids, she can spent a few minutes every evening reflecting on how often she spoke Spanish with locals during the day and planning for how to speak more tomorrow.
3. Reflection helps create a better group dynamic
Every group is different: different students from different backgrounds with different goals. Yet the success of each trip is dependent on how well students work and play together. Individual and group reflection gives everyone a chance to consider how the dynamic among students is both helping and hurting our volunteering goals. Because we set aside time every evening to review the day, our groups can change courses quickly if something isn’t working and celebrate our successes together.
The blogging platform on Volunteer Forever will be key to our participant’s reflection. Since we actively encourage our program participants to use Volunteer Forever’s fundraising platform, we hope many of our students will get in the habit of blogging about their trips even before they leave home. And as part of our post-trip support, we’ll continue to encourage our students to blog about their experiences to facilitate reflecting what they have learned over the summer. In the end, this reflection will enable Blue Bridge Project participants to maximize their experience before, during, and after their trips.
Blue Bridge Project