The model used during the Microcampus program is called “Service Learning,” which is a bit different from the usual model of providing service to communities we visit. Usually at SAS, our community service efforts involve raising money or gathering clothes and giving them to those less fortunate than we are. While these acts of kindness are important, the lesson learned is fairly simple: we are fortunate and should be generous to those less fortunate.
By contrast, the Service Learning model is designed to focus on the learning component of the process. We are, after all, a school. It is important to keep learning as a focus while still honoring the overall goal of the Microcampus program of having a positive impact on the places we go and the people who live there.
The village of Xizhou has a long, proud history, and the idea of a group of students sweeping into town hoping to provide a “service” to them in the traditional way—or to approach them as being less fortunate than we are—would be viewed rather strangely by people there, and it would certainly be in conflict with our goal of having a positive impact on the places we go and the people who live there.
With this in mind, the focus of our ongoing Service Learning project is working in partnership with the active elders of the community and capturing the wisdom and oral history of the village. Students work in groups to produce a short video about the lives of their partners, which we share in a public celebration during our last week in the village.
These stories are important, and our work in capturing/preserving these stories is our small way of showing our appreciation to the village for being such wonderful hosts during our time there.
Our service work will focus on learning—and this will require a great deal of care and reflection on order to make sure that the lessons we learn go beyond the usual community service experience.