We recently spoke with Barbara King, the International Service Programs (ISP) Coordinator at the University of Scranton. FTI has worked with Ms. King to plan a variety of ISP trips. Her passion for what she does inspired us to learn more about her experiences and perspectives on service learning.
ISP trips are 7-10 day service projects that address the needs of the marginalized in developing countries. Students, faculty and staff provide food, shelter and clothing as well as visiting the imprisoned and the sick. As the ISP Coordinator, Barbara is responsible for recruiting, appointing, and training students for these trips.
How does the University of Scranton select service project locations?
The International Service Program has been a part of our Campus Ministries for more than 30 years. During the last few years, we’ve partnered with three new host sites in Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. These organizations are striving for social justice within their countries and came highly recommended by some of our fellow Jesuit Universities.
We have long-standing relationships with each host who is willing to do anything to help our students prepare for the trip. They assist with small things like paperwork and answer any questions our students or their parents may have.
We believe it’s important to partner with other Jesuit organizations. For example, we visit the Kino Border Initiative in Mexico, where a Jesuit priest named Father Pete takes students to the border to explain what’s going on with immigration. He walks the group across the desert path that migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico take to get to the United States. He wants students to understand the hardships they face and view life through a lens of social justice.
We also take our students to El Salvador to learn about the Jesuit martyrs who laid down their lives for what they believed in. Here, the students learn about the history of the country as well as their faith. It’s a pretty unique experience.
What are the University’s primary objectives for students who participate in your programs?
Our three main learning outcomes are to have students:
- Develop a commitment for people who live and work under the conditions of poverty and inequality.
- Understand how reflection about the communities they serve brings them closer in their relationship with God.
- See how the service trip experience can help them strive for excellence through analysis, reflection, and prayer.
We want them to form a greater view of God and who they are in the context of social justice. We’ve seen the impact that these trips have on our students play out in real life.
Every May 6th, we ask our student body to donate to one program or activity on campus; It’s called Scranton 506. Each year, an impressive amount of ISP alumni donate to our program and continue to do so. It’s safe to say the trips leave a lasting impact!
We understand students are involved in leading the ISP teams. What do their responsibilities include? Are there any unexpected challenges or benefits that you’ve seen from this decision?
Each team is comprised of two chaperones, a student leader, and the rest of the team. The student leaders must be ISP alumni and nominated by past team members to apply. After a student receives at least two nominations, I’ll interview anywhere from 25-30 potential candidates and offer the position to about 11 students.
They are responsible for facilitating group activities during the two retreats, at weekly service group meetings, and nightly reflection activities while serving in country. They also assist with fundraising and participate in an intense fall semester training program. Their goal is to help students prepare for and process the trip while in country and after they return home.
Their support to develop their groups is key to the success of our program. The peer-to-peer model helps develop a significant connection with the students. It allows them to open up and truly embrace this shared experience.
Social justice is a key component to your service trips; how do you prepare students to address these issues?
On these trips, our students encounter some pretty tough situations. It’s not normal to see children walking around barefoot in sewage on the street. It breaks your heart because you know how hazardous that is. That’s not something our students see on a day-to-day basis. So, we are blessed to have many resources on campus and with our host organizations to assist in the education and preparation of our students.
During our retreats, service group meetings, and while in country, social justice related reflection and discussions are a priority. We make sure to carve out time for journaling and small group discussion. The University and Campus Ministries’ mission emphasizes the promotion of justice, and it is my personal responsibility to make sure our service trips preparations and experiences on the ground help to develop our students’ understanding of social justice. We want students to be able to make sense of what they’ve seen so they continue to live life with perspective.
I’ve been doing this for three years and this is my fifth trip coming up. I still struggle sometimes to make sense of what I see. Each trip challenges me to strive to be a better person and make subtle changes in my life that can truly make a difference. How can I use less water in my home? Do I recycle? Should I talk to a homeless person on the street? It helps you think about global issues as well as improvements you can make in your own life. And it challenges you to share your story with others so you can do better together.
“[Service Learning] helps you think about global issues as well as improvements you can make in your own life. And it challenges you to share your story with others so you can do better together.”
What’s the greatest takeaway from your job?
That’s a difficult question because there are too many to list! However, there’s so much joy in watching them grow from the experience and form relationships with the people they’re serving. One of our partners from the DR comes to visit us every two years. I arrange a group dinner, so our ISP alums can catch up with what’s going on with his ministry. I’m not lying when I say that everyone from the past four years of serving comes to this dinner party. They travel from all over just to see José!
As I was walking him around campus, our ISP students who served two to three years prior ran up to him and gave him hugs as they reminisced about the trip. They were so joyful to see him and tell José about the impact that week made in their life.
Being a part of their development is such a privilege and they are constantly challenging me, making me laugh, and most of all making me proud. It’s an amazing opportunity to give students not only a “trip,” but most of all a journey that starts when they go to an information session that occurs eight months before that plane takes off.
The transformation that happens related to their faith, values, maturity, cultural awareness and relationships is truly amazing. The greatest takeaway now that I think about it is how the experience affects their lives long after the trip is over!
When did your passion for serving others begin?
I grew up in a single parent home that received a lot of support from the community, our church, and social services. It was tough. I thought I understood what poverty was, but I realized I had only brushed the surface when I saw other families struggling much more than I did.
Once I was old enough to give back, I immediately started serving with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and participating in several domestic and international service trips. This passion for service has helped me develop a greater understanding of myself and the world.
We know you send students all over the world, but where’s your favorite place to travel and why?
My husband has been so supportive in my passion for service and career change. Jim and I love to travel, but honestly, my favorite place to travel is anywhere with him. We love to explore the United States together. Our greatest memories were made during our trips to California, Niagara Falls, and the Finger Lakes. Learning about our country through the beautiful landscape, diverse people, rich culture and amazing food with someone you love is an incredible experience.
Have you encountered any challenges coordinating group travel? And do you have any words of wisdom to share with those new to the field?
My only challenge was when we had to cancel a few trips several years ago due to safety concerns in the country. Managing the administrative and emotional aspects of rescheduling the four groups was challenging but very important. Because months of work had already been poured into it, including fundraising and group development, the change was difficult.
But what made those two weeks manageable was a supportive work environment, a culture where safety always comes first, and a great travel agent who made me a priority. For me, having a flexible, knowledgeable travel agency is a must. To know that I can ask questions or rely on you to make changes is important to me. I know I can count on you. It’s more than just getting a good price on airfare; It’s about knowing that our students are cared for. Making that connection with a professional who cares about your work makes all the difference.
If I could give any advice, I’d tell them to work with a trusted agent and develop longstanding relationships with your hosts. I trust the people we work with on the ground and I know how experienced they are. These hosts listen to my feedback when given and make necessary changes needed to give our students the best experiences possible.
What’s the most memorable story you’ve heard from your students’ travels abroad?
Here’s a story from one of our ISP student leaders named Alex:
“The most memorable moment for me was during my service trip to Guatemala. While my group and I were working on building a stove for a family, the father arrived and gave me a small plastic bag of water. It’s unsafe to drink from the faucets in Guatemala, so people have to use any type of containers including bottles, gallon jugs, and even these little baggies to transport water. It was clear to me that this family would need to constantly spend money that they didn’t have to buy these items just to survive.
I was also aware that Guatemala did not have a sustainable way to remove trash, so the baggies we used would be discarded in the streets. I really felt welcomed by this family who had so little, but were still offering us water. They wanted to make sure their guests were in good hands. It was in this moment that I knew that when I came back to the United States, back to the University of Scranton, I wanted to make a difference for families in Guatemala.
This is why I’ve started my own research project on how to construct a water filter that has the capability to provide a family with a clean source of drinking water. My hope is to install this water filter in Guatemala by June 2018.”
“It’s our goal to help students recognize social injustice in the world and commit to living a life dedicated to helping others.”
The question we ask ourselves in the ISP Office is, “How do we get our students to keep reflecting and living the experience even though they’re not there?” So, when someone like Alex comes back from their trip and wants to make a difference, we teach our students how to fund raise or file for grants so they can actually make a change.
It can be very hard to process poverty and transform thought into action once you return home from these trips. It’s our goal to help students recognize social injustice in the world and commit to living a life dedicated to helping others.
We’re grateful for clients like Barbara, who are passionate about serving others and making a difference. If you’d like to read more on the University of Scranton’s travels, read our latest blog post to see how ISP students spent their summer serving abroad.
If you’re interested in serving overseas or adding a service component to your short-term study abroad program, check out our website for more information. You can also request a quote if you’re ready to start planning your trip today!
It’s a big world. Get out there!
Your FTI Team