Service Initiatives Abroad Offer NYU Students Chance to Make an Impact

NYU Shanghai introduced a new higher education model within China, but its success is yet to be determined.

NYU encourages students to serve their communities from the start of their university careers by offering many programs to provide students exactly what they are looking for when they search for service initiatives.

Students are encouraged to make an impact in their immediate communities, but NYU also has many programs that let students take their services abroad.

Alternative Breaks allows students to make a yearlong commitment to service, where selected participants learn about social justice in weekly meetings. These lead up to a service trip during their winter or spring breaks to work within various communities.

CAS senior Kendi Tang is the treasurer of Alternative Breaks and he said that the program is actually part of a larger organization called Break Away. Although this is only his fourth year with the program, he said that it started back in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and has expanded since then.

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“We have trips that work with the refugee population, homeless populations, domestic violence and children,” Tang said. “It’s not over when their trip is over. They’re still going on learning and doing service in New York.”

He said their trips range from domestic locations such as West Virginia and California but also cover destinations such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Tang also said that students who travel internationally mostly work with children in the communities they serve.

While Alternative Breaks might be the best-known service abroad program, NYU students can work in the global community through The Clinton Global Initiative University program, where students are given the opportunity to present their ideas at a two-day summit. SPS graduate student MaryBeth Bognar said that she applied to the program with her capstone project and was accepted to participate this past April. She said that the program provides a platform for students to turn their ideas into action.

“Myself and two others have conducted a feasibility study in Lebanon to learn how NYU can fill gaps and build capacity for Syrian refugees to have higher education opportunities,” Bognar said. “[The program] benefits the students to make their ideas a reality, and it hopefully will benefit the people that these projects will impact once launched.”

She received funding for her project during this two-day summit at UC Berkeley in San Francisco and said that she was able to meet with other students working on innovative education projects as well.

In addition to engaging through service trips, students at NYU’s other global sites are also heavily involved in community service.

For example, the Dean’s Service Scholars program is a popular program at NYU Shanghai. DSS is a one-year program where first-year students spend their fall semester learning about the meaning of community service. Then, during their spring break, they participate in a service project in either China or Cambodia.

NYU Shanghai sophomore Anthony Comeau participated in the program and said in an e-mail that students are put into one of four groups and travel to either Hunan, Yunnan or Henan in China, or to Siem Reap in Cambodia. He went to Cambodia and said he joined this program because he wanted to understand the country’s history and genocide.

“I’d read about Cambodia and the genocide, but I wanted a way to study that and then have a quick experience to see and get a background of what happened from 1975 to 1979,” Comeau said. “It’s so real there. Because honestly, if you see anyone in Cambodia who’s over the age of 30, you know they lived through hell.”

He said that before going, he went and did site-specific readings and enrolled in a class that engaged in discussion-based service-learning.

NYU Shanghai sophomore Serena Uy also participated in DSS her freshman year and said that this service experience allowed her to empathize more with people from all walks of life.

“That empathy, that understanding, is really the key thing because you’re all on the same level, you’re all people,” Uy said. “Service is important to me mainly because I always want to remind myself that I’m not the only person I should focus myself in. It’s not just the school community, but also the outside.”

But no matter what part of the world NYU students are in, Uy said that the end goal is simply to make an impact.

“I wanted to meet people, and I would get to do my best to help them. I got to bond with people who on a daily basis I wouldn’t have the chance to do so,” Uy said. “You do wanna try to see if you can really make change, regardless, no matter how big or small it is — that’s why I wanted to do service.”

Email Natasha Roy at [email protected] 

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