Service Learning: Volunteering in a Foreign Country

Blair Betik
January 25, 2017
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At IES Abroad Milano, an opportunity is brand new this semester. Fulbright-in-residence Elyse Resnick has created a new course and volunteering opportunity that she dubs "Service Learning" with the Comune di Milano's World Cultures Center, which aids immigrants and refugees in assimilating to Italian culture, and finds these clients services (mental, physical, social). When it was announced this opportunity would be offered for course credit at IES Abroad Milano, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. 

I began volunteering at the World Cultures Center the third week of my program. My placement within the Center was based on my language skills and my interest in interviewing and working with clients firsthand. I've studied Italian for nearly three years now, and am relatively proficient, so I was placed with a social worker named Rosanna who speaks absolutely no English. I act almost as her shadow- helping her with completion of documents, answering emails from English speakers, and translating English-speaking client interviews into Italian for her. 

My very first day, before I began shadowing Rosanna, I was luck enough to sit in on the weekly meeting of all the social workers at the Comune. Sitting in a meeting with eight Italian social workers, all women, in Milan, was something I never in a million years thought I would be doing. Eight Italian women, in the most fashionable city in the world, were sitting around me, working to get the incredible amount of migrants to Italy get the services they need to lead safe, healthy lives in their new country. 

Right off the bat, I felt so comfortable with these ladies, who work for others. They serve people that are not their family, or friends, or even their countrymen. They help not just because the faces they see are the faces of their brothers and sisters and daughters and sons-- they help because they want these clients to be treated like people who desperately need a home. 

I can understand 65% of what they say. I can understand like 80% of the things they do (culture shock is still real, 3 weeks in). 

But, I am excited to learn from these women, about the immigration crisis, about Italy's immigration policies, and about the ways a country far more liberal than my own can really help people with the services they provide to our friends outside. 

I will be spending five to six hours every week outside of class, at the Comune, and attend a weekly seminar with Elyse Resnick where we review some of the history of immigration in Italy. I'm learning so much already, challenging myself linguistically and socially, and I'm so grateful. 

Blair Betik

<p>A museum-loving, cappuccino-drinking, Game of Thrones-obsessed sorority girl from Texas, I study art history, anthropology, and Italian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. If I ever go missing, check the nearest museum for the Mediterranean antiquities gallery.</p>

2017 Spring
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Art History
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