My host university offered many different options for community service. I chose to volunteer my time at a battered women’s shelter in Rome helping to teach English. The battered women’s shelter’s goal here was similar to battered women’s shelters in the United States: to provide a safe and supportive environment for women who have lived through unfortunate circumstances. I thought this was an amazing opportunity to not only interact with people in my host community, but to make a small difference there as well. I was surprised to find that in addition to fulfilling my community service requirement for this class, volunteering my time here also benefited me in ways that I had not expected when I first chose this option.
One thing I have noticed about Italians in general is that they speak with a lot of emotion and also tend to talk with their hands. This observation was no different during my time volunteering. While teaching these women English, I could pick out who in the room was Italian and who was not. I was pretty confident that the ones speaking with their hands idle were probably not Italian. I find that myself and other study abroad students have slightly picked up the habit of talking with our hands, as well. The other night at dinner, my roommate almost knocked over four wine glasses because she was so invested in what she was saying. I think myself and other students may have picked up this habit because when interacting with locals almost everyday, even while just walking to class from our apartments, it’s hard not to unconsciously replicate little gestures that we constantly see and experience.
The benefit of volunteering, especially while living in another country, at least in my case, is interaction with a group of people that I most likely would not have had the chance to meet had I not volunteered. The women in the shelter were such resilient and brave individuals. Service work related to our class constructed definition of the Global Community because community service is the epitome of “respecting… and embracing … the betterment of society”. What else is community service than the active engagement in the betterment of society?
Volunteering at this battered women’s shelter impacted both my time abroad and me as an individual. It impacted my time abroad because I was able to see a different side of my host city other than the Coliseum, nice neighborhood, and gelato stands. While the premise of the shelter is not a happy one, I was glad I got to see a “real” side of Rome during my time here. Also, it made me more appreciative of my study abroad experience, meeting people that will not have the same amazing opportunities that I do. This experience also changed me as an individual because witnessing first-hand how strong and courageous these women were truly amazed and inspired me. I also think it impacted how I view my major and my career goals. I want to be a speech therapist, so this community service opportunity was perfect for me.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get a picture with any of the women, but I found the quote, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” by Lilla Watson, an aboriginal Australian woman, related to my experience volunteering in Rome. I think this quote describes how volunteering your time just to say you volunteered is a waste of everyone’s time. Volunteering should be about mutual benefit. Not only should the person/people you are helping get something out of the experience, but the person engaging in the community service should be doing so because knowing that they helped someone else, even in a small way, should be just as rewarding as the help the person is receiving.