TL12 “Service” by Kait Shortell Paris, France

The volunteer program I chose to research is called Volunteers for Peace (VFP). Volunteers for Peace organizes, promotes and supports voluntary service opportunities in the USA and abroad as an effective means of intercultural education, service learning, and community development;
it empowers host communities to work cooperatively for environmental sustainability, social justice, and peace; and provides opportunities for volunteers to develop leadership skills and global connections. They advocate for civic engagement and encourage volunteers to apply their new skills as citizen diplomats, community activists and global leaders.

I liked this program because part of its mission is to provide opportunities specifically for intercultural education, which after my experience thus far, I am a supporter of. In one of the volunteers stories I read on the VFP website, she talked about how despite language barriers between herself (she was from the States), some French volunteers, and some Belgium volunteers; they were able to complete the tasks at hand given to them by the program. She talked about how the downtime they had was spent socializing with locals, or playing games with the kids in the village they were staying in. In some aspects it sounded like some of the opportunities that study abroad presents, but with the added aspect which forces you to work together with foreigners rather then just meet them and talk about your cultural differences. I think that working together is what creates the enriching experience. All while improving the community the volunteers are based in.

Service work abroad definitely could be a step towards a greater Global Community. The willingness to help a community other than your own is something in itself that too often is overlooked for what it really is, and what it entails. The obvious result is the help provided to a community, but the lessons and values gained by the volunteers are priceless. They walk away with an understanding of how a community, other than their own, works and functions, and even further took part in helping it function. That is the added aspect that study abroad students wouldn’t normal find unless they seek it out.

Having observed my host community, and how they communicate through facial expression and body movement, I learned a lot. One of the tendencies, or lack there of in Paris, is the ‘friendly-smile’ that is so familiar here in the States. I learned about this within the first two days of being in Paris. I was waiting for the bus to go to school for the first time. There was a boy who looked around my age and I politely smiled, like I would do normally. I smile at everyone. The boy started chuckling at me. He spoke to me in English and told me that I had him fooled for a French girl until I smiled. I couldn’t imagine why. I learned that in France, that meant something more then a friendly gesture. Needless to say, from then on I had to consciously remind myself not to smile like I was so used to doing. That was a difficult thing to get used to, such a simple thing too. I still to this day think it’s so sad they don’t smile at each other. That is one cultural difference I just could not get used too, I certainly adapted quickly, but I did not like that adaption. I had a long conversation with my home-stay Madame about it. That is one thing I learned I take for granted at home.

 

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I chose this picture which is the emblem for the VFP Organization. “The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involved directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.” -Richard Slimbach

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