Learning alongside Neighbors
At first, Tim Chen was disappointed when he learned his second placement as a 2008-2010 United Board Fellow would be at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He had hoped to spend four months at an Australian university. But Anne Ofstedal, then the United Board’s director of fellowship and scholarship programs told him, “Trust me, you will like Ateneo” – and he did.
“The spirit of education there was inspiring,” he said, and its holistic approach to teaching and learning felt similar to that of Soochow University, his home institution in Taiwan. Ateneo and Soochow emphasize a commitment to service, which infuses the curriculum. “Both schools inspire students to help people wherever there is need,” he said, “and there are many activities and projects on both campuses to help their surrounding communities.”
“When students go into the community,” Dr. Chen said, “the learning is mutual.”
Ateneo’s partnership with Gawad Kalinga, a community development organization, helps make that kind of learning possible, as it creates opportunities for students and faculty to apply their time and talents to poverty alleviation. Dr. Chen saw the impact on students. “These service-learning projects enable students to see real life in society and understand the needs of ordinary people,” he said.
Seeing “real life” in Manila opened Dr. Chen’s eyes in other ways as well. He was in his 40s when he left Taiwan for his fellowship placement, “but only then did I realize the Philippines is our neighbor.” Soochow University students also are eager to meet their neighbors throughout Asia, and international service-learning opens the door to introductions. Building on the foundation of Soochow’s International Volunteer Club – one of the most popular clubs on campus – Dr. Chen has led service-learning trips to the Philippines, partnering with GK and Ateneo de Manila. “We get to know the country and culture – and our students get fellowship with Ateneo students.”
Soochow’s International Volunteer Club also has engaged in service-learning in Cambodia, India, Nepal, and Vietnam. How has Dr. Chen helped Soochow University connect with partners in some of these countries? “I use the United Board Fellows Program as my network to expand service-learning.”
(First published in Horizons, June 2015)