NMU students will have an opportunity to volunteer in India this winter through a new service-learning project offered by the International Programs Office.
The program, tentatively scheduled from Dec. 27 to Jan. 13, will take students to Dehli and Palampur in Northern India, where they will have the chance to work with orphans and school children, as well as visit local tourist sites.
“We call it ‘voluntourism’,” said Superior Edge director Rachel Harris. “Students get to split time between volunteering with the locals and getting to explore some of the country.”
Each day, students will have the opportunity to choose from a number of activities to assist with. They may volunteer with orphans and preschool children, teach lessons and computer skills in a classroom setting or instruct youth about health education.
“The focus for a project like this is on service,” Harris said. “Volunteer service projects differ from other international programs like study abroad because students don’t receive any college credit.”
The program is hosted by the NMU International Programs Office, Superior Edge and the organization Idex, which provides tourism and volunteering programs to international travelers in Nepal and India.
“We worked with Idex the last time students visited India, which was a year and a half ago,” Harris said. “We were really happy with how everything worked out and we’re excited to partner with them again.”
In their remaining time, volunteers will explore locations such as the Taj Mahal, the Dalai Lama’s main temple, the Jaipur City Palace and various museums and markets, as well as hike in the Himalayas.
“India is really a beautiful place,” Harris said. “There are so many people and so much going on that it makes for a really unique experience for students who want to travel.”
The estimated cost of the trip is between $3,200 and $3,500, which includes airfare and any other expenses.
“Our goal is to have between 16 and 18 people sign up for this service trip,” Harris said. “It’s a great opportunity to log volunteer hours and to travel.”
While college credit and financial aid aren’t available for service learning trips, many students find the trips to be well-worth the cost.
“Getting to work with kids on service learning trips is really rewarding,” said junior environmental studies major Emily Goodman, who traveled to Belize last year on a similar program through Superior Edge and the International Programs Office.
“It was a unique experience because we not only volunteered at an elementary school, but we were immersed in the culture and the environment of a whole new place,” Goodman said. “They loved having us there and we loved being there.”
Students in her volunteer group would work with children in the classroom during the school day and explore the environment before and after classes.
Fully experiencing a new culture is another benefit of service trips, Goodman said.
“Culture shock is always expected when you travel to a place that you’ve never been,” Goodman said. “I felt out of place for the first day or two, but felt a lot more comfortable once we started actively participating with the community.”
Students are required to be enrolled in Superior Edge in order to register for volunteer service trips, which fulfill many of the required diversity and citizenship hours required to complete the program.
“What you are doing really means a lot to the people and communities that you are traveling to and helping,” Goodman said. “They will never forget the positive impact you made.”
For more information on the winter volunteer service trip to India, interest meetings will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday Sept. 5 and also at noon on Friday Sept. 14 in the Cadillac Room of the University Center.