The following article by VISIONS Director, Katherine Dayton, was published in “Multibriefs,” an online news source.
Any educator who works with middle school and high school students knows how challenging it can be to understand exactly what kids are going through during these complex stages of life. It’s an exciting time of tremendous growth, both physically and emotionally. While many students thrive through these years, some struggle with self-esteem, the social pressures of trying to fit in, academics, and the list goes on.
For the thriving, the struggling and those in between, traveling to other countries or communities within one’s own country to perform impactful service work can be an enlightening, exhilarating and empowering experience that helps shape their future and sense of self.
Here are some of the benefits of community service-based travel for tweens and teens:
A vacation from technology
There’s no doubt that technology has many kids in a firm headlock. Although there is a time and place for it in the school system, many kids spend hours glued to screens outside of school.
Once immersed in a host community, working and playing hard, they find there’s no time for the tech, and hopefully programs won’t allow this distraction. Most kids don’t even miss it. If the program is run with enough structure, activity and engagement, they are too busy being immersed in a different culture.
Gratitude and empathy
Being part of something bigger than oneself by engaging in robust and impactful projects combined with learning to walk in others’ shoes while living in and working with a community is extremely grounding, even humbling.
Kids become more grateful for all they have, more empathetic to the human condition, and more inclined to become active members of communities wherever they go.
Building confidence and skills
Some international community service programs focus on construction projects, which both girls and boys find rewarding. Contributing to these projects can be a challenge, and there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment that comes from hard work, especially when it’s for those in need.
This in turn adds a boost to the confidence levels. And since they are learning building techniques and tool use from experienced carpenters, they are adding to their life skills.
Unlike the teen tour model, some community service-based adventure programs are rooted in the communities in which they work, meaning that they are actively involved in neighborhood life and engage with local people.
It is rewarding to make new friends in communities where the locals are welcoming and eager to learn more about visiting volunteers. More than a sleep-away camp, this committed time in a community allows real friendships and understanding can grow.
Developing an adventurous spirit
For many middle and high schoolers, these trips are their first taste of adventure, and they enjoy the thrill of heading off to new cultures. They can learn the value of stepping outside of their comfort zones (and away from their gadgets) as they transition into globally conscious and empowered tweens and teens.