From Assumptions to Advocacy: Reflections of a Service Learner
As an incoming freshman I was very unsure what my future held. I knew I eventually wanted to go to law school, however, I did not know what direction I wanted to take with my undergraduate degree. My freshman academic advisor had recommended that I enroll in the class, ‘Introduction to Social Welfare and Justice,’ which would ultimately change my thoughts on my intended vocational path.
‘Introduction to Social Welfare and Justice’ included a service learning component and I chose to complete my service hours at the International Learning Center. The purpose of the International Learning Center is to provide English language and communication skills to Southeast Asian and African adult refugees who have had little or no prior education in their own country. I was excited, yet nervous to begin my Service Learning as I had never before worked with refugees. In fact, I had never even met a refugee before volunteering at the International Learning Center. Unfortunately, I had negative preconceived notions of immigrants due to my inexperience with a diversity of cultures and assumptions about their lack of English skills. However, my first day went extremely well, and as the semester progressed I found myself more and more excited to see the students.
During my semester of service learning at the International Learning Center, I grew strong relationships and gained more confidence in myself. I recognized the challenges that refugees have to face on a daily basis and I saw their strong commitment to learning English and becoming familiar with American culture. As I learned more about the students and saw their work ethic, dedication, and gratitude, I was ashamed of myself for ever thinking negative thoughts about the immigrant and refugee communities. After my first semester of service learning, I knew what direction I wanted to take academically at Marquette. I declared my major as Social Welfare and Justice and applied to join the Dorothy Day Living Learning Community. Throughout my sophomore year I lived and learned with a community of students who had a shared passion for social justice. I spent an entire year working at the only daytime homeless shelter in Milwaukee, the Repairers of the Breach. I spent three hours a week facilitating group discussions with the members about politics and current events. Some weeks, we simply played cards and got to know one another. At the Repairers of the Breach my passion for social justice and the homeless community of Milwaukee grew even stronger and I discovered my calling in life. Through my interactions with the individuals at the daytime shelter, I realized that I would love to become an attorney who advocates for those living in poverty and who works toward ending homelessness in Milwaukee.Quite honestly, I am not sure where all of my endeavors will take me, but I do know that service learning was a major component that shaped the direction of my vocational path. Service learning has given me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and interact with the Milwaukee community in a way that I never had. I am extremely thankful for the experiences and the knowledge I gained through service learning and look forward to continuing this journey of self-discovery through service in my community.