One month ago, I was on a plane destined for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. With fear, anxiety and a smidge of excitement in my heart, I was about to spend one week in a country about which I had only heard terrible things: cholera, riots, attacks, etc. I had signed up to go to Haiti with the College of William and Mary’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries. I have always wanted to experience an international service trip, but I never thought it would be to Haiti. When the earthquake struck last year, I was concerned for Haiti. However, it just never appealed to me as much as other places in need in the world did. However, when this trip presented itself, I signed up for it. And during that flight, from Washington, D.C., to New York City and finally to Port-au-Prince, I had no idea that I was about to fall in love with Haiti.
As students at the College, we seek to serve through organizations and opportunities like Alpha Phi Omega, Branch Out trips, Circle K International, or even at local schools and churches. By studying abroad in a host of countries all over the world, we seek out international adventures. But when we merge the two something amazing happens — not only do we find solace in helping others, but we also get the chance to experience an entirely different culture (which I found mind-blowing). This combination is something I truly think is priceless in a world where there is still so much need. Haiti, for example, survived a huge natural catastrophe a year ago, but millions are still living in tents, thousands are dying of cholera, and the government is filled with corruption. The College already has organizations and student groups that have risen to the occasion, leaving the comfort of home behind in order to help people in need. At the College, organizations have formed specifically with the purpose of helping people in places all over the globe, from Honduras to Bosnia.
But this does not mean that going to another country is the only way to give international aid or to do service in general. We tend to view international service trips as being more important because they seem like exotic vacations. Furthermore, our narrow perspectives about ways of life that differ from ours as Americans can lead to the belief that foreign cultures need more help. We have a strong tendency to forget that the U.S. suffers from severe poverty in some regions. That being said, international service trips are still important because you can learn about a people you may have not even thought of before. As college students we should be out in the world looking at different cultures and different world views in order to understand ourselves better and become better citizens, both of the United States and of this increasingly global world.
Service and community engagement are valuable in any form, domestic or international. Doing service in another country is a great experience. I encourage you to get involved in one of the organizations on campus, including Amnesty International, Oxfam or another of the myriad international development organizations on campus. And if the international lifestyle doesn’t appeal to you, then join an organization that helps domestically, like Campus Kitchens or the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship’s new Williamsburg Engagement program. Personally, I believe service is just a fun, meaningful way to spend one’s time. And by going to Haiti, I may have found how I would like to spend my future.