International Service Learning placements quietly on offer again

An announcement last summer that UBC’s International Service Learning (ISL) program was cancelled sparked outcry from students and faculty, but at least two ISL placements will be running from June to August 2016.

The program allows participants to work abroad in their field of study, offering aid to developing countries and gaining both work experience and course credits. The move to cancel the program was part of a budgetary undertaking to identify cost-saving opportunities, according to Student Development and Services.

Although the program benefitted relatively few students — around 89 participated in the last 2014/15 school year — the cancellation was quickly met with criticism from alumni of the program, administrators and faculty coordinators.

However, ISL veterans might not have to say goodbye to the entire program after all. According to ISL’s website, there are two placements for psychology and economics students available over the upcoming summer in Kenya, Mexico and Uganda.

“Although the decision was made to wind down the ISL program centrally, we always anticipated that one or more faculties would choose to continue [to] offer ISL experiences for their students,” said Susan Grossman, director for the Centre for Community Engaged Learning. “We’ve always said ISL provides students with great learning experiences and we’re glad that some students will be offered the opportunity to participate.”

According to Chaya Go, who was involved as a student participant in 2010 and later helped with staffing and pre-departure needs in a work-learn program with ISL, when she received word of the decision, she felt “not so much of a sadness, but … more of a sense of an urgency.”

“This is such a vital program to have on such a large campus that’s been sending out faculty, students and researchers [in] all sorts of capacities abroad,” said Go. “I felt that to have such a small program get closed down was just really troubling.”

Having participated in an ISL placement in Eastern Bolivia for three months, Viet Vu, a fifth-year economics major, was vocal in condemning the choice to cancel the program, and active in giving feedback to administrators regarding the decision.

“[Students] had a few meetings with the VP Students. The faculty also worked with us to have this round table. This was back in October when they said that they’ll take all the feedback and then get back to us,” said Vu. “Then the rumours that started surfacing … what we heard was that it’s not coming back in full, so not all the placements and classes were coming back. But especially in Arts, there was an interest to keep the program going.”

Sunaina Assanand, associate dean of Student Success in the Faculty of Arts, said in an email statement that administrators listened to faculty and students who hoped to see placements continue, and began working with members of the Faculty of Arts to offer these two placements.

“ISL is a core commitment for the faculty as it offers high impact, transformative experiential learning opportunities for students and the faculty will be taking the necessary time and care to work with community partners, faculty and students in continuing to offer and to invest in ISL within Arts,” stated Assanand.

Questions as to whether more placements will be run out of other faculties and how long these two placements will continue to run could not be answered at this time as Assanand is away and was able provide only the above statements.

However, for the time being students once again have the chance to participate in learning about community engagement in an international setting.