President's Blog

Spring break is prime time for international service learning

Spring break can be a time of learning and transformation.  Many of our students every year dedicate their break to service projects, some with global reach and impact.

As I write, a group of 26 students – about half from Mason international affairs and conflict resolution programs and others from Georgetown, American and George Washington – are in Jordan, engaging with Syrian refugees and experiencing what it means to be the victim of violence and forced exodus beyond media headlines.

GopinThere’s really no better way to understand complex human issues and grow as leaders who can have a positive impact. “Approaches to Conflict Management and Resolution: Field Work with Syrian Refugees,” taught by Dr. Marc Gopin, director of Mason’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, is a perfect example of how service learning works.

Dr. Gopin (in the photo with one of the children the Mason contingent has befriended on the trip) is posting pictures from the journey on Twitter at @mgopin.

In the past four years, first with Turkey as the destination and now Jordan, Mason students have assisted Syrian refugees in schools and communities and at the same time observed first-hand how other humanitarian and peacemaking organizations deal with real-world conflict.

Mason partners with a grass-roots organization, Project Amal ou Salam, founded by Mason alumna Nousha Kabawat, MS ’13. Two Mason students – Jayme Halfhill and Danait Tafere – are taking the trip for the second time. Some years, Mason students from Syria travel with the group to serve their countrymen.

Many other Mason students are taking service-learning trips over spring break. Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL), for example, organized trips to Guatemala, Jamaica and El Salvador as well as to several U.S. sites, as they did last year.

These trips help broaden students’ understanding of complex issues, develop their global mindset, and inspire them to take action.  I can’t think of a better plan for spring break.