Service learning study abroad in Peru launched

The Building Construction program in the College of Architecture will launch the Sustainable Development Study Abroad Program in Peru this summer in conjunction with the School of Modern Languages and the Office of Community Service. This six-week program is part of the new service learning initiatives on campus. Participants will spend time in Cusco, Peru learning sustainable development issues, both in the classroom and through a short-term construction project.

“When we’re talking about sustainable development [as the focus of this study abroad], we’re not just talking about the environment. We’re talking about many issues…sustaining cultures and sustaining economies in the region. The scope of what this study abroad focuses on is much larger than suggested by the title,” said Vicki Galloway, the Modern Languages department director of the program.

The proposed service learning course aims to give students a basic understanding of the culture, history, economy and geopolitical situation of the Andes area, as well as accomplish a construction project in such a manner that students learn the importance of considering sustainability issues in every step of planning and executing a development project.

The program includes two classes for Tech credit. The building construction course will be a six-credit course, BC 4900: Special Problems: Sustainable Methods in Ancient and Modern Buildings. This course will not only teach participants about basic building construction methods and materials they will need to complete the project, but it will also cover historical Incan architecture that can be seen in Cusco.

The BC class is not meant to be an intensive class for only BC majors, but rather to be basic enough that anyone could take the course. “Students can learn the most by doing things through the service part, so anyone can learn in this program,” said Daniel Castro, the College of Architecture director of the program.

The Spanish course is proposed to be a three-credit intermediate-level course called Intermediate Spanish Abroad. It would teach the basic grammar in a normal 2000 level class at Tech, but would focus on vocabulary and themes relating to Peruvian culture and the daily activities of the students.

The course could possibly be made an upper-level course if there is interest from the student body. “The Spanish component is very flexible and we are going to try to mold it to the particular group of student that we have…. We encourage anyone beyond the 1002 level to apply,” said Galloway.

The service learning portion will be done in conjunction with ProWorld Service Corps, since they already have the necessary contacts within the community to make the project successful. Students will spend four to six hour weekdays in Cusco working on site to build a classroom and bathrooms for a kindergarten school. Students will work alongside members of the community and learn hands-on how to run a sustainable construction project.

Other important parts of the program include a homestay with a Peruvian family and cultural excursions around Peru. The homestay will allow students to fully immerse themselves in the culture and language. Cultural excursions will allow participants to understand the culture in a different way than is possible in the classroom. The excursions include visits to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of Ollantaytambo and attendance at the Festival of Intu Raymi, which is the ceremony of the June solstice and one of the largest celebrations of the year there.

The sustainable development study abroad is the first international service-learning program. The idea of service learning was brought forth by Anu Parvatiyar, fifth-year BME and last year’s undergraduate student body president, at a LeaderShape retreat in 2005 as her vision statement to take out to campus. A committee was put together of students also interested in advancing service learning on campus and together they created the idea of service learning programs. A pilot program within Atlanta was launched last spring, called Semester in the City, that focused on serving in English Avenue, and its success allowed for the creation of an international successor.

“This is the kind of thing students wanted to see in their education…. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the English Avenue course and we’re excited to hear what students have to say about the Peru course,” Parvatiyar said.