Learn to Serve - Serve to learn

Leuven Life

02 december 2020
Auteur(s): Nadia Shutova
Learn about the new project of KU Leuven on providing first-hand on-field experience for students.

by Nadia Shutova

Leuven Life Editor

The title is divided into two lexical constructions. Let’s follow an example and distinguish two parts of this article. First one will be dedicated to a student, potential participant and developer. In the second – the project to find oneself involved in is about to be investigated.

Within the very first pages of “The Little Prince” novella, the reader faces the mysterious drawing of the hat. Shortly the hero clarifies it is actually not a hat, but an elephant engulfed by a snake. Similarly, within the very first months of university, a student may feel the lack of application(s) of theory. This sometimes results in feelings of sorrow (the heart, as the metaphorical vessel of feelings, is depicting some of them in the accompanying image). Professors and tutors may not always become those heroes who point out the relevance of a concept in the work field. However, the hero exists and offers the solution.

A team, where Sara Vantournhout is the project coordinator, has worked on this for 5 years and this unprecedented 2020 has introduced some new programs: KU Leuven Engage and Service-learning. The project unites professors and students, developers and researchers, who “through active commitment, strive to assume their social responsibility, together with and starting from individuals and groups in vulnerable situations". 

What’s in it for you, the student? With the opportunities offered by civic engagement, you may collect data and perform research in various organizations – rather useful activities for one’s Masters’ thesis. Moreover, one’s CV may be expanded by this experience which is related to service delivery relevant for a specific study field and degree. One could also be searching for a way to give back to the community and to be part of something meaningful.

“With the KU Leuven Engage team, we are trying to map the needs for civic engagement within the KU Leuven (international) student community. If you are aware of any questions/needs within the international student community, we’d love to hear more about it, so we can find solutions together​.”

Sara Vantournhout ​

The working principle is simple: after adding the Service-learning course in the ISP (meaning the gain of ECTS is reflected in one’s diploma), the student attends regular classes with an added aspect of community engagement. Afterwards, there is time to practice in a chosen environment. Let’s add colour and flavour by means of examples. Imagine yourself being a theology or criminology student – you will have a chance to ask philosophical and psychological questions regarding imprisonment to detainees in Leuven’s prison. Think of being a pharmaceutical scientist – you can engage in social care centres. Electronics-ICT specialization? There is an inclusive web design project, giving an insight into the development of technological applications for people with limited experience in the field. The further we elaborate, the more opportunities emerge. For a list of all Service-learning courses available check the Service-Learning program’s website.

Do not be surprised by the few service-learning courses available so far, and certainly do not feel demotivated by not finding your faculty on the list. As was mentioned – the program has only just been launched. By any means, that is not a drawback, but an opportunity for students to become ambassadors for this project within their own faculty. Being aware of the course content, there is a chance that it could be extended by practice or merged with the Service-learning project. If that is the case, students can notify the coordinators

Studying is far from a relaxing pastime and the path from “learning” to “knowing” tends to take a while. Therefore, motivation levels may fluctuate like the stock market. It happens that when one fears something, then the individual seeks escape opportunities. However, the Service-learning program will help to make use of one's knowledge and decrease stress as the fruits of one's work will shortly become clear.

This is how you can learn through serving. Now there is a service to learn.

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