I had to stop and marvel at my friends from China and Japan. They worked hard ripping out walls, brick, and tile in homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. They listened intently to the homeowners’ stories around the water dispenser. I thought about how much it meant to me and the Americans they were helping that people from other countries cared enough to come help.
Serving is a beautiful thing! When someone is willing to step into another person’s community, country or culture to serve them, it breaks down barriers. It replaces them with trust and hope. It also encourages those who have been helped to go and help others. It has a multiplying effect.
Not only does it help others when you serve, it helps you more than you expect. It aids you in understanding and integrating into the community you are serving. That is super valuable, especially if you are an international student!
So you want to participate in community service while in the U.S., but you might have questions…
Where’s a Good Place to Start Serving?
If you have been around Bridges even just a little bit, you have heard that we seek to serve international students. That may be how you got involved! Bridges may have picked you up from the airport, taken you to get housing supplies, or provided English Lessons. But it’s not only Americans who can help international students! Those who have walked the journey of being an international student are often the ones best equipped to befriend and walk beside those beginning the journey. Sometimes your university might feel like a utopia, but the reality is that people there still have needs.
Many universities seek student volunteers to be ambassadors to incoming students and assist at international student orientation. Your International Student Office is likely already asking for volunteers to sign up! You don’t even need to be a part of a program to help others. One of my German friends served his international peers by simply doing things with them: he invited them to study, workout, and eat together.
What About Beyond My Campus?
There is likely to be a community in your city, or a nearby city, that would benefit from your service. It could be providing food or care kits to those who are hungry or homeless. There are programs that will offer you training to volunteer with those who need some extra care or attention in a local hospital or school…like visiting and comforting patients, even rocking the littlest ones to sleep. You likely have experience with multiple languages, so you might help a student develop their language skills. Consider offering your computer, design, music or language skills to mentor youth who have fewer opportunities available to them for learning those skills.
If you know of a Bridges Staff or Student Leader, feel free to ask them about opportunities they know of to serve; they would love to help. Your university probably has established volunteer opportunities within nearby service centers, hospitals, and schools. You could contact a medical center’s Volunteer Programs or a school’s Human Resources Department directly to inquire about areas where they need volunteers to serve.
Places like Houston continue to need relief after being devastated by a natural disaster. You could even consider going to help for your Spring Break! You won’t regret it as it offers a fresh perspective, as community service so often does. “They lost everything,” noted my friend from Japan about the Houston couple whose home we worked on. “But they were still really happy. It surprised me.”