New experiences lead to new perspectives

By Chelsey Porth

An international volunteer opportunity through a Wisconsin college promotes cross-cultural learning.

Waukesha County Technical College students journey thousands of miles each spring to learn and volunteer in Central America. This annual trip began in 2013, first in Costa Rica and then moved to Guatemala in 2015. “The weeklong experience is like an organized taste of international service and travel,” says WCTC instructor/trip leader Rachel Dobrauc.

WCTC is a member of Community Colleges for International Development, an international organization that empowers two-year colleges to pursue their global education efforts. Through this membership, WCTC has access to the Harris Wofford Global Service Fellowship.

The fellowship funds volunteer abroad trips through partner organization Cross Cultural Solutions, allowing WCTC students to travel at half the original cost. WCTC’s one-week trip is packed with activities. “Our students have families, jobs and school to balance,” says Dobrauc. “Keeping the trip shorter and less expensive makes it more accessible for students.”

Throughout the years, WCTC students have taught basic English, performed manual labor and improvement projects, provided vision screenings and eyeglasses in rural communities, volunteered at elementary schools and more. They’ve also climbed volcanoes, taken cooking and dance lessons, visited Mayan archaeological sites and enjoyed many other rewarding cultural experiences.

What truly makes this trip special is the variety of students who participate. While most study abroad trips at WCTC are program-specific, this one is open to students from any program. The blend of different backgrounds and perspectives creates a tight-knit group with a variety of skills to offer.

“The focus is on people,” says Dobrauc. “We’re there to serve these communities, but in the end, our students also really benefit from these cross-cultural learning experiences.”

Added Monica Panfil, criminal justice studies student, “It sounds so cliché, but my biggest takeaway from the trip was to enjoy the little things in life. You don’t have to have it all to enjoy life and be happy. My life will be forever changed from what these children taught me!”

This article originally appeared in WCTC IMPACT.

Chelsey Porth

is the Writer/Marketing Specialist at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

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