With the creation of the Global Journey’s program at Agnes Scott College, first-year students are given the chance to leave Georgia and see various corners of the globe. This year, the trips include places as far as Morocco and Chile. However, the idea of college students traveling abroad is fear inducing for anyone against the Western tendency of voluntourism and savior complexes.
According to Dr. Gundolf Graml, the Journeys professor for Central Europe, “All professors address the topics ‘Why Travel?’ and ‘Identity/Self/Other/Culture’ before the groups depart in early March” including by assigning the reading “To Hell With Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich.
The article is in the context of 1968, which is when students rushed to Mexico to perform service projects.
Illich brings up the point that the best the volunteers can provide is “voluntary powerlessness, voluntary presence as receivers, as such, as hopefully beloved or adopted ones without any way of returning the gift.”
According to Agnes Scott faculty, students should be doing just that.
“By emphasizing community engagement instead of ‘service learning’–a term we do not use in our official course descriptions — our Global Learning Program is actually at the forefront of a wave of change in higher education,” said Graml.
In contrast, not only do Agnes Scott carta resources include information about global service learning (globalsl.org), Agnes Scott’s decision to utilize the Amizade program, a promoter of Global-Service Learning, also conflicts with this idea.
Some service projects within Amizade program Journeys trips raised concerns with whether or not the service performed was helpful, particularly when students were expected to construct structures or buildings.
During the Trinidad trip, students attempted to continue building a structure that would later become a homework center. Students, including one who started a non-profit organization in Jamaica, found themselves fulfilling the role they were taught to avoid.
“I’ve personally had to deal with persons coming from first world countries who want you to think they’re trying to help but really they’re just here to fulfill some sort of self-sufficient purpose,” said Jhodi Webster ‘20. “Going to Trinidad, I had no idea I would be one of those people.”
The process of construction was not addressed according to the students.
“There were no plans, no proper safety gear, and it seemed as if our Amizade leader was really only concerned with us doing whatever to get a good picture with our branded shirts on,” said Webster.
These conditions caused students to fear for their safety and caused some to find a new project.
“I had no experience whatsoever in construction,” said Srijana Smith ‘20. “I decided that I would rather spend my time picking up litter around the town, something I had experience in and something I could directly see the benefit of.”
With similar experiences arising from other trips, the question is whether or not Agnes Scott puts into practice the ethics taught to students.