Community-Based Learning Abroad

Student Athlete Social Justice

Notre Dame prides itself on fostering a community of scholars and learners who not only master the intellectual disciplines required of educated, skilled, and free human beings, but who also empathize with those afflicted by poverty, injustice, and oppression. “The aim,” as it is expressed in the University’s mission statement, “is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”

Expressly committed to that aim since its founding in 1983, Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) has become one of the leading community-based learning and research programs in all of higher education, with nearly half of all Notre Dame students participating in its community-based learning or research courses, and more than 75 percent of all Notre Dame undergraduates becoming engaged in some form of service before graduation.

Included in the expansion of the University’s international outreach through its network of Global Gateways, Notre Dame’s distinctive community-based learning programs have become increasingly conspicuous abroad as nearly half of its students study abroad either during the academic year or a summer.

“We believe that it is vital to include community-based learning into study abroad as a continuance of the center’s support of the University’s mission,” said Rosie McDowell, CSC director of international community-based learning outreach. “Including community-based learning while students are abroad provides them with an opportunity to more fully understand the realities of life and culture in the other countries.”

Notre Dame’s study abroad program in Angers, France, has since 2011 included a collaboration with the Résidence César Geoffray in Angers, a nursing home where students make weekly visits with the elder residents. The visits are integrated into a literature course in which students read with the residents excerpts from plays, poems, and short essays in the course texts. They receive pronunciation coaching and vocabulary assistance from the elders and together with them discuss cultural themes arising from the readings. The project, now an international model, has been nominated by the Angers mayor’s office for a French national social innovation award.

In Ireland, Notre Dame’s Dublin Global Gateway’s program has since 2009 engaged more than 200 students in community-based learning placements serving the elderly, at-risk youth, unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Ireland, families in situations of homelessness, and individuals with special needs. Assisted by staff of the Center for Social Concerns, the students keep diaries and participate in reflective discussions as they experience Irish culture at a deeper level than that accessible to most tourists. Whether working with secondary school dropouts, elderly people living alone, or the homeless community of Dublin, they meet members of Irish society all too often unnoticed and unfamiliar to other young American visitors.

“Community-based learning is a transformative element of student experience in study abroad.”

— Rosie McDowell 

In Santiago, Chile, more than 400 Notre Dame students have participated in “Approaches to Poverty and Development,” a multidisciplinary course taught by Isabel Donoso of the Jesuit University Alberto Hurtado since 1991. The students intern in social service agencies for adolescent mothers, the homeless, at-risk youth, English language learners, and those suffering with mental illness. These placements have occasionally had profound effects on the educational trajectories of students, as in the case of a student who returned to Santiago last summer after her study abroad to do research with adolescent mothers she had come to know in Chile. She has now applied for Fulbright funding to return to Santiago to continue this work after graduation.

“Community-based learning is a transformative element of student experience in study abroad,” McDowell said. “It helps students link their cultural, spiritual, and academic growth. It broadens students’ concept of how they might enact Notre Dame values in their time away from campus and deepens their learning in their host cities.”