Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Service transforms studying abroad

Many students use the opportunity of studying abroad to learn in a new environment, experience a different culture, have fun and make friends. Some students choose to go abroad, though, with an entirely different goal – to volunteer.

The University of Alabama offers several opportunities to travel internationally to volunteer and provide service in third-world countries. Students can participate through programs like Alternative Breaks and summer service trips.

Douglas Fair, a sophomore majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish, heard about his opportunity to volunteer in Nicaragua last year through the Honors College Student Advisory Board.

“I spoke to the director of the program, Dr. Fran Oneal,” Fair said. “She convinced me that it is one of the best experiences available for a pre-medical student with Spanish interests.”

Each trip has a purpose to help locals in the country in different ways, such as teaching English, mentoring, construction and medical treatment.

“At the clinic each day we would have one of three jobs: taking vitals, shadowing one of the resident doctors, or assisting with filling out patient prescriptions,” Fair said. “My favorite job was shadowing the doctors because I was able to quickly learn medical Spanish terms as well as how to recognize and treat specific diseases.”

Not all volunteer trips are focused on medicine. Rachel Ramey, a freshman majoring in civil engineering, will be participating in the Engineers Without Borders service trip to Peru in May.

“We’re going to the middle of the Amazon rainforest into a indigenous village, and we’re helping them add technology to the visitor center that they’re building, and we’re helping them build a bathroom,” Ramey said. “We’re also helping them record their history because they’ve never really recorded it, and they’d like to do that before they no longer have a chance to. There are only 200 of them left in the world.”

Even though they do not learn in a traditional classroom setting, students who participate learn through experience and interaction with the locals. Fair said he believes volunteering abroad is very beneficial if one is learning a language.

“The Nicaragua Clinical Experience allowed me to immerse myself in Nicaraguan culture through my interactions with the residents,” Fair said. “Without homework to worry about, I was able to use my free time to explore the city and learn even more about how to not only speak Spanish, but how to properly interact with others.”

Andrew Davis, a freshman majoring in biology, participated in another medical volunteer trip in Nicaragua this past spring break. He said the trip was designed to teach the participants, as well as to help others.

“The program is called International Service Learning, so you go and you perform what can be a service trip, but it’s more learning,” Davis said. “We diagnosed and prescribed medicine, but it was double-checked by a doctor. We learned Spanish medical terms and were helped by doctors. We were given suturing seminars and pharmacology seminars. We helped, but we learned more.”

Davis also said volunteering abroad gives you the experience of observing and helping people that traditional study abroad does not.

“If you’re just studying abroad, you’re learning the same things you’d learn here, just in a different country, with a cultural aspect,” he said. “Volunteering abroad in a third-world country lets you see parts of the world, parts of humanity that you won’t see in first-world countries and most places that you would study abroad.”

Ramey said regardless of the goals a volunteer may leave with, volunteering abroad transforms the whole experience.

“Some people say you don’t make that much of a difference by going,” Ramey said. “But I think whether it’s a difference for you or others, going there with a purpose of serving others kind of puts another focus on the trip. It’s not about yourself; it’s about what you give back.”

For more information on study abroad opportunities, visit 135 B.B. Comer Hall or visit

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