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An Assignment to Encourage Community Engagement

Community Engagement

A few months ago, I put out a request for readers to share stories of practical ways we can prepare students for adulthood. I was finishing up the manuscript for my new book, Artifical Maturity, and wanted to include real-life examples from people around the world.

The response was absolutely overwhelming! I’m so thankful for everyone who took time to share ideas. There were so many more than could be included in one chapter of a book. But I wanted everyone to hear these great ideas.

So here’s the plan: over the course of next year, I’ll share a story that someone submitted. I hope you find them as challenging and helpful as I did! Today’s story comes from Ellen P. in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Here’s this week’s story:

Each semester in my honors class, I give the following Community Engagement assignment to my students.

Community Engagement Assignment:  Students will engage in discussion or activities with an individual or organization that possesses a worldview divergent from their own and provide a written report.  (I asked students to attend a different religious service, have a meal with someone, have a conversation or introduce yourself to someone outside your normal comfort zone).

Below is the feedback I received from several students:

Mason:
As soon as I introduced myself to the pair, it became apparent that I had been a fool judging them by their appearances alone.  At this point I was honestly ashamed at my prior judgment of the two and felt rude for not making an earlier introduction.  It connected me with some very friendly neighbors.

Wesley:
I definitely felt outside of my comfort zone.  Going into this assignment I was really nervous and skeptical about whether I was actually going to learn anything.  I have been pleasantly surprised with what I have learned about spirituality and family from a lady that couldn’t be more different than myself.  My experience with the community engagement project was great.

Megan:
This was a very interesting project for me and showed me how separated from other cultures I have become since I got to college.

Lauren M:
I saw this project as both a learning opportunity as well as a way to expand my own knowledge about my faith and worship from a different perspective.  I thoroughly enjoyed this community engagement project not only because it required me to step outside of my comfort zone but also because it taught me a lot about what it means to feel accepted & comfortable in society.  A simple smile or “hey, how are you?” makes all the difference in someone’s day.  All anybody ever wants is to feel welcomed, whether it is in a familiar or unusual place, and that is in the hands of the community.

Lauren Y:
I left the service feeling pleased and happy with myself that I was not only able to attend something that made me slightly uncomfortable, but also talk with someone who I normally wouldn’t’ engage in conversation with.

Andrew:
(Pizza at home with Chinese student)  Even though two people may have been raised on completely opposite sides of the word, they may have similar ideas they use to guide their lives

Erin:
“My most important hope is to be an agent of change for something positive in the world.  I want to contribute something meaningful and fulfilling”.  These words, spoken by a Moldavian undergraduate student here at UA, had the most lasting impact through my experience of this assignment; isn’t that what we all want of life?  As we met—I came prepared with questions and to be honest a stereotypical view of what I was about to encounter.  I thought these were going to be awkward pauses, some language confusion and a cultural barrier that would put a strain on my efforts to understand and enjoy a culture of which I never experienced.  However, after a few short minutes of chatting, I began to realize that she could quite possibly be one of the most inspiring people I have met thus far in my life.  It is not about merely ignoring the difference between people and cultures, but embracing them in their individuality.

Ellen P.

Tuscaloosa, AL

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An Assignment to Encourage Community Engagement