Every generation is on a journey to find itself; many millennials are banking on making that discovery in Peru.
Take-up of the Challenges Abroad program, a federally-subsidised travel grant that enables university students to experience a month living abroad, is on the rise.
More than 3,000 Griffith students in 2017 utilised the $6665 grant, which is added to their HECS debt. This compares to the 39 in 2012 when the program was introduced.
Griffith second-year business student Jack Sheppard is among them, scheduled to lead a unit of his peers to Peru in October.
They will spend two weeks volunteering with children at a local school in the Sacred Valley, teaching English, playing sport, and making repairs to buildings, all while obtaining personal skills that will equip them in their futures.
After this period, the group will venture forth and explore the country, hiking Machu Picchu and other local attractions.
“I can’t wait to see the culture – see their customs and traditions,” Jack said.
“What I’ve heard from past students is that the Peruvians are so upbeat, so happy and positive and they are also so fortunate for what little they do have. It throws a light onto what we do have and how fortunate we are.
“We are doing a few little hikes here and there because it is important due to the altitude that we prepare the best we can.”
Paige Cobcroft, a second-year linguistics student at Griffith, is going to Peru with Jack’s unit. She says the opportunity to go to a Spanish-speaking country to work with children is a dream come true.
“I really want to teach English to communities where people don’t speak English – so that is a career goal of mine”, Paige said.
“In my first Spanish class we got to do an assignment on South American landmarks; I did Machu Picchu and I was like ‘I must go there’.”
Some students are in for a steep learning curve. Penelope Stavrou, a second-year studying government, and international relations, has never volunteered before.
“Just because I’ve never had a job, doesn’t mean I don’t know how to work hard,” she said.
“I am very interested in humanitarian work and volunteering … and helping people in developing countries, so I think this will be a good experience.”
Sociology and business student Tiana Storm shares Penelope’s optimism. Tiana hopes to expand her knowledge of the world by experiencing a new culture, meeting new people and gaining a different perspective, all while giving back to the community.
“I think in the globalised society that we live in, it is super important to be culturally aware and thus I think the skills that I will gain on this international trip will be applicable to use in my professional future,” she said.
Kate Nicklin, Student Engagement Manager for Challenges Abroad, said their offering aims to benefit students and the foreign communities equally.
She said the visiting groups immerse themselves into the health, well-being, education, construction, livelihoods, and language within the local community.
This work gives students a perspective of what it means to engage meaningfully with others, which will aid their employability after they graduate.
“Global citizenship at the centre of the world rather than in your backyard,” Kate said.
“The key part is to ensure that there are strategies in place to guarantee a long-term impact.”
Challenges Abroad works in seven locations worldwide, all year round.
“We continue our programs on from the last, so the new team picks up from the last one,” Kate said, emphasising the ongoing commitment.
Participation in the program is not cheap, but the option to pay later via HECS is seen as worthwhile to most.
“Future me is probably going to be concerned, but I’m trying to be more in the moment,” Paige said.
“Unless I put it on my HECS debt I’m not going! So, if that’s what it takes to get there then that’s what I’m gonna to do.”
Jack believes the positives far outweigh the negatives of accruing further HECS debts.
Completing the trip and a class to go along with it earns each student 10CP towards their degree.
Catherine Longworth is a Senior Academic Advisor and Lecturer at Griffith University for the Community Internship elective. She said the elective started in 2012 with just 39 students across three campuses, and ballooned to almost 300 in just the second intake.
“Now 40 per cent of the students who chose this elective are already involved in volunteer work” Catherine said.
“We work with 350 local and international community organisations, of which we have also volunteered 150,000 hours to date, and 60 per cent of our students continue to volunteer for additional experience.”
* The author of this article is a member of the Griffith unit travelling to Peru in October 2018; he cannot wait to to pack his bags and hit the road.