Service Learning and Pluralism: Working with Immigrants

By Pasricha, Anupama | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Service Learning and Pluralism: Working with Immigrants


Pasricha, Anupama, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Are college students prepared to deal with cultural diversity? Do they understand family systems, social systems, and cultural norms of immigrants? Do they understand clothing preferences and choices of immigrants? Sociocultural Aspects of Clothing, a course taught spring 2007, at The College of St. Catherine, in Saint Paul, Minnesota was a perfect place to explore responses to these questions with the intent of having each question answered "yes" at the end of the term. The course offered an opportunity to engage in actions that reciprocally benefit the common good of learning among students and immigrant individuals, families, and communities.

Service learning, a pedagogy that has many supporters, encourages learning with civic engagement (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 2003; O'Grady, 2000; Robinson & Harrist, 2004). In addition, according to Department of American Studies, service learning as a required course component is beneficial because it establishes a common ground for dialogue and for synthesis of observations from the community site, and the class lecture, discussion, and readings (Service learning, n.d.). The Sociocultural Aspects of Clothing course was an ideal opportunity to incorporate service learning to enhance classroom learning and application in the community. The objectives of the service-learning component were to broaden the perspectives from which students view dress across cultures and to provide opportunities for civic engagement. It is especially imperative in the Twin Cities, which has large refugee and immigrant populations that continue to grow. Ninety percent of refugees in the state live in the Twin Cities (International Institute of Minnesota, 2002). In 2005, refugee arrivals in Minnesota accounted for 11.8% of all refugees who arrived in United States ("Record Number of," 2006).

This service-learning endeavor became possible because of collaboration between the Departments of Family, Consumer, and Nutritional Sciences (FCNS) and Community Work and Learning (CWL) at the College. The pedagogical model, which incorporates service learning, had been tested and implemented with one site-the Jane Addams School of Democracy (JAS) as community-based learning (Hendricks & Kari, 1999). However, based on the feedback from FCNS faculty and students who had taken the course, additional partners from the community were included to provide choice and flexibility. The partner sites (see Table 1) included LEAP International Academy, JAS, Project Regina, and Minnesota Internship Center (MNIC).

Representatives from the four organizations were invited to the classroom early in the semester for an informational session. During this session, students learned about the cultures, ethnicities, and specific needs of learners; the work environment; scheduling flexibility; and individual accommodations at each site. Students selected one of the sites for their 15-hour experience. Fourteen of 20 students chose LEAP based on the site representative's friendliness and its flexibility in accommodating their schedules. Three students chose to work at JAS, one student chose MNIC because it involved tutoring, and the other two arranged other sites, with the instructor's approval.

To keep a record of their experiences, students maintained a journal with two columns-impressions and reflections. Students also collaborated with their site representative and discussed the site's requirements and their personal objectives. Students were advised that learning is embedded in their interactions and experiences with their immigrant co-learner(s) and it was up to them to facilitate the interaction.

The service-learning component of the class culminated in a final paper. The students decided on the focus of the paper based on their experiences, class presentations, and research. The final papers were very interesting and diverse. Selected titles included "My unforgettable cultural experience," "From Laos to America: Nhia's journey," "The world of Huipil," "Muslim women and misunderstandings," and "The Somali dress and struggles of conformity. …

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Service Learning and Pluralism: Working with Immigrants
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