Alumnae Take Undergrad Service Learning Experience Abroad

A new culture awaited three Ursinus graduates who are promoting and sustaining service learning at Lingnan University in China. The Hong Kong college commits to two years hosting Ursinus alumni in its service learning office.

Before Caroline Cannon ’14 became a visiting service learning Tutor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, she had never been to Asia and knew very little about the Chinese culture and language.

Now, after more than a year working in the Office of Service Learning (OSL) at Lingnan, she speaks basic Cantonese, coaches a women’s basketball team on campus, and enjoys new foods, the city and the culture. She has mentored two recent Ursinus graduates, MK Speth ’15 and Emily Duffy ’15.

Together, the three Ursinus alumnae are helping service learning thrive across Hong Kong. Service learning at Lingnan, where the university motto is “Education for Service,” is integrated with the academic curriculum, a concept familiar to Ursinus students.

Ursinus Professor of English Meredith Goldsmith, who oversees the Ursinus/Lingnan partnership, was in Hong Kong recently for a service learning symposium that marked the 10th anniversary of Lingnan’s Office of Service Learning. “It’s nice to see our students doing well after taking such a big leap,” she said.

Cannon is in her second year at Lingnan—she has been such an asset that her contract was extended. Lingnan has committed to hiring Ursinus students for two more years, with a competitive salary and free housing in a pricey housing market.

Cannon’s work within the OSL is focused on student development and training, with the goal of enhancing students’ community engagement and civic responsibility, while building their service leadership. “I work directly with students to help cultivate a culture of service learning on campus and in the community,” she wrote previously, adding that she organizes training and reflection sessions, and supervises and mentors students who are working on community-based research, attending service learning conferences or representing Lingnan and the OSL in overseas workshops.

Working in higher education in Asia for the past two years has given Cannon the opportunity to build upon the experiences she took from Ursinus. She said her time spent in Hong Kong has enhanced her professional network, broadened her global perspective and “provided me a platform to explore my passions and carve out my future career plans.” Her plans include working in Baltimore City School District with Teach for America next year. 

All three Lingnan OSL students were set on this path at Ursinus. Cannon was a peer adviser for the Office of International Programs and engaged in a service-learning project when she studied abroad in London. Speth and Duffy were Bonner Leaders, active in environmental issues and the English as a Second Language program, respectively.

They all saw Hong Kong as a way to gain a global perspective on service-learning. Duffy became interested the plight of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and worked with students in a course titled Theories of Justice and Amnesty International Hong Kong to prepare a photo exhibition about domestic workers at the Lingnan campus. She served as a volunteer at the exhibition.

“As a result of my transformative experience, I was keen on providing other Ursinus students with a similar opportunity and, therefore, worked to establish a partnership between the OSL and Ursinus College. Lucky for me, I am now able to share my time in Hong Kong with two other Ursinus students,” she wrote recently from Hong Kong.

“By working closely with faculty and students at Lingnan, I have had the chance to gain a deeper understanding of service learning in the international context, along with an awareness of local and global causes. I have acquired a broad set of knowledge and skills through my work in student development, project coordination and research. My work has also given me insight into how to create high-quality service and learning experiences that empower students to be active learners and citizens,” Cannon said.

“On a daily basis, I aim to provide students in Hong Kong with the same opportunities I was given as a student at Ursinus.“ – W.G.