The Columns

Global Service: Bringing the World to W&L Students

— by on April 24th, 2017

Splat! Thud! Their laughter filling the air during a spontaneous snowball fight this past winter, the participants epitomized the special camaraderie of the international and domestic students who live and thrive in W&L’s Global Service House.

“It was really exciting, because a lot of us had never played in snow before,” said Sofia Sequeira ’15, a native Costa Rican and the house’s resident adviser. “It really made us bond and become close friends.”

The facility opened in fall 2012 and houses 17 students–approximately 60 percent international students and 40 percent domestic students. This year, for the first time, most of them are sophomores. Previously, the building housed students from different classes. To make the house feel more like a home, and to build long-lasting bonds among the students, W&L decided to limit the residents to sophomores and juniors. “It’s a great experience,” said Sequeira.

The students also share a common interest in internationalism and community service. When Larry Boetsch ’69, director of the Center for International Education, was researching the University’s Global Learning Initiative, he discovered that a high percentage of international students volunteer in the local community.

At the same time, Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee (CKWL) was looking for a permanent home. CKWL combats hunger and promotes nutrition by reusing food that would otherwise go to waste. Boetsch and Harlan Beckley, professor emeritus of religion and founder of the Shepherd Poverty Program, hatched a plan to convert the International House into the Global Service House for students with a common interest in internationalism and service, including volunteering for CKWL.

Boetsch was concerned that setting special conditions for living in the house would quash student interest. Last year and this year, however, he received twice as many applications as he could accommodate. “I think next year we’ll have even more,” said Boetsch, “so it’s been a great success.”

He continued, “What satisfies me the most is that the students themselves have really taken the initiative to make this work. They’re a terrific group of students, and they understand exactly what we are trying to do. We haven’t set any rules or guidelines with regards to the way the house functions; the students have done it on their own. So they are responsible for its success.”

The experience of living there is as illuminating for domestic students as it is for international students. “I have learned more about the cultures of other students and about the world than I ever thought I could without actually leaving the United States,” said Maya Epelbaum ’16, who’s from New Jersey.

“My housemate, Mohammed, and I have had many discussions about the differences in our cultures,” said Trevin Ivory ’16, from Oklahoma City, Okla. Mohammed Adudayyeh ’16 is a Palestinian from the West Bank. “He’s Muslim and I’m Christian, so we’ve talked about the differences between our two religions.

“I lived in a dorm last year, and three or four of us would hang out together, but never this many people at one time,” continued Ivory. “It’s very nice here because you feel you can talk to anyone. We all know each other and we all like each other, so it’s a very fun time. It also allows me to interact with people I wouldn’t normally be able to, such as students from Brazil or Germany.”

The students have introduced each other to their personal volunteer projects, although the main emphasis of volunteering is CKWL. “A lot of students are really committed to community service, and they invite other students to their activities, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, recycling or tutoring children in Lexington,” said Sequeira. For example, Emmanuel Abebrese ’16, a native of Ghana, who graduated from a high school in northern Virginia, has involved his fellow students plus the Student Association for International Learning (SAIL) in collecting books and school supplies for a school in Ghana.

The international student population at W&L, which numbers between 115 and 125 at any one time, distinguishes itself from those on other campuses because 98 percent of the students are four-year degree candidates, according to Boetsch. “On most college campuses, a large percentage of international students are exchange students staying for a term or for a year. Our international students are fully fledged Washington and Lee citizens,” he said.

The facility is, in fact, a tangible manifestation of W&L’s Global Learning Strategy. “The students in the Global Service House today are a special group,” said Boetsch. “Honestly, I think it is an achievement of which we should be very proud and something which, in terms of the whole global learning initiative, is absolutely essential.”