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From the Students’ View: Learning Outside the Box

This article was originally published in the Spring 1999 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

Three undergraduates share how their experiences of education outside the classroom have affected their college education.

How has living in a special interest house enhanced your learning?

In a little corner of the campus, students live together to discover the pleasures of learning the culture and language of foreign countries while enjoying the traditional college life. McTyeire International House is a special interest house centered around learning languages and cultures. It is truly the best of both worlds. Perhaps the best is the unconscious internalization of learning which I see taking place all around me. As a native speaker, I am in the unique position of aiding others while they venture on their quest for learning. I have seen students who are not taking classes in their target language drastically improve their speaking ability just by talking at dinner and participating in the study breaks.

Not all learning takes place in the classroom, and McTyeire is a prime example of that. McTyeire is a foreign language and culture dormitory–we live together with a focus. We are a closely knit community and it is this security that allows the students to practice their varying levels of fluency with little to no embarrassment. As a graduating senior, I can truly say that McTyeire has enhanced my understanding of how students learn and has also given me opportunities to learn about various cultures in a quasi-authentic setting. I have been able to talk to faculty in small group discussions about topics of their interest through the Fireside Chats and gotten to know more people than had I lived in a regular dorm and just attended classes. McTyeire is a world upon itself and in this time of shrinking world distances, it is the entrance to a brighter, bolder world filled with opportunities.
Kaori Ann Church . For more information about McTyeire, contact the Office of University Housing.

How has participation in a service-learning trip enhanced your learning?

As an individual who had never experienced a culture other than that of America, I was immediately in awe of what I saw upon arrival in Chile. I had always felt that Vanderbilt did not provide me with the eye-opening college education that I had hoped for. This changed as I took a step off the familiar locale of an American Airlines jet and began my journey in another hemisphere. I had never seen anything like Chile before, or even had heard a classroom explanation of the sights that could equal what I saw.

The trip made me aware of the economic and social inequalities of Latin America because I could see and experience them on a daily basis. I was never able to ignore the injustices and hardships that many Chileans face because I was now living them. I know that my short time in the country cannot compare to a lifetime, but at least now I have a point of reference by which I can judge the culture. They say that you cannot understand your own culture until you study the culture of someone else. Needless to say, I now understand both American and Chilean culture better than I would have if I sat for three hours a week in Calhoun 109 listening to a professor’s lecture.

As a student it is easy to sit in the comfortable cushioned chairs on the day of an exam and regurgitate what a professor has said about Chile; less easy however, is the experience of cultural immersion that a journey to the country itself offers. Without a doubt, the student who challenges him or herself to that international exchange will have a better understanding of just what the professor really meant by “Chilean culture.” The experience in Chile has altered my perception of the world in insurmountable ways. After sleeping beneath the Chilean sky I know how many stars there really are, after bathing in an irrigation canal I know the joy of a hot shower, and after laboring all day under hot desert sun I know what it is to live off the land; most importantly though, after spending a month in Chile I know this subject-matter deeply.

As a result of my journey to South America, I have changed my major to Latin American Studies, begun to volunteer on a regular basis and have found a new focus for myself on this path that Vanderbilt has provided. My horizons have broadened and as a result my life will also.
Heather Vockins . Editor’s note: Heather participated in the service-learning trip which Marshall Eakin writes about in our cover story. For more information about service-learning, contact the Center for Teaching or consult our web page.

How has acting as a Student Consultant for an International TA enhanced your learning?

Being a student consultant for the International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP) at the Center for Teaching has opened my eyes to another side of life at Vanderbilt. If I had not participated in this program, my exposure to the various people on our campus would have been extremely limited. Through ITAP, I met international graduate students and worked closely with two of them. We met three times a week for an hour and engaged in activities ranging anywhere from pronunciation exercises to playing Scrabble. I gained much respect for these teaching assistants. To me, it is amazing that they are willing to leave their homes, or comfort zones, and spend time here at Vanderbilt where everything is new, and even scary. At times, the language barrier posed some difficulties, but it was fascinating to speak with and learn from the ITA’s. They had so many questions, and it made me feel great to be able to answer them and help with simple daily activities that most of us take for granted. One of the ITA’s that I worked with last semester showed me pictures and told me everything about his country, Turkey. It was fun to learn about where he came from, since I was always talking about the United States and where I came from.

This program is a great way to form friendships with members of the Vanderbilt community that under most circumstances, I would have never had the opportunity to meet. I enjoyed the time I spent with the ITAs, and feel fortunate to be a part of making them feel welcome at Vanderbilt. I learned better people skills and communication skills, and since I’m an Human and Organizational Development major, these skills will really help me in my classes and my future career.
Liz Seaman . For more information about ITAP, contact the Center for Teaching.

How does participation in an ongoing service-learning project enhance your learning?

As a student, I rarely enjoy the opportunity to serve as a positive role model. Volunteering is an excellent way to have this opportunity. When I came to Vanderbilt, I looked for community service-oriented student organizations whose efforts were worth the devotion of my time. I found Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science (VSVS).

VSVS is a campus community service organization dedicated to increasing the level of science literacy in Nashville 5th and 6th grade classrooms. In the off-campus program, teams of 2-5 Vanderbilt students visit Nashville Metro classes and teach science experiments four times per semester. In the “Day On Campus” program, Vanderbilt students make slime in the Sarratt Student Center with visiting Nashville students after they take a tour of the campus.

No science background or teaching experience is necessary for membership — and I think that this is what makes VSVS so special. Since VSVS demonstrates all experiments to the Vanderbilt volunteers and provides a comprehensive lab manual for assistance in the classroom, anybody (Peabody, A&S, Engineering, Blair, Medical, Law, and any graduate school students) can join, enjoy, and learn from the VSVS experience. My efforts with VSVS have helped me to become a better student because I sometimes lose sight of the sheer pleasure that a person can enjoy just by learning something new. It’s really easy to forget how much fun it is to learn, and teaching the kids reminds me to make the best of my education.
Paulgun Sulur , former president and active member of VSVS. For more information about VSVS, contact the Office of Volunteer Activities.