Students from Ripple Effect learning community serve foreign communities

WCU’s Ripple Effect learning community takes in a 360-degree view from the London Eye, the world’s tallest observation wheel.

WCU’s Ripple Effect learning community takes in a 360-degree view from the London Eye, the world’s tallest observation wheel.

A group of Western Carolina University students from the Ripple Effect learning community traveled to Europe to learn and bring about social change.

The Ripple Effect is an initiative at WCU that challenges students to observe the ripples that small acts can affect and to make ripples themselves. The students in the learning community participated in four courses that focused on social change last school year.

Cyndy Caravelis Hughes, a professor in WCU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, taught a course designed to explore issues of diversity, oppression and social justice. Students in the class learned to turn awareness of social justice into social action. Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning, taught a course that helped students create and influence social change by developing an implementable business plan for an organization.

Fourteen students from the classes traveled to London, Paris and Munich in May to focus on different community issues and to work with local nonprofit organization to help address the issues.

WCU students prepare 150 sandwiches for people who are homeless in Paris, France. WCU students prepare 150 sandwiches for people who are homeless in Paris, France.

WCU students prepare 150 sandwiches for people who are homeless in Paris, France.
WCU students prepare 150 sandwiches for people who are homeless in Paris, France.

“By visiting the refugee centers, the students were challenged to focus on the inequalities that occur between racial, ethnic, social and economic lines,” Hughes said. “The objective most totally captured by the experience was applying the concepts of social justice to reevaluate their worldviews. I don’t think that there was a single student who returned unchanged from the experiences.” Visiting, serving and learning at the two refugee centers in Munich took an issue that is typically at arm’s length and brought it to life, Perry said. “While our attitude, drive and passion are still important ingredients, the circumstances and environment where we exist have much to say about future outcomes. Many of the students identified this reality and took with them a heightened sense of respect and value for the opportunities they have at WCU,” said Perry.

Michelle Powers, a student Service Corps Member from Rolesville, said the experience was meaningful to her. “Through traveling abroad and engaging in the community, you learn so much about yourself because you are thrown into different places and scenarios that you are not used to,” said Powers. “Sometimes you do not speak the language, and you have to learn to adapt and experience the things that are coming your way,” she said.

Another student, Mary Hannah Hughes from Wilmington, said she appreciated the chance to participate in a range of service learning projects in Europe as part of the trip. “From revitalizing an iconic agricultural landmark in London to providing food for homeless people and refugees in Paris and Munich, having the chance to actively participate in projects focused on improving the lives of individuals was truly rewarding,” said Hughes.

Another student participant, Quinton Toler from Benson, described a memorable conversation he had with someone at the refugee center. “I met a guy named Chance who gave me more than a conversation; he gave me an experience, showing me more than I could ever bargain for,” said Toler. “He told me about how he doesn’t look for happiness; he finds it in everything he does. This won’t be something that I forget.”

Tyler Melvin, a student from Hickory, said he realized he was blessed to have the things and the opportunities he has in America. “This experience was definitely eye-opening,” Melvin said.

For more information about the Ripple Effect, contact Perry at 828-227-2643 or laneperry@wcu.edu.

WCU students lend a hand with the English Garden and Community Garden located at the English Heritage site in London, England.

WCU students lend a hand with the English Garden and Community Garden located at the English Heritage site in London, England.