New UI student group sets sights for volunteer trip abroad

By Katelyn McBride

A new student organization at the University of Iowa will offer its members a unique opportunity to volunteer abroad next spring.

The organization, called International Volunteers, is open to students of all majors who are interested in gaining volunteer experience while exploring another country. Members will collectively decide on a country where they will complete volunteer projects based on their skills and interests. The trip will last approximately 3-4 weeks and begin after finals week in May 2013.

“I hope this opportunity will help me to become a better leader and overall a more rounded person by doing my part to make the world a better place,” said Angie Romme.

Romme, a UI junior majoring in Health and Human Physiology and one of the founding members of International Volunteers, was surprised the UI didn’t have a volunteer abroad program already in place when she began seeking an opportunity for herself.  As a local volunteer at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, as well as through her church and waterski team, Romme was particularly looking for a short-term volunteer trip abroad in a health-related field. 

Angie Romme bungee jumps during a trip to China in May 2012. She hopes through International Volunteers students will have an incredible opportunity to gain hands-on experience, explore different cultures, and engage in what will be a life-changing experience.

During her search, Romme met another UI junior through her dorm and several classes they shared. Gina Battista, a Health Studies and Pre-Health Promotion major and volunteer at Mercy Hospital, was looking for a similar volunteer experience for the summer.

“I would love to volunteer abroad because I want to learn about other cultures and broaden my horizons in order to grow as a person,” Battista said. “There are so many people that need help all around the world and I'm lucky enough to have a chance to make a big difference in their lives.”

The girls realized they were both researching similar programs individually and had the same goals and ideas in mind for a volunteer trip, so they teamed up in August 2011 and started the process of making International Volunteers a student organization.

Gina Battista explores the Negev Desert in Israel with a group of fellow Jewish students in January 2012. She says she's been lucky in her life to have stability, education, and good health, and she wants to volunteer to help those in need and be the change in someone else's life.

Becoming “IV”

The process of creating International Volunteers (IV) as a student organization through the UI Center for Student Involvement & Leadership was not as easy as the girls hoped it would be. Although the center was supportive of the idea, after several emails, discussions, appeals, and what Romme described as a “grueling process,” the group was ultimately denied acceptance due to the international travel aspect of their organization.

But through the help of WIVA (Work, Intern, and Volunteer Abroad) Advisor Leslie McNeilus, International Programs became the home of IV this summer and will provide office space and support for the student group, as well as one advisor for IV from the Study Abroad office.

McNeilus notes that it can be difficult for students like Romme and Battista with majors in health sciences to go abroad because of the rigorous course schedule, so this allows them to spend time during the summer doing work that is relevant to their studies.

“The organization’s abbreviation, IV, is a nod to the medical focus that was the original intention, though the group is open to students of all majors,” McNeilus said.

Students who embark on the volunteer trip in May can participate in projects related to community development, teaching and education, caregiving, healthcare, women’s empowerment, HIV/AIDS awareness, and more.

Cross-Cultural Solutions

Cross-Cultural Solutions

IV students will be working through the nonprofit organization Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) for their volunteer trip. CCS programs are available in 12 countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and staff are on site year-round to stay in tune with community needs.  McNeilus says she is very familiar with CSS as a respected leader in the volunteer abroad arena, and Romme agreed it was the best choice for IV’s project. 

“When I was brainstorming which program to choose, Cross-Cultural Solutions kept popping up. If I would have gone by myself, this is the organization I would have used because it has a good structure in place,” said Romme.

Depending on the number of students who become involved in IV and their unique interests, it is possible that the group may split between two locations for their volunteer trip, as only 30 people can stay at the home base of a CCS location.  Romme and Battista, who are currently serving as IV’s president and vice president, respectively, have a goal to recruit at least 20 members for the May 2013 trip. This group of students will need to pick their volunteer location by December 2012 in order to get paperwork and other arrangements ready in time for the trip.

The estimated cost for a three-week CCS program is $3,656, which includes lodging at a CCS home base, all meals and safe drinking water, in-country transportation, medical insurance, and many other services, resources, and activities. Airfare is not included.

IV plans to hold various fundraising events and activities on campus in the months before their trip in order to defray some of the costs students will have to pay in order to participate. They also plan to organize smaller volunteer projects in the community throughout the year.

Service Learning

Mary Mathew Wilson, director of the UI Community-Based Learning Program, said she has seen an increased interest in volunteering from UI students in the past two years, including students interested in opportunities abroad. Wilson matches students to volunteer experiences that are relevant to their education and career goals, and she says, for students like Romme and Battista, volunteer experience makes them more competitive for graduate and professional schools.

Wilson pointed out that International Volunteers fits in well with the UI’s goals for students to excel, stretch, engage, choose, and serve.

“When you look at the Iowa Challenge pillars, this is really hitting all of those,” Wilson said of the organization.

Students who are interested in International Volunteers can meet with Romme and Battista at the annual study abroad fair Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second floor of the University Capitol Centre.

There will also be an information session Monday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. in 2520B University Capitol Centre.

For more information on International Volunteers, visit http://international.uiowa.edu/study-abroad/international-volunteers or contact Angie Romme at IP-volunteer-abroad@uiowa.edu.

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