Expanding Horizons Through Service

Published on 24 July 2017

Each student who participates in the International Service Learning course has a unique story about how the experience adjusts their way of thinking and expands their world view. P2 student Mathew Koebel recently traveled to Portugal along with six other St. Louis College of Pharmacy students to serve others in need through Habitat for Humanity.

“These trips take us out of our conventional comfort zone of classroom-based learning and give us the opportunity to learn through interactions in an unfamiliar environment,” Koebel said. “The skills and confidence we gained will help us overcome challenging tasks presented to us in our future careers.”

Over 200 students have traveled internationally through opportunities offered by the Office of International Programs, preparing them to better serve diverse patient populations.

“There is a maturation process when students participate in international service,” explained Ken Schafermeyer, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy administration and director of international programs. “The experience greatly improves their cultural competence. It gives them a chance to serve others and learn about different ways of life and issues affecting the broader world.”

The students worked on a residential home near Braga, Portugal, assisting with a variety of tasks from mixing cement to securing support poles for the roof.

“Communication and team-building were the two skills that the students built the most throughout this experience,” noted Stephanie Lukas, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy administration and assistant director of international programs.

With only one interpreter at the work site, the students quickly learned how to work through the unique challenges the language barrier presented.

“In the global world we live in today, we need to be able to effectively communicate with patients, even if it’s not through traditional verbal language,” Koebel said. “The best part of the trip was learning about another culture while also gaining skills that I will be able to utilize in my professional career upon graduating.”

The group also enjoyed a few cultural days where they did some sightseeing and toured the Pharmacy Museum in Lisbon. The warm and welcoming nature of a culture deeply rooted in family greatly added to each student’s overall experience.

“In terms of relationships to their family and also relationships to strangers, all the students commented on how friendly everyone we interacted with was,” Lukas said. “They really went out of their way to be positive in their communication style.”

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