By Kara Cuzzone ’19
Between three community-based learning (CBL) sites and two internships, I’ve had my fair share of experiential learning opportunities during my time at Holy Cross. It’s ironic because when I started college, it wasn’t even on my radar. Sure, I had chosen a Montserrat course with a CBL component, but that was more about wanting to pursue a service opportunity, not an interest in learning outside of the classroom. Considering I’m writing this blog post, it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way. That’s why I thought I would share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. Below, find the five things I’ve learned from experiential learning.
You’ll Never Feel Fully Prepared, Go for It Anyway
This is one factor that scares students (and even professors). Because classroom environments can be planned and structured, they are a lot more predictable than an experiential learning environment. As a result, you probably won’t feel totally ready before your first day, or even your first month, at you CBL site or internship position. That’s okay. In fact, these are often the experiences where deep learning occurs because lessons aren’t rigidly planned, so there’s room for discovery.
Be Open to What You Can Receive in CBL, Not Just What You Can Give
If you had told me in the beginning that I’d still be visiting my CBL site, St. Mary’s Healthcare Center, I don’t think I’d believe you. After all, I wanted to do something, not just sit and talk with my resident. I doubted that I was even making an impact there. Then, I started to just show up and be present. Almost immediately, the experience changed. I realized that not only was I forming a relationship with my resident, but she was having a profound impact on me. I always left our visits with a new perspective on life and a smile on my face. There is always something to be gained when engaging with those who are different from us, you just have to be open to seeing it.
Not Everything Can be Learned in the Classroom
It’s just true. You can read, study, and analyze a subject all you want, but until you get out and engage with it, you won’t get the full picture. I noticed this particularly through the Education Department’s Student Mental Health seminar I took this fall. In part of the course, we learned about trauma-informed teaching practices, and how to implement them to create a safe, welcoming environment for all students. That said, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of these practices until I witnessed them firsthand through a site visit at Woodland Academy. It took the conceptual and made it real.
Take Advantage of the Holy Cross Network
I know you’ve heard this one before, but I mean it. The New York Semester Program opened my eyes to how not only willing, but genuinely excited Holy Cross alumni are to mentor current students. Almost every week during the program, we attended a lunch or dinner colloquium where we heard from an alum about their career path and their current role. Through one of these colloquia meetings, I met an alumna who has provided me with invaluable advice and even helped me secure a summer internship.
Make Time to Reflect on Your Experiences
During my Montserrat course, we were required to write weekly reflections about our CBL experiences, and while I don’t do it weekly anymore, this is still a practice that I come back to. Experiential learning in itself is great, but sometimes I don’t even realize the lessons I’ve learned, or revelations I’ve had, until I sit down and write about them. By taking time to slow down and unpack what you’ve experienced, you’ll be able to gain new insights that you might’ve missed along the way.
Kara Cuzzone ’19 is a senior Anthropology major. Read more of her work at karacuzzone.com