When Trisha Gott went to Izamal, Mexico, in summer 2005 she set out to help the locals learn more about English and maybe do a few educational programs.
She wasn't prepared for how the trip opened her eyes about the challenges that people in other countries face each day.
"The trip made me so much more aware of opportunities to make a difference in everyday life and left me feeling more connected with the world as a whole," she said. "It was an opportunity to really change the way I view service and how I interact with others on a daily basis."
Now, Gott oversees and coordinates K-State's International Service Teams, a program she says gives students invaluable leadership experience and an appreciation for unique cultures and perspectives they wouldn't have gained by just visiting a foreign town or village.
"You really get to immerse yourself in the culture," Gott said. "You develop relationships with the people you're serving and really get a sense of the culture and the socioeconomic challenges facing the community. Many students want to go back right away."
K-State's International Service Teams, which are coordinated through the School of Leadership Studies, allow students from multiple disciplines to work with a community to plan and implement service projects during a roughly two-month stay in the summer.
The teams, now in their 20th year of operation, have served developing communities worldwide and created community-specific projects focused on health, education, environmental concerns and other issues surrounding development. Typically students serve in Mexico, South America, Central America or Africa, but they've also traveled to countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Students apply to become part of a team and complete a three-credit course in the spring semester preceding their summer of service. In the course, students work closely with the community that needs their help to figure out what kinds of service projects would be most effective.
"It's a combination of what does the community need and what a student's skill set can offer," Gott said. "
Mary Hale Tolar, director of K-State's School of Leadership Studies, said that the International Service Teams are an educational experience for everyone involved.
"Students develop relationships with community members that change their perspectives on their lives and the world," she said. "These student-led teams are intense service-learning experiences that allow students to develop and exercise their best civic leadership."
More information about K-State's International Service Teams is available at on the Web.