An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Global Service Learning – always evolving
Global Service Learning – always evolving

by Charlotte Blessing, director of global education

Lakeside students have many opportunities to develop into globally engaged citizens, and our Global Service Learning (GSL) Program continues to evolve as our partner communities and the world changes.

Around five years ago, we added a one-week GSL pre-trip curriculum so that students could learn more about the history, culture, and language of the location to which they would travel. All three things assist students in building relationships with their host families and other members of the host community. It also prepares them to be open to new ways of thinking and engaging with the people they'll meet – a key part of being a globally engaged citizen.

Another change we've been making is incorporating different types of service learning – particularly those related to students' study of world events and global issues in Lakeside classes. For example, in Fiji, students' service work relates to how climate change impacts access to education in a small rural village. On each of the trips, leaders structure discussions around critical moments, observations, or articles or books a member of the group is reading. Each group travels with a small mobile GSL library. An example of a book you'll find in the libraries this year includes Hans Rosling's "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think." A statistician, Rosling wants to show readers how often we get the facts about world data wrong and, more importantly, how much better the state of the world has become. It's a book that helps break down preconceptions that students might hold about their host communities.

The summer GSL trips are robust and continue to provide students with a global immersion experience, far away from the familiarity and comfort of home and campus. This summer we will have six four-week trips going out. We also offer school-year academic courses with GSL components – another recent change to our program. This spring, the following groups will be heading out:

  • A group of Advanced Spanish 4/5 students will travel to Colombia on a three-week GSL trip, focused on the issues of Resistance, Empowerment and Identity. Students will do service projects organized by a local human rights organization with deep roots in the community. Fluency in more than one language is an important part of global citizenship so we are excited to offer this immersive language experience.
  • A group of sophomores will venture to Peru as part of the World History class and work with a local organization founded by a Lakeside alum.
  • The Advanced Ecology course will head to French Polynesia where students, among other projects, will help gather information for a large-scale research mission.

As part of the school's overall effort to position Lakeside students to thrive in the future, new academic courses with embedded GSL trips will be developed. This includes a new course that we are excited to announce for this summer! The GSL Program has partnered with Lakeside Summer School Programs for a brand-new course, Spanish III: GSL in Costa Rica. This is a graded course only open to Lakeside students, earning one year of language credit and 20 service learning hours.  The course lasts six weeks over the summer, with three weeks on Lakeside's campus and three weeks in Costa Rica. The intensive class reaps the benefit of a language immersion experience in a small Costa Rican community with service work that focuses on environmental sustainability, an issue of particular interest to many students. Learn more about it on summer programs webpage, under languages.

Regardless of the type of GSL trip, students typically tell us that they enjoy being with their classmates in a stress-free and fun environment, traveling, and adjusting to new cultures together. And all GSL students have time to reflect on the meaning of their lives in relationship to something bigger –another important attitude in today's increasingly interconnected world.  You can learn more about how GSL has changed with the times in this recent article in Lakeside magazine.

GSL is deeply connected to Lakeside's mission – not only in bringing together individuals from diverse cultures and experiences, but in leading students to take responsibility for learning. We want students to reflect on and begin to develop their personal definition of what it means to be a globally engaged citizen. I encourage you to talk with your students about how they define global citizenship, and look together at the new courses with GSL trips in the recently published 2019-2020 Upper School curriculum guide. I love to imagine a day when all students graduate with a GSL experience on their transcript!

Charlotte Blessing is director of global education. You can reach her at