Service Learning - What Is It And What Are The Benefits?

Service learning is a teaching method that combines all the usual learning goals with community service. This is a modern and progressive approach to teaching that puts focus on students giving back to society while furthering their studies – and it helps them to understand their place in the larger community that is the planet Earth!

The concept of service learning is an “umbrella” term for various kinds of volunteering activities that also have a learning objective, that students can use to further their studies while contributing to a community. If you are a student interested in volunteering, then you should definitely investigate your options. Here are a few basic examples of service learning activities you can get involved in.

Volunteerism: This is the best-known and simplest form of volunteering, and it involves various acts of service done by the student in various communities in different countries, with the help of various volunteer organisations. Whatever your interests and capabilities are, and whatever kind of budget you have, you’ll be able to volunteer somehow, somewhere!

Community Service (not the kind that criminals do instead of going to jail!): This is quite similar to volunteerism, but it can consist of more involvement and long-term commitment on the part of the student or volunteer.

Internships: These provide student volunteers with experience in various fields of work that are linked to their academic studies and eventual career choices – such as teaching or medicine.

Field Education: Field education allows student volunteers to experience service opportunities that are related, but not FULLY linked to, their formal academic studies. For example, social work students can get the opportunity to work with orphans in a teaching capacity.


Volunteerism, community service, internships, field education and all other aspects of service learning benefit both the students AND the people they are helping. Students get to learn various valuable lessons in people skills, work experience in their future field, or changes in how you view yourself and your society. You learn commitment and passion. And perhaps most importantly, you get to learn how to see other cultures in terms of similarities, rather than differences to yourself – which can lead to the development of genuine empathy and honest compassion, and a lifelong desire to do your part to make the world a better place, one small step at a time.

And of course you also get to use practical experience to round out your academic knowledge to further your future career. These are all things you can’t really learn in a classroom.

You can get lots of info on volunteering in our FREE Ultimate Handy Resource Guide for Travellers and Volunteers in Southern Africa. Grab It Here, For FREE!


1. Anyone can volunteer, regardless of age or experience

If you have a willingness to contribute to communities or the environment, and are open to learning and having new experiences, you are exactly the right person to volunteer. There are projects out there somewhere that need you; whatever your age, experience or specific skill set.

Some volunteer organisations and programmes cater specifically to certain age groups, and some are suitable only for volunteers with experience in the given field. But whatever your situation may be, there are options out there that will fit your needs. Spend some time researching your options, and don’t be shy to ask volunteer organisations as many questions as you like. Many will be happy to go over your options point-by-point and put your mind at ease.

2. Volunteering is a two-way street

You can choose to travel overseas in the more usual way, by being a tourist and staying in backpackers or hotels with other tourists. But as a student and a volunteer, the key idea is to offer your service to a community or a natural habitat that needs you.

That’s not all there is to it, though – by helping others you will also be learning, and helping yourself. You won’t just be sightseeing and overspending like the average tourist! You can make lifelong friends and professional networks. You might even change your entire outlook as a person. Everyone’s experience is different, but by putting in your all, you’re pretty guaranteed to get a lot back.

3. Volunteering can be done on a budget

Yes, it costs money to co-ordinate volunteer programmes and accommodate the participants. Some programmes can be more expensive than others, especially if they are geared to be fairly technical and require the input of highly skilled professionals – for example, some wildlife programmes. The good news is that if you are on a tight budget (as most students are!), you will be able to find service learning programmes where the costs are kept low. It’s also worth noting that some volunteer organisations are more profit-oriented and run as a lucrative business by trying to attract as many ‘bums on seats’ as possible, instead of focusing on the needs of the specific project and the individual student or volunteer. Make sure the organisation that you choose to arrange your stay as a student volunteer is run transparently and focuses on communities and the volunteers, rather than making themselves rich!

4. Volunteering overseas is safe!

Khaya Volunteer Projects is based in South Africa – argued by many well-travelled souls to be the most beautiful country on Earth! If you’re a student who wants to take part in a service learning programme in Africa, you can rest assured that, while some things might be a little different to what you’re used to at home, you’ll get all the info you need to make your trip comfortable and safe. Don’t believe everything you see on the news – most of Southern Africa is peaceful and friendly.

5. Volunteering will impress future employers

Prospective or current employers might appreciate a work candidate or student intern who has shown that they are hard-working, philanthropically-minded, culturally-knowledgeable and an experienced traveller. Volunteering might well open doors for you at your job or prospective career that you didn’t even know existed. Don’t feel ashamed of having “it will look good on my resume: as one of your major reasons for volunteering – whatever the reason, once you take the plunge and do it, it will expand your horizons in so many ways.


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