Suffolk students traveled to India and Cambodia over winter break to help build homes and experience unfamiliar cultures—and they came home feeling like family.
Mixing cement, laying bricks, and nailing down a bamboo floor have a way of bringing people together, according to Paul Mucci, Jr., who visited Cambodia in January through Suffolk’s alternative winter break service learning program.
“We all worked together, ate together, and had fun together,” said Mucci, Class of 2017, a government major and U.S Army veteran. “It was like we were all part of one big family. I had the time of my life.”
Mucci and other students learned about India and Cambodia through the Conflict and Development in Asia course taught this past fall by Government Professor Roberto Dominguez. They studied the history, politics, and economics of each country and then brought these lessons home by engaging in service while living among Cambodian and Indian people.
“We went to learn, to help two families build homes, and to experience another culture,” said Gabrielle Elderd, the student leader on the trip to India.
“It was an experience that reminded our students about the value of giving and caring for others,” said Dominguez, who accompanied the group visiting Cambodia.
Elderd said that the most rewarding part of the journey was laboring as a collective to help others improve their lives.
“We worked hard, got dirty, saw the Taj Mahal, made new friends, and fell in love with a beautiful and intelligent country,” said Elderd, Class of 2017, a finance and marketing major, who said she is inspired to continue service—in India or elsewhere.
Personal and professional growth
Psychology Professor Sukanya Ray, the faculty leader on the trip to India, said: “I feel strongly that this exposure and community engagement experience will provide our students with great memories and contribute towards their personal and professional growth.”
Mucci agreed that alternative winter break was a life changing experience.
“The people were very welcoming, and the students were very giving,” he said. “As students, we wanted to learn about a new culture and be part of something bigger than us. Having the opportunity to help and connect with people across the globe while sharing one common goal was just incredible.”
Suffolk’s Center for Community Engagement has organized annual alternative winter breaks since 2007. Previous service-learning experiences have brought students to El Salvador and Vietnam.
The trips to Cambodia and India were made possible through Suffolk’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the support of the Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies. The goal is for students to interact with people and engage in helping local communities to build houses or other construction projects.