Bringing a Global Perspective to Community-Engaged Leadership Programming

Kush Sharma
Delhi, India

As an international student from India, the first time I got to experience or “visit” Bates was when I actually got there last fall. A little before the semester was about to begin, I had the opportunity to go for a walk around the vicinity of the Bates campus with some of my peers. After that walk, I realized that beyond the pretty classrooms, my comfortable dorm-room, and all the other facilities that Bates students have access to there’s a world that exists that isn’t a part of the “Bates Bubble.”

That walk at the beginning of the year inspired me to step out of the “Bates bubble”. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the bubble but because stepping out of the bubble allowed me to see past my own individual worries. It allowed me to think about things that were much bigger in the grand scheme of things. The initial motivation to step out of the campus and look past my own worries soon allowed me to make connections between my new home at Bates and my old home in India. I realized that no matter where you are there will be basic fundamental problems that you will find in common. My difficulties around getting acclimated to a new culture and a new place were soon relieved as these connections between my new home and my old home started to become more resounding. Through my off-campus engagement with the L/A community, I was able to connect problems that persisted at my old home with the problems that I saw, in different forms, at my new home.

With the help of the Harward Center, I was able to engage with the Lewiston Regional Technical Center to mentor high-school students in forming Lewiston’s first-ever Robotics team. The hard work and dedication that the students put into building the team and managing several different aspects reminded me how difficulties around limited resources only propel you to do better.

Another opportunity that allowed me to engage and learn with the community was through the Rosati Leadership Academy. With Rosati Leadership Academy, I was able to engage with Lewiston’s Somali community through the free indoor soccer coaching that the program offered. I got the opportunity to assist the program as an assistant coach but was also able to help the program with social-media and outreach. The passion that those young kids exhibit at every single practice clearly showed their incredible will to learn and grow despite the limited opportunities to do so.

As a Bonner Leader and a Bates student, I was fortunate enough to work with the wider Bates community and engage with the problems that surround it in meaningful and constructive ways. I am glad for the walk that I took that day and for the striking realization that I was able to have early on in my first year at Bates. A lot of what I have achieved and a lot that I have learned as a first-year has been a result of the work that I have been able to do while engaging with the L/A community.

Sarah Marta Veskimägi
Tallinn, Estonia

Hei! My name is Sarah, and I am from Estonia. For those of you who are wondering, “What is that!?” it’s a beautiful small country in Northeast Europe where people love singing, IT, and undisturbed nature. An interesting combo of hobbies, I know! I grew up in Estonia so I speak Estonian, but I also speak Chinese because I lived in Hong Kong, where I attended an international school focused on uniting people for a peaceful and sustainable future. During high school, I developed an urge to contribute to the surrounding community and nature in order to build an environment where everyone and everything is able to grow in harmony. 

Coming to Bates was a dream come true as I wanted to continue my education in an institution where I could find people who believed in similar ideas. Not only did I make incredible, like-minded friends at Bates, but I was lucky enough to become part of the amazing Bonner Leader family at the Harward Center. In the Bonner program, the meaningful experiences we get from working with and learning from the off-campus community are combined with building awareness about social justice issues and ways we could lead the change we want to see in our future.

I believe education is one of the most crucial parts of life, so for the past year I have been working at Edward Little High School in Auburn as a classroom aide and also at Tree Street Youth’s afterschool program, where I do homework help and offer assistance to students who are applying to college. These experiences helped me grow in terms of self-awareness. Most of my community-engaged work was done one-on-one with different students, and I learned to swiftly transition from 3rd grade English to Calculus to Economics homework. These experiences also gave me an amazing opportunity to better understand the American school system and the life of high school students in Maine.

Being part of the Bonner program as an international student truly makes me feel like I have a family here in the U.S. Everyone has made me feel very welcome. I have also worked alongside some of the most inspiring people I have ever met, who have dedicated their lives to promoting and improving our communities. I can’t wait to continue our work together and start some interesting new projects in the coming school year!