Malaysia to UW-Madison: One Student’s Badger Volunteers Experience

International Student Services
International Student Services (ISS) serves more than 5,000 international students on campus. The UW-Madison international student population is among the largest of any university in the country. Photo courtesy of ISS

Most college students in America have some experience with volunteering or community service. Whether it is working at a food bank, volunteering at a ‘race for a cure’ or running a clothing drive, volunteer work and getting involved in local communities has become a mainstream part of young people’s lives.

Getting involved in a new community, especially in a foreign country foreign one, however, can sometimes be an intimidating experience for people. That hasn’t stopped sophomore Sarah Adam and numerous other international students like her from participating in Badger Volunteers each semester.

Badger Volunteers, UW-Madison’s largest student volunteer program, pairs teams of students with community organizations to volunteer each week at the same organization. The program  fosters meaningful and consistent connections between community partners and students over the course of an entire semester.

Adam came to UW-Madison from Malaysia to study actuarial science in the School of Business. When asked why she chose to go to school so far away from home, she replied, “Wisconsin has one of the best actuarial science programs in the world!”

UW-Madison welcomes over 1,400 new international students to campus each year and becomes a temporary home to over 4,500 international students from more than 130 countries around the world. As a major research university known nationally and internationally for academic excellence, UW-Madison prides itself on offering everyone who steps foot on campus the “Wisconsin Experience” — an opportunity to grow and learn through academics, life in Wisconsin and the overall experience as a student in the United States.

To fill her spare time, Adam wanted to do something familiar as well as something that would help her learn more about her new home. Badger Volunteers was a perfect fit.

“I like volunteering, even in Malaysia I volunteer a lot and because it’s like one of those things where people are just really genuine,” Adam said. “In school sometimes they sort of shove networking down our throats to a point where it sort of doesn’t feel natural, but in Badger Volunteers it’s different. People are just more genuine I would say.”

In addition to getting to interact with people in different ways outside of her academics, Badger Volunteers has allowed Adam and other students a way get more involved in the local community.

“I feel like it is my responsibility to help people in the best way that I can,” Adam said. “I’m a student so I don’t have that much money to help others, so volunteering, like doing the work in my free time, is how I can help at this moment in time. It’s what I have to give to others, so I make time to do so.”

To Adam, volunteering in America is similar to volunteering at home, but differs greatly in the types of volunteer opportunities that are available. While she has volunteered at food banks and community gardens in America, much of her work at home was at local orphanages.

“Here, volunteering is so much more organized and there’s so many more opportunities to volunteer your time,” Adam said. “Back home, it is mostly working with orphans. It sort of became my family’s mission together to help orphans. There is an orphanage close to my home and you like get to know each of them personally and their whole story.”

While Adam may be over 14,500 miles from home, Badger Volunteers has continued to offer her a sense of comfort and new ways to learn about life in America each semester. Her favorite part? All of the different opportunities that Badger Volunteers presents to students to get involved in the local community.

“I’m the kind of person who gets bored easily, which is why other student organizations on campus don’t really work for me,” Adam said. “The difference with Badger Volunteers, however, is that you can still stick with the organization, but choose to volunteer at a new site every semester, so I don’t get bored. All the sites are so different so it’s a really cool opportunity. I’m not saying that I don’t like where I’ve volunteered before, but it’s nice to change it up and continue giving back and working in the community in new ways.”

By Lauren Lewandowski