Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Patricia Chen ’20

Vancouver, WA • Neuroscience View Profile

Experiential Learning Through Service

Princeton Disability Awareness Fall Carnival

It’s not unusual to find yourself learning just as much outside the classroom as when you are inside. While the two kinds of learning appear different, the value is ultimately the same.

In school, the agenda is set and the same materials are presented for each student. However, experiential learning is more personal. It lets you take control of what you learn and how you learn it.

I’ve come to realize that some of the most important revelations in life can only be learned through the latter kind. My most recent experience was volunteering at the Princeton Disability Awareness (PDA) Fall Carnival. Each fall and spring, PDA puts on a carnival where children are invited to spend a day on campus while being buddied up with a Princeton student.

The carnival was a whole day affair, starting at 9 a.m. in the morning. Despite it being bright and early on a Sunday, the place was already bursting with activity when I entered the room. While volunteers were getting breakfast, the main coordinators were putting on finishing touches to the decorations. From one look, I could tell that there was no shortage of activities. The sun room had paints, crayons, stickers and 3D crafts. Toys and puzzles littered the sitting room and the front lawn had sports balls and sidewalk chalk. Each volunteer was given a schedule of events throughout the day, from a capella to magic performances.

Around 9:30 a.m. the kids started streaming in. The excitement was tangible.

I spent the day with my buddy, going from room to room. We started upstairs, in a quiet setting, reading books and having a snack. By the middle of the day, he got more comfortable with me. We went downstairs and he became mesmerized with the toy cars, spending almost an hour with them. We also painted and played with the balloons.  

But truthfully, it wasn’t all that easy. As volunteers, we were there to ensure that the children have a great time, not to parent them. So it became hard when there was a clear disparity between what my buddy wanted and what I knew was the right thing. In one instance, my buddy became fascinated with the elevator, not wanting to leave and move on to another activity. This made it hard for other children who needed to ride the elevator.

Nevertheless, the day was a success. Although I could only speculate for my buddy, I definitely had fun. The experience also provided me a look into the lives of these parents. I knew it was difficult beforehand but I physically felt the exhaustion after only six short hours. It gave me a new understanding and sense of urgency of what raising awareness for people with disabilities meant.

And as for the carnival? It’s definitely something I would do again.