Defining International Service-Learning

Although there is a wide range of structures and types of courses and programs that sometimes are considered global or international service-learning, Bringle and Hatcher (2011, p. 19) define international service-learning as:

"A structured academic experience in another country in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that addresses identified community needs; (b) learn from direct interaction and cross-cultural dialogue with others; and (c) reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a deeper appreciation of the host country and the discipline, and an enhanced sense of their own responsibilities as citizens, locally and globally."

2011 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award recipient Pratt Cassity, who has developed and led service-learning activities in Ghana, Thailand and Croatia, offers the following suggestions:

“Global service-learning follows the same precepts as other service-learning efforts with one major difference. It includes the notion of global citizenship, globalism, and problem solving in a context that is foreign to the student. The benefits of global service-learning are impressive. Beyond the obvious reward of gaining a greater understanding of another culture and immersion into the ways of life of different people is the advantage of students returning to their own homeland with a greater commitment to community service and civic engagement. This phenomenon is repeated over and over again in global service-learning, international volunteering and internships abroad.

Global service-learning should not be confused with study abroad or study travel. While the typical study abroad experience can be rich for students, global service-learning results in a deeper and more lasting appreciation of the conditions that others face and equips students with an enhanced ability to solve problems in a global setting. Global service-learning applies academic knowledge to the real world in an international, cross-cultural, or multi-national context. It is community service that builds intercultural relationships. Global service-learning involves a meaningful, community-driven project where a vital need has been identified. It is often about cultural immersion.

It is not a study travel trip.

It is not the traditional study abroad program.

It is not a broad brush overview of another country.

It is not just learning facts about another country or taking classes in a foreign setting.

These experiences are available anywhere. Global Service-Learning is different. It is the integration of learning into a process that improves quality of life, builds self-worth and strengthens human relationships. The critical thinking that comes from a service-learning experience is enriched in the global arena.”

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International Service-Learning