Service Learning Study Abroad Trips in International Studies
- Jessica AuchterJessica AuchterDepartment of Political Science and Public Service, University of Tennessee Chattanooga
International service learning has become increasingly popular in higher education. Such trips focus on cultivating skills in students, including civic engagement and intercultural understanding, while also being key ways for students to achieve self-growth and learn to apply and contextualize the theories they learn in the classroom in the real world. The goals often outlined in the literature about international service learning tend to be student-centric. While pedagogical goals matter, faculty should also keep in mind the ethics of engaging community partners, especially given the often unequal power relationship at play in the practice of international service learning. Being more attentive to these ethical dilemmas may not eliminate them, but it will ensure that students are considering and learning from the gray areas involved in international service learning, including their own individual relationships to power and injustice. Additionally, faculty should consider how to avoid replicating neocolonial logics in their desire to expose students to the world beyond themselves. Specifically, faculty should be more mindful of the language they use to describe these trips and avoid reifying the notion that service learning is something to be done in the developing world while study trips tend to be conducted in the developed world. Engaging reciprocity with a community partner in both the design and practice of the trip, preparing for cultural complexity in advance by situating the students in larger sets of geopolitical and economic practices, being honest about the skill set students bring to the table, being aware of the cultural and gender dynamics at play, and building in time for reflection before, during, and after the trip are all ways to attend to the larger ethical considerations at play.