Posted: May 11, 2016
Young people seeking an opportunity to contribute and learn in a culture other than their own can do so in a number of unique ways. Two of the more traditional ways include volunteering and studying abroad. However, a third option – international service-learning – also exists that combines the best of these two worlds. So what is international service-learning and why should your students consider it?
One common visual way to describe service-learning is as a three-legged stool.
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The overall effect is that students learn from both their personal experiences serving with and alongside locals in the community as well as, simultaneously, from readings, discussions, and activities with their instructors.
The educational components provide broader historical, social, and cultural context for their service and their service offers an opportunity to challenge, explore, and practice what they’ve learned in their classes. Then, through reflection, they consider more deeply their individual roles as a global citizen, volunteer, student, and future professional in the world.
According to scholar Richard Kiely, existing studies have thus far found that international service-learning participation can potentially result in increased “intercultural competence, language skills, appreciation of cultural difference, tolerance for ambiguity, and experiential understanding of complex global problems related to their academic program of study.”
Additional potential benefits might include a personally transformational experience, a greater commitment to social justice, and individuals becoming “more informed, caring, and affirmed students.”
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In short, international service-learning offers young people who are seeking global experiences three unique ways in which to learn, grow, and contribute:
The end result is a rich, unique, international experience that encourages young people to learn as much as they contribute, challenge themselves in new ways, and consider their future roles in the world.
 Kiely, R. (2004). A Chameleon with a Complex: Searching for Transformation in International Service-Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. 10(2): p5-20.
GVI is a multi-award winning Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international service learning programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.