Helping without Hurting when Volunteering Abroad: Designing a Mutually Beneficial International Service-Learning Program




Perkins, Adelie

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In the past decade, international service-learning programs have become more widely incorporated in the educational experiences of university students. International service-learning programs are frequently short-term excursions that allow students and faculty to engage with a culture that is distinct from their own. Recently, these programs have garnered popularity due to the growing awareness of global inequities, the tailored design for the benefit of participants travelling abroad, and the transformative experiences for university students. The magnified focus on the volunteer experience and profit margins have caused the vast majority of these companies to lose sight of the broader effects these programs have on recipient communities. As a result, these volunteer programs often have a negative impact on the host community through the underlying social ideologies they impose and the unintended harm they can precipitate. If created and implemented inappropriately, service-learning programs can reinforce the superiority-inferiority binary, practices of paternalism, and ideas of neo-colonialism amongst host communities. Based on current research, it has been concluded that these unethical practices could be prevented by providing volunteers with an understanding of the community’s culture prior to departure, training volunteers in preparation for the projects they will participate in, and designing programs that prioritize the established needs of the host community. In order to gain a better understanding of these solutions, existing research findings on service-learning programs were reviewed. In addition, the primary researcher also participated in a volunteer program and conducted research by surveying several community members and program coordinators. Consequently, this thesis will attempt to provide an in-depth understanding of the negative consequences often associated with volunteer programs, as well as present a methodology for designing mutually beneficial service-learning programs that reduce unethical practices.



volunteer abroad, service-learning programs, volunteerism, paternalism, volunteer program guidelines, volunteer program manuals, neo-colonialism, superiority-inferiority complex, unethical practices, Honors College


Perkins, A. (2018). Helping without hurting when volunteering abroad: Designing a mutually beneficial international service-learning program (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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