Challenges of Practicing and Honing Leadership Skills through Cross-Cultural Service Learning

Challenges of Practicing and Honing Leadership Skills through Cross-Cultural Service Learning

Jeff Zimmerman (Northern Kentucky University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1913-3.ch088
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This chapter provides insight into the unexpected cross-cultural challenges faced by service learning project coordinators in an overseas setting. The chapter focuses on a service learning project geared towards undergraduate U.S. leadership students on a 5-week summer study abroad trip to Austria. The instructor sought to utilize the abroad experience to highlight the value of service learning as a medium to benefit the local Austrian community, while furthering the U.S. students' understanding of cross-cultural leadership. Like other individuals in a new host culture (i.e. expatriates), the service learning project coordinator (US instructor) faced a variety of unexpected cross-cultural challenges upon arrival in the host culture (Austria). This chapter highlights some universal cross-cultural challenges (lack of cultural and organizational familiarity, culture shock), why they can be expected, and why they are often difficult to resolve. Potential solutions addressing these challenges in the context of cross-cultural service learning projects are also explored.
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Combining Cross-Cultural Service Learning Project With Undergraduate Leadership Course

A chance encounter on an Austrian train in 2014 between a U.S. leadership professor and the Director of the Kinderdorf Kronhalde of the Vorarlberger Kinderdorf (a state-funded children’s home in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian province of Vorarlberg) was the starting point. This coincidental meeting on a night train from Bregenz to Vienna led to an invitation for the U.S. professor (and leadership students on a 5-week study abroad program) to visit the Kinderdorf Kronhalde in June of 2014. This experience planted the seed that would eventually grow into the idea of a cross-cultural service learning project to be carried out by the next group of undergraduate U.S. leadership students in 2015. And, as a cross-cultural service learning project, it was designed to benefit residents of the Kinderdorf Kronhalde and the U.S. leadership students.

The cornerstones of the Kinderdorf Kronhalde were laid by a local Austrian priest as the ashes of World War II were settling. As a medic for the German Army on the Western Front, Father Hugo Kleinbrod, an ordained priest from Vorarlberg, promised himself that after the war, he would set up a children’s home to serve all of the children whose dying fathers he helped to care for. The home was desperately needed as, by the end of the war, there were tens of thousands of war orphans all around Austria, and no place to house and care for them. Thus, Father Hugo Kleinbrod established in 1951 the Verein Kinderdorf Vorarlberg (Children’s Home of Vorarlberg Association), which would become the precursor to the Vorarlberger Kinderdorf (Children’s Home of Vorarlberg), the umbrella organization under which the Kinderdorf Kronhalde in Bregenz – and the subject of this project – currently falls.

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