Service-Learning Abroad: Undergraduates' Development of Pluralistic Outcomes

Service-Learning Abroad: Undergraduates' Development of Pluralistic Outcomes

Krista M. Soria (University of Minnesota, USA), Shane M. Lueck (University of Minnesota, USA), Rebecca E. Hanson (University of Minnesota, USA) and Dale J. Morrow (University of Minnesota, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0169-5.ch011
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The purpose of this chapter is to present the results of a multi-institutional study of undergraduates who participated in service-learning abroad. Data were derived from the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey, which was administered to undergraduates enrolled at 14 large, public research-extensive universities (n = 12,744) in the United States (US) during Spring 2013. The results of hierarchical linear regression analyses suggested that students who participated in service-learning abroad (11.79% of students) were significantly more likely to develop multicultural competence, global and intercultural skills, and leadership skills over their undergraduate peers who did not participate in service-learning abroad.
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College students in the United States (US) are increasingly participating in study abroad opportunities. For example, in the 2010-2011 academic year, 273,996 US students studied abroad, an increase of 1.3% from the previous year (Institute of International Education, 2012). Participation in study abroad has more than tripled over the past two decades (Institute of International Education, 2012); concomitantly, research studying the effects of study abroad on college students’ developmental outcomes has increased. Scholars have demonstrated that college students who study abroad benefit from enhanced self-awareness and leadership skills (Dolby, 2007; Opper, Teichler, & Carlson, 1990), develop a greater sense of independence (Hadis, 2005; Opper et al., 1990) and become more self-confident (Cubillos & Ilvento, 2013; Opper et al., 1990). Additionally, students who study abroad are more likely to develop global, intercultural, and international skills (Soria & Troisi, 2014; Stebleton, Soria, & Cherney, 2013).

Specific types of study abroad opportunities continue to be investigated for their connections to important developmental outcomes. For example, researchers have explored the benefits of college students’ engagement in service-learning study abroad programs, programs in which students travel abroad and engage in a service-learning project, most commonly with a non-governmental organization or with a local community organization (Annette, 2002). Service-learning in international contexts can provide students with opportunities to interact with others from different social, political, cultural, and economic backgrounds. These interactions with citizens, in conjunction with experiential engagement and reflective learning activities, can help students to develop a sense of global citizenship (Annette, 2002). Participation in international service-learning programs can inspire students to critically reflect upon social problems, including social injustices around the globe, and develop an emergent global consciousness (Kiely, 2004).

Amid the benefits unveiled by researchers, however, international service-learning opportunities have only been explored in single-institutional contexts (Kiely, 2004; Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005), in research using qualitative methods (Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005; Parker & Dautoff, 2007; Wessel, 2007) or descriptive quantitative methods (Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005), or within studies using small samples of undergraduates (Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005; Parker & Dautoff, 2007; Roberts, Mason, & Marler, 1999; Wessel, 2007), thus limiting the potential generalizability of results across multiple institutional contexts. In general, scholars have continued to call for further research into the potential benefits of students’ experiences in service-learning abroad to better understand how this particular high-impact educational practice can promote students’ growth and development (Lowery et al., 2006; Nickols, Rothenberg, Moshi, & Tetloff, 2013; Williams & Nickols, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

First-Year Student (synonymous with ‘Freshman’): A first-year undergraduate student. Often defined operationally in terms of number of credits or courses the student has completed (for example, less than 1/4 of the credits needed to finish a four year program). Definitions vary slightly from institution to institution.

Experiential Education: Learning by doing, which encompasses a vast array of approaches to learning inside and outside the classroom that complement more conventional instruction. Methods may include research, field trips or seminars, laboratory work, fieldwork or observation, as well as immersion in workplace settings, such as internships, volunteering, teaching, and paid jobs.

Leadership Skills: Students’ self-reported leadership and interpersonal social skills.

Degree: An academic title awarded by an institution to a student who successfully completes a prescribed program of studies.

Global and Intercultural Skills: Students’ self-reported development in their comfort and ability to work with people from other cultural backgrounds, their level of understanding of the complexities of global issues, and their ability to connect their academic disciplinary knowledge in global contexts.

Multicultural Competence: Students’ self-reported development in self-awareness, understanding of personal social responsibility, and ability to appreciate and understand racial/ethnic and cultural diversity.

Service-Learning Abroad (or Community-Engaged Learning): A specially designed experience combining reflection with structured participation in a community-based project to achieve specified learning outcomes as part of a study abroad program. The learning is given structure through the principles of experiential education to develop an integrated approach to understanding the relationship among theory, practice, ideals, values, and community. (Although it is sometimes written as two separate words, service-learning professionals tend to prefer the hyphenated version in order to emphasize the link between the components of service and formal learning).

College: A type of institution of Higher Education (HE). The distinction between a college and a university is not sharply defined; however in general a college tends to be smaller and offer fewer fields of study than a university, and awards few or no graduate degrees.

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