Experiential learning in an international context: college student experiences in short-term international service-learning programs
The literature discussing the benefits of involvement in study abroad programs has mostly focused on length of program as having the most impact on positive student outcomes. However, a majority of all college students who participate in study abroad activities today do so on a short-term basis. The incorporation of service-learning into short-term study abroad programming has been proposed as a way to enrich the student experience. These short-term international service-learning programs have received very little attention in the literature. The purpose of this study is to describe the experiences and perceptions of college students involved in short-term international service-learning programs. The programs included in this study represent a variety models within this category of study abroad. Qualitative methods were used to conduct this study. Data were collected in the form of individual interviews with student participants and program leaders as well as program-related documents, which were then coded and examined. Themes emerged during data analysis that provided a narrative of the student experience in short-term international service-learning, from their activities, to their thoughts, and finally to how they perceive the experience affected them. This study emphasizes the need to conduct more research on this category of study abroad, considering the growth of short-term programming in recent years. The findings of this study will aid study abroad program providers in designing activities that offer more opportunities for student development through the use of service-learning pedagogy and other avenues to encourage student engagement. Recommendations are also given concerning the overall administration of international service-learning programs.