Service-Learning Abroad: Toolkit for Faculty

Students, while enthusiastic, passionate and well-meaning, have not always thought through the consequences of service or volunteering abroad. While service-learning provides specific structure to the learning that engages critical thinking, there are many opportunities in the world that simply target vulnerable students and communities with high needs.

As volunteering and service-learning abroad becomes more popular, the risk of doing harm, or depleting resources in many communities is a reality. Assisting students in identifying ethical, educational opportunities to deepen their learning, gain new skills and contribute to the well-being of others, requires an examination of best practices in the world of global “service.” There are a number of resources available to faculty, practitioners, and students that help all to engage in best practices.

Global Learning, Cooperative Development, & Community-University Partnership. This website provides evidence-based tools and peer-reviewed research for global learning, cooperative development and community-university partnerships abroad. Particularly rich in resources for faculty.

Watch this 3-minute video which summarizes research insights on international volunteering. Particularly high risk are two areas in particular: pre-professional health care and orphanage tourism.

Research also indicates that international service is most impactful when the partnerships:

1.     Ensure community voice
2.     Engage communities beyond the time-spcific to physical development projects.
3.     Nurture trusting, reciprocal relationships between the host communities and the volunteer organizations.
4.     Empower community members to fully engage in cooperative project development.

Questions for students to ask themselves can be found at

Also, please ask your students to review our Tool Kit for Students.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story
“Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

Questions to think about while you watch: What are some differences between your experience at UMass and the experience of another student you know at UMass? Are the two experiences the same? How different are they? What about the differences within individuals from Massachusetts? Does one get the same experience living in Western Mass as they do in Boston?

Taiye Selasi: Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local

“When someone asks you where you're from … do you sometimes not know how to answer? Writer Taiye Selasi speaks on behalf of "multi-local" people, who feel at home in the town where they grew up, the city they live now and maybe another place or two. "How can I come from a country?" she asks. "How can a human being come from a concept?"”

Questions to think about while you watch: Where are you from? Do you consider yourself multi-local?

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

“When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.”

Questions to think about while you watch: Is the project (yours) being done with, for or on the community? Where is the community’s voice? 

PLEASE be in contact with UMass IPO early in your process so that they can assist you in your planning and the UMass approval process for faculty-led study abroad programs.