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International Service-Learning: Ethics in Cross-Cultural Partnerships

Kim Jones, Martin Kamela, Aaron Peeks

Abstract


All study abroad courses require the development of productive cross-cultural relationships. Working with local service providers from diverse cultural backgrounds, such as tour guides, hotel managers, and bus drivers, can be demanding work. However, these commercial relationships are reasonably well defined in terms of consumers and vendors of services. On the other hand, the collaboration and shared goals necessary for engaging in direct service abroad require the development of meaningful partnerships that extend beyond commercial interactions. Ethical partnerships are complicated by unequal power dynamics, different cultural expectations of reciprocity, and culturally specific understandings of relationship duration. The goal of this study is to identify divergent expectations amongst students providing the service, local service coordinators, and recipients of the service. An open-ended interview guide was developed for students and collaborators in three short-term international service-learning courses. Students wrote responses regarding their perceptions of the need for the project and the impact on all participants. Similar questions were asked of local service coordinators and members of the community in face-to-face interviews. This provided insight into the variety of perceptions of needs and outcomes. We argue that the process of aligning of mutual and individual goals and perceptions is integral to ascertaining informed consent for the participation of students, partner organizations, and community members in ISL programs. Furthermore, in striving for informed consent, the development of ethical, sensitive, and reciprocal ISL partnerships can be promoted. While it was not possible to obtain data from all groups in all three courses, this exploratory, qualitative investigation offered meaningful opportunities to maintain and further develop equitable relationships and to clarify expectations for future collaborations and coursework. We found that students' perceptions of local needs are shaped by the mission of selected partner organizations and academic preparation. Pre-departure contact with partner organizations that are sensitive to the needs of local communities may provide for better informed student participation and the forming of complex, yet focused, understandings of how service projects address community needs. Partner organizations and their representatives indicated that their long-term goals and expectations included developing local recognition, opportunities for career advancement by building a resume with international notations, and social interactions with international guests. Interviews with the recipients of service have been limited because of language barriers.

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Partnerships is sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact, and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ISSN: 1944-1061
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