Decolonizing International Service Learning

Pre- and Post-COVID Perspectives


Despite the existence of a robust literature reviewed throughout this text which critiques salvationist models of international Service Learning (ISL), including literature that advocates deeply reciprocal relationships between global northern sending organizations and global southern host organizations, neocolonial models of ISL remain the dominant practice. The authors pose an ISL model that puts north/south reciprocity at the entre of ISL planning and implementation – based on their research and engagement in multiple ISL experiences and, importantly, from the input of representatives of global southern host organizations at a south-south gathering (encuentro).

This constitutes a rupture with the current model that views the host village as an extension of a group leader’s classroom; rather, it makes the host community a space for difficult learning based on what hosts want their visitors to take home.

The interruptions of ISL travel represented by COVID constituted an opportunity to consider alternative models; despite the awareness of environmental impacts of travel, it is likely that ISL trips will resume. It is, therefore, increasingly important that the ISL experience becomes a means of generating solidarity rather than the reinforcement of neocolonial “helping imperatives” associated with the traditional model.

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Michael O’Sullivan, Ed.D. (2001), Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at the Faculty of Education at Brock University, Canada. His research interests include critical pedagogy, the experience of international students in Canadian universities, and global citizenship and experiential education.

Harry Smaller, Ph.D. (1988), Associate Professor Emeritus, York University Faculty of Education. Research interests include International and Comparative Education, Teachers’ Unions (Historical and Contemporary), Tracking/Streaming of Students.
Executive Series Editor:
Pierre Wilbert Orelus, New Mexico State University, USA (

Editorial Board:
Antonia Darder, LMU, School of Education, LA, USA
George Sefa Dei, University of Toronto, Canada
Curry Malott, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA, USA
Peter Mayo, University of Malta, Malta
Peter McLaren, UCLA, CA, USA
Binaya Subedi, Ohio State University, OH, USA
Introduction: Why This Book?

1 History of ISL Programs, Traditional Research, and Colonialist Perspectives
 1 Introduction
 2 Defining the Service Learning Project—Tensions and Critiques
 3 “Social Justice”—What Does the Term Mean and What Are Its ISL Implications?
 4 Continuing Critiques of Traditional ISL Approaches—Two Notable Examples
 5 Experiential Learning—Definitions, Applications, and Critiques
 6 Service Learning—Is There a Continuum from Traditional to Critical?
 7 Critical/Transformative Service Learning
 8 Decolonization
 9 Imagining the World Differently
 10 Discussion

2 Our Involvement in ISL, Overview of Our and Related Recent Research, and Our Research Methodology
 1 Background to the Study—Our Experiences with ISL Programs
 2 Exploring the Relevant Research Literature
 3 Planning the Empirical Phase of Our Study
 4 Selection of Community Sites for Researching
 5 Engagement in the Communities
 6 Analyzing the Interview Results

3 Village Experiences with and Perspectives of ISL: Research Findings
 1 Findings
 2 Discussion

4 ISL Program Leaders’ Experiences and Perspectives: Research Findings
 1 The Program Leaders
 2 Significant Issues Raised by the Program Leaders
 3 Summary

5 The Village That Said “No”: Research Findings
 1 We Hear about St. Ignatius
 2 Background to St. Ignatius
 3 Decision to Host ISL Groups in the Village
 4 The Visitors
 5 The SICDA ISL Program Runs into Difficulties
 6 Discussion
 7 Conclusions

6 A Nicaraguan/Guatemalan Encuentro: Villagers Hosting International Service-Learning Groups Reflect on Their Experiences
 1 Preparing for the Encuentro
 2 The Encuentro Participants
 3 Activities during and Following the Three-Day Event
 4 Discussion of ISL Issues of Interest/Concern to Encuentro Participants
 5 Discussion
 6 Conclusions

7 Effects of COVID-19 on Existing ISL Programs
 1 Overview of the COVID-19 Pandemic—General Global Effects
 2 Reports from Coordinators and Participants
 3 Disruption of ISL Programs by COVID-19
 4 One Silver Lining of the Pandemic—An Opportunity for Raising Questions
 5 Development and Implementation of Alternatives to Traditional ISL Approaches
 6 Service Learning—Pros and Cons
 7 “Virtual” Approaches—Pros and Cons
 8 Summary

8 Decolonizing ISL Programs: Post-Pandemic Perceptions and Possibilities
 1 Neo-Colonialism/Decoloniality and International Service Learning
 2 Challenging the Colonial Characteristics of Traditional ISL
 3 ISL Visits: A Distraction or a Potential Decolonizing Learning Experience for Both Partners to the Encounter?
 3 How Might ISL Programs Be Changed to Reflect True North–South Equity and Solidarity?
 3 Applying Elements of Andreotti’s heads up to ISL Trip Preparation
 3 Decolonizing ISL
 3 Conclusion

9 Conclusions

Researchers, senior undergraduate and graduate students interested in decolonial modes of experiential education; and ISL practitioners.
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