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Preparing Underrepresented Students for Ethical Engagement Abroad 
through Critical Self-Reflexivity

Friday, October 18, 2019  
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By: Pamela Roy - Diversity Abroad


What is ethical engagement abroad?

The benefit of international experiential learning and education abroad on students’ holistic development and learning is uncontested; yet, these experiences present numerous ethical challenges to institutions, students, and the host community. Some of these ethical challenges may include unethical marketing and advertisement of education abroad programs, exploitation of the host community as research participants, student privilege and entitlement, student voyeurism abroad, shallow student reflection, and student perpetuation of stereotypes on the host country, communities, and its people (see Karim-Haji, Roy & Gough, 2016). 

Alternatively, there are a range of common factors that help to build ethical engagement abroad, such as solidarity, reciprocity, empathy, sustainability, flexibility, interdependence and so forth (see iconography below). 

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As international educators, how might we better prepare students for critical self-reflexive engagement during their international experiential learning or education abroad experience? 

 

Tips & Strategies for Preparing Underrepresented Students for Ethical Engagement Abroad
(as cited in Karim-Haji, Roy, & Gough, 2016). 

Where self-reflection may be defined as individuals thinking about their personal experiences and assumptions, self-reflexivity is defined as connecting our individual assumptions to collective socially, culturally and historically situated ‘stories’ and assumptions that define what is real, ideal (right), and knowable (Andreotti, Stein, Ahenakew, & Hunt, 2015).  When we are self-reflexive, we challenge our own thinking, what we take for granted, and truly seek to learn through the perspective of another cultural perspective.


Discuss why student voyeurism abroad is problematic. Some students arrive with the idea that they can fix or change the communities they are visiting and may find themselves in a place of crisis as they are confronted with letting go of their expectations (Agudey & Deloughery, 2016). Moreover, students cannot help but arrive with Western values and beliefs, and this Eurocentric gaze in non-Euro cultures enhances the sense of difference and often superiority (Mohanty, 2006). Yet, this “helping imperative” or “desire to help” is paternalistic and recreates a particular image of people living in underprivileged countries as those in need of help or charity (Tiessen & Huish, 2014; Clost, 2014; Heron, 2007). 

  • Encourage students to move from charity work (i.e. “to-do-for”) to solidarity work (i.e. “to-be-with”).
  • Prepare students to be realistic about their experience, understand what is appropriate professionally and respect local leadership.
  • Create a curriculum that exposes students to the criticisms, contradictions and potentially exploitative nature of international experiential learning programs so that they may be better equipped to engage in future projects that are effective and keep social justice in perspective (Dear & Howard, 2016). 

 

Address student stereotypes of the host country in pre-departure orientation. Students’ values cloud the types of work that the community wishes to conduct on the ground which reifies cultural senses of the North’s superiority and perpetuates stereotypes of the global South.

  • Create opportunities for the host community to engage cross-culturally with students to have them learn about life in their communities, to engage in a mutual learning process, however limited by language issues and lack of time (O’Sullivan & Smaller, 2016).  
  • Push students beyond ‘voluntaristic compassion’ (Cameron, 2014), challenging their apathy towards being authentic allies. 
  • Develop curriculum for students to deepen their understanding about the root causes of problems related to systemic poverty and structural inequality so as to disrupt their possible paternalistic beliefs that they are there to solve poor people’s problems. 
  • Encourage students to create change in the systems through their own actions back home (Hernandez, 2016). 

 

Create opportunities for students to unpack their entitlement. Students often pay little attention to understanding how their privilege and the historical relations of power reproduce global inequalities (Larsen, 2016). Students may experience guilt that is triggered when their privileged identity, as students from the Global North is implicated in the subordination of others; yet their emotional experience of guilt is prioritized, disabling their capacity to critically engage in activist forms of practice (Thomas & Chandrasekera, 2014). Privilege also includes the ability to travel to learn [which is] often predicated on an enactment of privilege and an ability to move across borders (MacDonald, 2014). Northern students carry a sense of entitlement to choose what part of the culture to respect (Heron, 2016).

  • Foster students’ critical hyper self-reflexivity to build bridges between struggles founded on solidarity rather than charity (Langdon & Agyeyomah, 2014).
  • Develop students’ understanding of complicity, unlearn privilege, and learn to learn from below which entails humility, time, interactions, language and communication (Kapoor, 2004). 
  • Encourage students to become integrated with the host community environment through orientation and preparation while respecting local knowledge and authority. The changing dynamics on the ground destabilizes previously held assumptions by students and helps them grow.  

 

Encourage deep reflection. Students who are mainly interested in voluntourism and professional development may not reflect deeply on their international experiential learning experience. Ill-prepared Northern students may engage inappropriately in the cultural context of their host communities e.g., through unsuitable ways of addressing elders, transgressing gender norms, public displays of affection, wearing inappropriate clothing and accessories, refusing to eat local food served by the host families, behaviors associated with drinking and smoking irresponsibly (Kozak & Larsen, 2016). The problem with shallow student reflection is that it perpetuates colonial stereotypes, social hierarchies, and western conceptions of North-South relationships (Hartman, 2014).

  • Reduce assumptions about the host community by encouraging students to think critically (pre-program, during, post-program) on their preconceptions of their origins; reinforced through group discussion (Jorgenson, 2016).
  • Consciously avoid appropriating the voice of the subaltern or projecting one’s own world onto the ‘Other’ through deep reflection and hyper self-reflexivity (Kapoor, 2004) for student learning and to do no harm. 
  • Develop ongoing self-reflexive practice, jointly by the host and the university, throughout the duration of the international experiential learning program.

 

References

Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., & Hunt, H. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 4(1), 21-40. 

Agudey, G., & Deloughery, H. (2016). A cross-cultural conversation about international service learning in Ghana. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Cameron, J.D. (2014). Grounding experiential learning in “thick” conceptions of global citizenship. In R. Tiessen & R. Huish. (eds). (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 

Clost, E. (2014). Visual representation and Canadian government-funded volunteer abroad programs: Picturing the Canadian global citizen. In R. Tiessen & R. Huish. (eds). (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 

Dear, S. & Howard, R. (2016). Many meaning. Moving reciprocity towards interdependence. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Hernandez, J. (2016). Reflections from a Nicaraguan career ISL program coordinator. Challenges and guidelines for moving forward. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Heron, B. (2007). Desire for development: Whiteness, gender, and the helping imperative. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfred Laurier University Press. 

Heron, B. (2016). Southern perspectives on ISL volunteers. Reframing the neo-colonial encounter. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jorgenson, S. (2016). Orient(aliz)ation: A Case study of North American international education programs at the University of Ghana. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kapoor, I. (2004). Hyper-self-reflexivity development? Spivak on representing the Third World ‘Other’. Third World Quarterly, 25(4), 627-647. 

Karim-Haji, F., Roy, P., & Gough, R. (2016). Building Ethical Global Engagement with Host Communities: North-South Collaborations for Mutual Learning and Benefit. Resource Guide presented at the 10th Annual Global Internship Conference, Boston, MA, USA.

Kozak, J. & Larsen, M.A. (2016). ISL and host communities – relationships and responsibility. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Langdon, J.K. & Agyeyomah, C. (2014). Critical hyper-reflexivity and challenging power: Pushing past the dichotomy of employability and good global citizenship in development studies experiential learning contexts. In R. Tiessen & R. Huish. (eds). (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Larsen, M. (2016). International service learning engaging host community – Introduction. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge. 

MacDonald, K. (2014). (De)colonizing pedagogies: An exploration of learning with students volunteering abroad. In R. Tiessen & R. Huish. (eds). (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

O’Sullivan, M. & Smaller, H. (2016). Solidarity or neo-colonialism? The challenges of understanding the impact of ISL on Nicaraguan host communities. In Larsen, M. (Ed). International Service Learning Engaging Host Communities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Scott, M., & Richardson, S. (2011). Preparing for practice: how internships and other practice-based learning exchanges benefit students, industry hosts and universities. AICCM Bulletin Volume 32.

Thomas, L. & Chandrasekera, U. (2014). Uncovering what lies beneath: An examination of power, privilege and racialization in international social work. . In R. Tiessen & R. Huish. (eds). (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Tiessen, R. & Huish, R. (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenships? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.