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What impact does service-learning have on students? How are they transformed by the experience? There is a growing body of research in academic service-learning that is trying to answer these questions. And, so far, the answer is YES!
According to Dr. Richard Kiely of Cornell University, there has been extensive research and documentation on domestic academic service-learning and its positive effects on student's learning, personal and professional development. However, when it comes to international service-learning, systematic research on the impact of the ISL experience on students is needed(Kiely, 2004).
What we do know is that involvement in an international service-learning program "...increases students' intercultural competence, language skills, appreciation of cultural difference, tolerance for ambiguity, and experiential understanding of complex global problems related to their academic program of study" (Kiely, 2004).
Recent research on international service-learning has focused on "transformational learning" and have incorporated a model from transformational learning theory called "perspective transformation", which Mezirow (1991) defines as the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our presuppositions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand and feel about our world; of reforumulating these assumptions to permit a more inclusive, discriminating, permeable and integrative perspective; and of making decisions or otherwise acting on these new understandings. (p.14)
Kiely, R. (2004) A Chameleon with a Complex: Searching for Transformation in International Service-Learning Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, pp.5-20.
Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass