Reification of Social Privilege in International Volunteerism


International service learning programs are highly regarded in U.S. undergraduate education as an effective tool for enhancing and promoting intercultural dialogue. However, such a claim is questionable because the effects of social privilege on the volunteers and their actions while abroad are seldom analyzed critically. This study examines undergraduate volunteers’ understanding of their social privilege through the reflection of their volunteering experiences. Social privilege includes the conferring of unearned assets on one party and the use of the resulting advantages to further dominate the less advantaged parties. Ten semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with student volunteers in Cambodia and post trip with volunteers upon their return from sojourns in Cambodia and Thailand. The interviewees’ narratives about their volunteering experiences were analyzed using grounded theory, specifically the constant comparison method. Findings revealed that international service learning alone was not sufficient to challenge institutionalized, self-mediated, and internalized social privilege. Therefore, universities interested in promoting critical cultural consciousness through service learning need to invest in follow-up instruction as part of the programs, guided critical reflection, and community outreach. The suggested actions may increase the possibility of internationally volunteering students benefiting the learning community by reducing social hierarchy.

Author Information
Stephanie Sisson, Independent Scholar, United States
Ee Lin Lee, Western Washington University, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2017
Stream: Education: social justice and social change

This paper is part of the ECE2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon