Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: Exploring Experiential Education Examples

Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: Exploring Experiential Education Examples

Gregory Roberts
ACPA – College Student Educators International
Tom Jackson, Jr.
University of Louisville
Joy L. Hart
University of Louisville
Kandi L. Walker
University of Louisville
Roger B. Ludeman
International Association of Student Affairs and Services

As the world has become more interconnected through globalization, the need for citizens with expansive views of society has increased.  Today’s problem solvers need to understand local, regional, national, and international issues—as well as the complex interrelations between such issues—to be effective.  Furthermore, tomorrow’s problem solvers will increasingly need such understandings, as well as the skills to work with diverse groups of individuals.  With such changes come increasingly expanded opportunities (and perhaps responsibilities) for universities to educate global citizens: graduates with broad perspectives and necessary skills to build and sustain a world that is just and fair.

As we argued in the initial article in this series, globalization has increased connections across the world; thus, citizens need to have expansive views in order to fully confront the complex issues and problems facing society.  Today’s students must possess multilevel understandings (i.e., local, regional, national, international) and skills to collaborate with diverse others if they are to be tomorrow’s problem solvers.  Such changes call for universities to rethink educational programs in ways that will educate students to become global citizens, who possess encompassing perspectives and necessary skills to grapple with complex issues.  In the previous article in this series, we discussed related literature and made the case for changing tertiary education toward these goals.  With this foundation, we now turn our attention to providing experiential education examples and examining how such experience may develop students’ worldviews.  In particular, we explore service learning and study abroad, though a host of other experiential education opportunities may have similar outcomes for students.  In the next and final article of the series, we conclude by assessing outcomes and describing best practices.


As many educators, strategists, business people, and politicians have suggested, changes are needed in university education to better prepare students for today’s global, interconnected world.  In particular, a focus on and experience with civic engagement is needed.  Toward advancing such educational objectives, several scholars and practitioners have described needed changes in university practice and structure (ACPA et al., 2006; Harper & Quaye, 2008; Keeling, 2004; Strange & Banning, 2001).  Integration of curricular programs and co-curricular opportunities forges more memorable results and deeper learning for students.  Through such experiences, awareness is broadened and skills are honed.  Experiential education, such as international service learning and study abroad (Lewin, 2009), frequently involve collaboration across university units and spur partnership development (Bringle & Hatcher, 2011).  Thus, we turn our attention to these two forms of experiential education, describing two examples and addressing the potential for student growth and inter-university collaborations.

Experiential Education Examples

International service learning and study abroad are two types of experiential education that have a history of providing meaningful and global experiences for students.  Recently, higher education institutions have seen a rise in the number of service learning and study abroad opportunities for students (Campus Compact, 2007).  Assessments of international service learning and study abroad programs show that participation in these types of programs increases students’ awareness of the world around them, fosters students’ ability to think critically about social and cultural issues, and develops student leaders who will embrace a global community (Bringle & Hatcher, 2011; Engberg & Fox, 2011). These positive assessments show that international service learning and study abroad provide students with learning opportunities that are relevant, meaningful, and increasingly needed in global citizenship.

Although international service learning and study abroad have the potential to provide students with many positive educational outcomes, it needs to be noted that international service learning and study abroad, while similar, are two different approaches to experiential education. As Parker and Dautoff (2007) noted, international service learning “emphasizes reciprocal learning and growth for students, faculty and community members” (p. 41) and study abroad focuses on the “personal growth” of the student (p. 41).  Bringle and Hatcher (2011) further explained international service learning as:

A structured academic experience in another country in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that addresses identified community needs; (b) learn from direct interaction and cross-cultural dialogue with others; and (c) reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a deeper understanding of global and intercultural issues, a broader appreciation of the host country and the discipline, and an enhanced sense of their own responsibilities as citizens, locally and globally. (p. 19)

This definition distinguishes service learning from study abroad by highlighting the student focus on community needs and how students can engage and help community members with such needs. Service learning also allows students time to reflect about the service experience from multiple lenses, including academic, social, and cultural.

Study abroad and service learning may approach educating students somewhat differently, but they both often make a positive impact on a student’s education and leave a lasting impression on students.  In the next section, we provide international service learning and study abroad program examples from the University of Louisville (UofL).

International Service Learning

The International Service Learning Program (ISLP) at UofL began in the mid-1990s.  From the beginning, ISLP stressed the need for service learning in order to have multiple disciplines involved both in the formal classroom at the university and in the more experiential component of the class in the international setting.  After a few years of fieldwork in Belize, Central America, the faculty and student service administrators believed that this multidisciplinary approach needed to become an interdisciplinary one.  They believed that an interdisciplinary approach, which allows students to have a “problem-centered mode of learning” (Gagdon, 1998, p. 191), better suited the goals of a quality learning experience and an enhanced international service-learning program for students.  It was clear that faculty and student service administrators wanted ISLP to align itself with an approach that would boost “critical thinking, enhance creativity, integrative thought processes, sensitivity to ethical issues, tolerance of ambiguity and humility” (Gagdon, 1998, p. 189).  As such, ISLP created “an interlinked interdisciplinary structure, ensuring that students from diverse disciplines would collaborate with each other in developing and leading service projects as well as with community members” (Jackson et al., 2012, p. 5).

In the initial years of ISLP, the primary international location was Belize, Central America.  As the faculty, administrators, and students of ISLP became more comfortable with the problem-focused interdisciplinary model, the capacity for the program to grow in more sites was evident.  At this time, ISLP takes place in five countries, using the interdisciplinary problem-focused approach in every site.  ISLP currently offers a service- learning program in Botswana, Croatia, The Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize.  There are one fall program (The Philippines), two spring break programs (Belize and Trinidad and Tobago), and two end-of-spring term programs (Croatia and Botswana).

Now in its 15th year, ISLP has accumulated a list of service learning activities and educational programs implemented in the five countries.  Most recently, UofL students have provided educational programs in primary or secondary schools and/or to community groups, ranging from full communities to women’s groups; led teacher training workshops; and/or setup and staffed free dental or medical clinics.  Examples of school programs include anti-bullying and healthy relationships (Justice Administration), personal resiliency (Psychology), Olympic ideals (Sport for Development), water filtration (Science Education), the cardiovascular system (Nursing), and dental clinics (Dentistry).

In each educational program, students develop their materials in their discipline-specific classes.  Then the students merge to an interdisciplinary team where they all learn the programs.  The cross-disciplinary training occurs in the required pre-departure orientations.  In addition to cross-training on the educational programs, ensuring every student is responsible for knowing all the programs, the pre-departure orientations allow students to meet each other and create group cohesiveness, with team-building units as part of each orientation; to learn more about the country, culture, and customs of their host site; to get logistical information about the trip, such as necessary paperwork, dress code, travel specifics, and significance of each service day; and to review reflection practices for different aspects of the service learning trip.

UofL’s ISLP implements essentially the same program structure at each of the locations; that is, the general travel and service itineraries are highly similar across all sites.  After many years of experimenting with multiple approaches, the current schedule includes student downtime after traveling, letting them adjust to their new surroundings, followed by several days of service learning work, and then concludes the trip with cultural activities.  This model allows students to better absorb each phase of their service learning activity and reflect on the phase in greater depth.

After students return to the university, the team reunites to reflect and celebrate their work and accomplishments.  Some students have created Facebook pages to increase contact with their new friends in the host country and also to maintain contact with their new ISLP university friends.  Student comments during the reunion, post-service survey assessments, and on Facebook concentrate on how the international service learning opportunity changed their outlook on life and often on how they want to continue in their work helping others.

Study Abroad

One successful study abroad program at UofL is the joint effort of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Department of Communication.  During the month of May, UofL students and faculty travel to Panama City, Panama, where courses in Spanish, Communication, and Panamanian Culture are taught and cultural excursions are offered.  Existing for more than a decade, this program is extremely popular with students, because they have unique opportunities to take classes from UofL faculty and local Panamanian instructors, as well as to experience much that Panama has to offer (e.g., fieldtrips, cultural performances).

As part of this study abroad program’s structure, faculty and students meet before they depart for Panama.  During the first week of May, the study abroad students participate in a multi-day orientation.  At these orientation meetings, students meet the professors and each other, learn about trip expectations and policies, begin discussing some material for the courses they will take onsite, and learn about Panama.  The orientation meetings are required half-day events.

Each student participating in the Panama study abroad trip registers for six hours of course credit and is in class Monday through Friday during the month-long visit.  While in Panama, each student is required to take a Panamanian Culture course, which teaches students about the history, culture, and political, educational, social, and religious institutions of Panama.  The students then choose a three credit hour elective course.  Students can take either an upper division Communication course or an upper division Spanish course.

In addition to the six credit hours, students are offered a number of co-curricular activities and excursions to immerse themselves in the country.  The students have time to visit the Panama Canal and Panama Canal Museum, participate in a guided tour of the Presidential Palace, join in dance lessons, visit the Gamboa Rainforest, and tour the Emberá Indigenous Village.  At the Emberá Village, students have opportunities to talk with members of this indigenous group about their history, customs, and culture.  In addition to these activities, UofL students meet Panamanian college students and are guests at a dinner hosted by the President of Quality Leadership University (UofL’s affiliate campus in Panama City).

When the Panama program first began, it was housed solely in the Spanish Section of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages.  Originally, students who traveled for the month-long program were interested in enhancing their Spanish speaking abilities.  Later, in collaboration with the Department of Communication, the program broadened class offerings so non-Spanish speakers or students with more limited Spanish-speaking abilities also would have an opportunity to study in Panama.  This partnership has proved successful, and a third discipline, Political Science, will join the collaboration next May.


These two examples of experiential education have prompted many discussions about the benefits of engaging students in the global community.  From a student affairs perspective, it is our job to move higher education institutions from conversation to action and support and encourage more international programs across campuses.  When students participate in such opportunities, their outlooks broaden and their skills deepen, moving them toward greater abilities to engage with others in tackling issues and solving problems—and creating the global citizenry needed in today’s world.  In the next and final article of this series on global citizenship and tertiary education, we discuss the commitment needed for such programs and share best practices for designing and implementing international programs.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does integrating the curricular and co-curricular enhance student learning?
  2. What programs or opportunities similar to the ones described in this article exist at your institution?  What are their learning outcomes?
  3. How does your campus distinguish between service-learning and study abroad? What are considerations in developing such programs? How should such programs be evaluated? What approaches or methods do you recommend for assessing student learning?
  4. Have social media enhanced service-learning activities? If so, how? What other recent developments have influenced study abroad and service learning?


ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACADA, NASPA, & NIRSA. (2006).  Learning reconsidered 2: A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (2011). International service learning. In R. G. Bringle, J. A. Hatcher, & S. G. Jones (Eds.), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research (pp. 3-28). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Campus Compact. (2007). 2006 service statistics: Highlights and trends of Campus Compact’s annual membership survey. Providence, RI: Author.

Engberg, M. E., & Fox, K. (2011). Service participation and the development of a global perspective. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48, 85-105.

Gagdon, P. D. (1998). Acting integrative: Interdisciplinarity and theatre pedagogy. Theatre Topics, 8, 189-204.

Harper, S. R., & Quaye, S. J. (Eds.). (2008). Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Jackson, T. R., Jr., Hart, J. L., Walker, K. L., Foster, J. P., Clark, T. J., & Mercer, L. H. (2012).  Serving the world through international service learning: A partnership between academics and student services. Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Student Services Association Conference.

Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Lewin, R. (Ed.). (2009). The handbook of practice and research in study abroad: Higher education and the quest for global citizenship. New York, NY: Routledge.

Parker, B., & Dautoff, D. A. (2007). Service-learning and study abroad: Synergistic learning opportunities. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13, 40-53.

Strange, C. C., & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Gregory Roberts is Executive Director of ACPA – College Student Educators International. Tom Jackson, Jr., is Vice President for Student Affairs and Joy L. Hart and Kandi L. Walker are Professors of Communication at the University of Louisville.  Roger B. Ludeman is Executive Director of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS).  A previous version of this work was presented at the 14th General Conference of the International Association of Universities in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Please e-mail inquiries to Gregory Roberts.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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