How to Prepare for your First International Service Learning Course

    Posted: May 18, 2016

    Laying the ground work for an international service learning program is an essential element in ensuring success. Below we outline helpful suggestions for students about to embark on a group service learning course.

    1. Complete Pre-departure Assignments:

    A comprehensive service learning program begins before you leave home, with structured assignments fitting into a two week time frame. These assignments are designed to create a context for the international experience and lay the groundwork for a better understanding of the pedagogy behind service learning. Completing these assignments means that you will be better prepared to soak up your entire experience abroad.


    2. Begin a Reflection Journal that Details your Initial Reactions:

    Reflection is a key component of your service learning experience and should chronicle the entirety of your experience. This means that detailing your expectations, cultural assumptions, and sense of self within the context of the course are all important. Being able to look back at your journey and growth spanning the whole of the experience will make for a more full understanding of your personal relationship to the service learning course. For more ideas of ways to document your experience read our list of 5 creative suggestions.

    [Tweet “Reflection is a key component of your service learning experience”]

    3. Learn About Where You Are Going:

    Part of your pre-departure assignments will include learning about the international destination that you will be traveling to. However, it is also important to do a bit of independent research in order to create a personal connection to the country and culture that you will be traveling to. Checking out current events taking place, interesting festivals that may be occurring, and foods that you want to sample.

    4. If Possible Meet With Your Group Before You Leave:

    All service learning groups are constructed a bit differently and meeting up ahead of time resides mainly in the control of your group facilitator. However, if there is the opportunity to get to know the people that will be on your service learning course a bit more it will only make your in country experience that much richer.


    5. Come Up With a List of Personal Goals:

    While your service learning experience will have a group focus it will also be about your individual growth. Connecting your experience to future career goals, educational development, and acquiring soft skills are all essential. You will get the most from your service learning experience by spending some time outlining what you would most like to gain both educationally and personally.

    [Tweet “Your service learning course will have a group focus and be about your individual growth.”]

    6. Pack Responsibly:

    Of course you will need to pack for your international experience. Think about the environmental impact that your choices will have, as well as the clothing that will be most culturally acceptable. In general follow basic rules of covering your shoulders and knees and purchase toiletries that are biodegradable and organic.

    In order to lay a successful foundation for your first international service learning experience it’s as easy as following these preparatory steps.

    GVI is a multi-award winning Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international service learning programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.