International service-learning, cross-cultural competence, international social work, appreciation for diversity


The International Federation of Social Workers (2017) calls for social work professionals to be empowering agents who understand the context and diversity of their client populations. At the same time, research on evidence-based practice suggests that cultural immersion is one of the best ways for students to develop much-needed cultural competence and appreciation for diversity (Anderson, Lawton, Rexeisen, & Hubbard, 2006; Pence & Macgillivray, 2008). This article proposes that students would benefit more from having the opportunity to get hands-on experience in needs assessments, appreciative inquiry, program designs, implementations, and evaluations of grassroots sustainable development programs than simply being involved in charitable endeavors. Furthermore, it proposes that international exposure through well-crafted international service-learning trips can assist in the development of cross-cultural competence needed to empower individuals and communities to produce social change. International service-learning trips have great potential to help prepare students for successful careers with culturally diverse populations nationally and internationally. The educational model presented in this article stems from best practices developed during several international service-learning trips and international study tours. Such trips and tours were based on a human rights sustainable development approach and not on a charity model. The article discusses the phases and activities recommended for the development of a successful international service- learning trip and provides recommendations for the pre-, during, and post-trip experiences.

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