University of Iowa

Service-Learning Abroad

The Ethics of Volunteering Abroad

Although it often makes us feel good to volunteer, applicants must consider whether or not they have the skills and proper education to truly assist those they are hoping to help in an unfamiliar environment. International development work is complex and good intentions can translate into unintended and undesirable consequences. As a university student, you may not yet possess the skills and education most needed for successful development work. Look for opportunities that emphasize skill building for participants rather than overinflating the outcomes activities may have. Seek organizations that place participants in sustainable positions and train their participants to complete specific tasks in cooperation with the community.

As volunteering abroad becomes more popular the possibility of resource mismanagement increases. For example, volunteers visiting a school or orphanage may in fact disrupt educational activities that would be more beneficial to the children involved. An organization receiving foreign volunteers may be willing to disrupt regular programming in the hopes that volunteers will bring significant donations that you are not likely to be offering. It is important that you look carefully at the organizations you are thinking about working with.

PDF iconEthics Abroad Checklist

Study Abroad developed this tool to help assess potential service organizations, the role you will play, and your role within the organization.

A Word about Health-Related Service

Pre-health students and students seeking health-related service opportunities should take steps to safeguard their future professional reputation by following good practice standards that limit duties to those you are qualified to perform. For example, pre-med students are not qualified to practice medicine and should not participate in direct patient care. Students participating in health related experiences are encouraged to complete the Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety (GAPS) course free online through the University of Minnesota to help them evaluate their limits and role in the community they plan to serve.

Iowa Programs Offering Service-Learning Opportunities

Child Life Experiential Learning Program: 3 week program to Cape Town, South Africa that focuses on Child Life. Students work in a variety of healthcare settings and earn credit for related coursework.

CIEE Service Learning programs: Offers many study abroad programs with a service learning component.

IES: Some sites offer internships, field placements and service-learning. Opportunities vary by term and location. 

International Student Exchange Program: Take advantage of the opportunity to enroll in a foreign university and do service with the local community.

USAC: Service-learning is available in Accra, Ghana and Bangalore, India. Projects vary but may include: social service, HIV/AIDS, deviance and correctional services, poverty faced by children, and women's rights.