Service-Learning Abroad

Why choose "Service-Learning" over "Volunteering"?

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.

Service-Learning provides academic credit for coursework related to the work participants are doing abroad. The credit bearing courses allow students to learn the local language, reflect on observations and feelings, and learn more about the local community. A credit-bearing service-learning course would allow you to use UI financial aid and apply for Study Abroad scholarships.

Ask Yourself:

  • Is the project you’ll be working on sustainable? Is there a plan to complete or continue the project after you depart?
  • Will you receive the proper training and education to complete the project?
  • Does the organization work with the local community to decide which projects it selects to complete?
  • How do they use the money you pay to the program?  

A lot of the answers to these questions can be found by searching for the organization online and reading some of past participants’ reviews. Websites like and rate and review nonprofit organizations based on the way they handle their funds and utilize their staff/volunteers, these can also be helpful in guiding your search.

These organizations evaluate international volunteer opportunities based on their own established best practices, helping students select reputable programs:  

As a participant, you should educate yourself about the drawbacks of this industry. Many articles written by trustworthy sources are available online and illustrate the problems some students encounter during their participation, here are a few examples:


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.


*Register Your Travel: If you are not getting academic credit, we request that all current students volunteering abroad complete this application for insurance and travel registration at least 30 days prior to departure. You can turn in the application Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm at the Study Abroad desk located at 1111 University Capitol Centre. Insurance fees will be charged to your U-Bill at a rate of $1.22/day. More information about the insurance can be found here:



Volunteer Abroad Resource List                                                              

Habitat for Humanity:  Volunteer program that builds safe and affordable housing for low-income families worldwide.  

Peace Corps: Volunteers live, learn, and work with a community overseas for 27 months, providing technical assistance in six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment.  *Contact UI representative Meredith Gall in International Programs for more information.


Service-Learning (Academic Credit)

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. 

Spanish Language & Service Learning Ecuador:  Study Spanish and engage with communities through service work in and around Cuenca, Ecuador.

UI International Perspectives: Xicotepec Program: This not-for-credit service-learning experience provides discipline-specific service projects to improve community life in Xicotepec, Mexico in collaboration with Rotary International. Completion of specific credit-bearing coursework on campus is a prerequisite. 

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. 

IPSL: Combines academic studies and community service with full cultural immersion to give students a deeper, more meaningful study abroad experience. Opportunities in Argentina, Cambodia, Ecuador, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Peru, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, UK and Vietnam. 

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.