The Ethics of International Engagement and Service Learning (EIESL) project aims to establish a platform and a community of practice for sustainable, supportive and ethical approaches to international engagement and service-learning at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The EIESL project fosters collaborations across faculty, staff, students and international partners to “ethicize” UBC’s international presence. To ethicize means to bring reflective attention to the ways that we think, act, speak, and engage with our international community. The popularity of International Service-Learning (ISL) projects is rapidly growing. Through ISL, students have the opportunity to work and learn in an international setting (often in “developing” countries) for periods of a few weeks, months, or perhaps a year. Those participating in these programs have a genuine desire to help, learn and improve quality of life in their host communities. There is, however, a growing concern around the conflicting motivations for engaging internationally. Motivations range from a positive desire to promote equity and to work with and for communities, as well as, and sometimes primarily to fulfill a graduation requirement, enhance a résumé, and/or secure research funds.
Through a dialogue series for student, staff, and faculty, as well as interviews with international service partners, EIESL listened to the comments, questions, concerns, and stories on campus that helped us to understand the culture of international engagement at UBC and abroad. We identified six major ethical themes that people encounter in relation to international engagement: cross-cultural relationships, training and education, sustainability, balance and reciprocity, motivations, and witnessing and observing. With student, staff, faculty and international partner participation we designed a web-based guidebook in order to address some of the knowledge, service, and resource gaps at UBC associated with these themes.
Currently we are developing a “toolkit” that offers practical and interdisciplinary learning activities that guide users to explore the ethical themes discovered in the first year of our project. The toolkit will be comprised of engaging, interactive and creative learning activities drawing from case studies, arts-based learning, discussion, and critical reflection. Faculty may integrate learning activities into their courses, staff may use this resource in student support services or In trainings among colleugues, and students will find it useful in their clubs, research, or service activities. We invite students, staff and faculty to co-construct this vital resource with us.
This year we are piloting potential activities for the toolkit through our iTalks series. iTalks are interactive workshops inviting the UBC community into critical inquiry of the ethics of international engagement. With logistic support and mentoring from the EIESL team, UBC students design and facilitate iTalks addressing critical issues that are important to them. EIESL also offers a six hour training, “Global Praxis: Reflective Leadership in International Engagement”, in which participants critically reflect on their own internationally focused projects, learn strategies for developing interactive workshops that engage others about international issues, and gain practical skills in workshop facilitation. We hope that through iTalks and the Global Praxis workshops students will be inspired to contribute learning activities, artworks, thoughtful reflections, or scholarly essays for publication in our emerging toolkit.