Best Practices

Good international service-learning follows many of the same Principles of Good Practice as domestic service-learning.

In addition, faculty should be conscious of additional ethical considerations related to service in an international context. Many schools and organizations are having thoughtful conversations about the importance of reciprocity and responsible program development, rethinking old program structures and critically re-examining the idea of "voluntourism". A new strategy called Fair Trade Learning, which provide a framework for best practices, has recently been developed.

WCU has developed the following principles to guide faculty in developing programs that adhere to the framework of Fair Trade Learning. Please note that these guidelines describe an ideal partnership that can develop gradually over the course of several years. New programs will likely not be able to meet every criteria immediately. The evolution of a good partnership is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of international service-learning.

  • The program is designed around an equally-weighted, mutually beneficial partnership with one or more community partners.
  • Decisions about program goals, design, and implementation are made in continuous consultation with community members.
  • Equal consideration and attention is given to the learning goals of students and volunteers and the needs of the host community.
  • Communication between the university and partner organization is frequent.
  • Mutual responsibilities are stated and agreed to in writing, preferably through a Memorandum of Understanding or Agreement, which is reviewed and signed by all stakeholders, and revised as needed.
  • If the program involves work with vulnerable populations, appropriate training and safeguards are in place to ensure their rights and well-being.
  • Community leaders have teaching and leadership roles where possible, and students from the local community have the opportunity to participate equally, where possible.
  • Curriculum or extracurricular educational activities foster students' growth in intercultural skills, empathy, and global civic understanding.
  • Educational activities and reflection take place before, during, and after the in-country portion of the program, and include facilitated discussion of responsible engagement, cross-cultural cooperation, and growth in global community.
  • Recruitment materials portray the host community responsibly, shaping students’ expectations for ethical engagement.
  • Funding relationships are transparent and partner organizations are fairly compensated.
  • Program design allows for sustainability and long-term relationships.
  • The program's outcomes and impact are regularly evaluated, and program design recalibrated as necessary.