Transformative Service in Uganda and Guatemala

[by Jordan Hill]

Have you ever wanted to travel abroad and gain valuable, life-long experiences while doing so? Drs. John Wood and Jarrett Jobe, both from the University of Central Oklahoma, have worked hard to create short term study abroad opportunities for students through which they can gain significant growth and transformative experiences. So far, their trips involve travel to Uganda, where they work with St. Monica’s Tailoring School/Sewing Hope Foundation, and to Guatemala, where students partner with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program.

Their article, recently published in the Journal of Transformative Learning, gives details about these study tours: How they chose to differentiate these trips from other study abroad experiences, what Transformative Learning is, how they used UCO’s STLR rubrics to measure student growth, and what future research can be done on this topic.

Why opt for short term trips, those between one week and one month, rather than longer-term ones? Drs. Wood and Jobe explain that many students miss out on life-changing travel abroad opportunities because of the complications that come with long-term trips: Financial issues, separation anxiety from friends and family, or the trip extending their time to degree completion. The trips that Wood and Jobe provided cut the trip cost down a ton and required a much smaller time commitment, all so that more students could have the chance to attend. But was the cross-cultural impact still powerful?

In their study, they did not find that any participating student experienced any profound change in self-reported identity. However, three quarters of those students experienced a “disorienting dilemma” which opened them up to further intercultural competence, new leadership skills, and confidence in service learning and civic engagement. Students’ experiences were measured on STLR’s extensive rubric to decide whether they experienced exposure, integration, or a complete transformation. These measurements were based off of the students’ critical reflection assignments, given through journaling and survey completion. Each student who attended one of the three trips was given some level of STLR credit through both direct observation and by examining the evidence provided in their written reflections.

There is minimal research on the impact of short term study abroad trips, so this study is only the beginning. Wood and Jobe believe that with more trips to study over time, rather than just the three trips to two destinations, they can eventually build a broader understanding of the consistency of student experiences. This will then form a clearer connection between short term study abroad and transformative learning.

 

Reference:

Wood, J., & Jobe, J. 2020. Short-term travel abroad to Uganda & Guatemala: A preliminary assessment of student transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Learning, 7(1):81-93.

Photo of students and staff in Uganda

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