Original Research

International service learning: Insights from the voices of host organisations

Natalie Mansvelt
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 18, No 1 | a1208 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v18i1.1208 | © 2022 Natalie Mansvelt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 February 2022 | Published: 30 November 2022

About the author(s)

Natalie Mansvelt, Department of Social Development Professions, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha, South Africa


Service learning is promoted by higher education institutions as a pedagogy that contributes to social justice ideals by providing opportunities for students and community members to engage and cooperate with one another in ways that are mutually beneficial. In international service learning programmes, the interaction typically takes place between students from developed countries who visit and provide assistance to communities in developing countries and in so doing contribute to social justice ideals. Whilst students’ reflections have been documented expansively, the views and experiences of community members have received less attention, casting a shadow over the claim to social justice. This article explores the perceptions and experiences of staff from organisations who have hosted international students over a number of years. Adopting a qualitative approach and an exploratory design, independent field workers interviewed staff from host organisations. The participants shared uncertainty about students’ motives, observations of students’ emotional responses, interpretations related to race and views about the perceived benefits and challenges of service learning. The findings indicate the value of community voices and reflection opportunities and ways in which the feedback could enhance programme processes, practices and outcomes. Recommendations in relation to the practice of international service learning and further research are included.

Transdisciplinary Contribution: This article contributes to the body of emerging literature that captures the perspective of host organisations.


international service learning; host organisations; reflection; higher education; South Africa.


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