Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 2, No 2 (2012)

Promoting Global Citizenship Outside the Classroom: Undergraduate-Refugee Service Learning at Lehigh University

Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education
Volume 2 Number 2 2012

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Promoting Global Citizenship Outside the Classroom: Undergraduate-Refugee Service Learning at Lehigh University

Gisella Gisolo, Ph.D.

Director of Global Citizenship, College of Arts & Sciences
Lehigh University

Sarah Stanlick

Ph.D. Candidate, Learning Sciences and Technology, College of Education
Graduate Assistant, Global Citizenship Program
President, Graduate Student Senate
Lehigh University

Keywords: Global Citizenship; Refugees; Reflection; Program Assessment

ABSTRACT: Global citizenship education aims to develop students into engaged citizens of the world. As Richardson (2008) explains, global citizenship is one manifestation of social studies education that gives students a "wider and more sophisticated understanding of self and community". The Global Citizenship Program at Lehigh University requires students to examine the questions of meaning and value associated with the theme of citizenship within today's global world. Through a mandated service-learning requirement, first year Global Citizenship students were exposed to the global-local connection between themselves and refugees resettled in the Greater Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, United States. The purpose of this study was to assess the efficacy of service learning as a facilitator for global citizenship awareness and self-concept for the students. This study is the result of a mixed-methods research design that incorporates both qualitative measures (e.g. document analysis) and quantitative data (e.g. psychometric and survey data) to create profiles of student growth and change. Through this analysis, it was concluded that service learning promoted concepts of social justice and global citizenship by the students, as well as leading to meaningful character development in realms such as empathy and tolerance for ambiguity.


This paper examines the design, implementation and impact of a semester-long service-learning project between first-year students at Lehigh University (a private research university located in Eastern Pennsylvania) and a group of refugees recently resettled in the area through the Allentown chapter of Catholic Charities, a faith-based social services organization working extensively on refugee resettlement all over the United States. The project was developed as part of a course titled "Introduction to Global Citizenship," a foundational writing-intensive course that constitutes a core requirement for students admitted into the Global Citizenship certificate program at Lehigh.

In this article, after surveying some literature in support of the use of service learning in achieving global citizenship development, we lay out the project's goals and structure as well as present the mixed methodology used to assess the project's impact. Through the use of participant observation, quantitative pre- and post- surveys, as well as the analysis of the students' reflective essays, we show how project assessment was conducted and what insights emerged from the data. We conclude by spelling out how the original goals set for the project were met, and by hinting at how project assessment is going to inform future implementations of the project.

Literature Review

While global citizenship is a concept that is still being formed and debated, there are basic values of respect, diversity, social justice, and responsibility that characterize its core (Peters, Britton, & Blee, 2008). Global citizenship, in its operationalized form, is a set of guiding principles that inform the way one relates one's experience and life to the wider global landscape with respect and sustainability (Oxfam, 2006). Richardson (2008) theorizes the "global imaginary" stating that all humans have the same wants and needs, and this basic fact gives rise to the possibility of functional cosmopolitanism. He goes on to theorize that the concept of global citizenship comes from an "expanding horizons" perspective of social studies that emphasizes more sophisticated relationships between the individual and their community. Educators are now expected to integrate the phenomena of globalization and increasing cultural diversity into their curricula to prepare students for future global citizenship (Mbugua, 2010). Thus, preparing students for global citizenship is imperative for this new generation of learners and leaders.

Service learning in an undergraduate context has been shown to be an effective tool for learners to gain curricular knowledge and develop character (Wade & Saxe, 1996). Bringle and Hatcher (1996) stipulate that such learning must happen in a context that, while experiential, is also course-based and credit-bearing. Service learning can foster positive cognitive and emotional growth through experiential learning opportunities in a variety of settings and across developmental levels (Eyler, 2000; Steinke & Buresh, 2002). Learners grapple with issues of identity development, societal inequality, agency, and civic engagement that can then tie in with prior knowledge and personal experiences (Wade & Saxe, 1996).

Service learning and civic education, both nationally and internationally, have had an intertwined history. One can trace this relationship back to Dewey (1916), who called for the exercise of democratic and civic practices in one's own backyard to understand democracy best. This relationship highlights the belief that one can develop the skill of citizenship through works. The National Council for the Social Studies (2001) asserts that service-learning affords "authentic means for using social studies content and skills to investigate social, political, and economic issues and to take direct action in an effort to create a more just and equitable society." Battistoni, Longo, and Jayanandhan (2009) affirm that beyond the national democratic practice, acting globally in one's community through service learning can promote global citizenship in undergraduates. Naidoo (2008) states that service learning allows for transnationalism and internationalization of higher education through both building bridges between institutional partners and connecting students with cross-cultural experiences.

High quality service-learning experiences can be defined by six hallmarks: integrated learning, community service, collaborative development and management, civic engagement, contemplation, and evaluation and disclosure (Smith et. al., 2011). If a high quality service-learning experience is designed and executed, students will be able to understand and apply curricular content, exhibit a commitment to social good, have increased motivation for good works/volunteerism, and be better positioned to develop professionally (Terry & Panter, 2010). Levitt and Schriehans (2010) further explain that integration of service learning into normal curriculum has resulted in practical application of course concepts, enhanced knowledge of those concepts, commitment to civil society, motivation to participate in volunteerism and the motivation then to participate in an internship and other forms of experiential learning.

As stipulated by Wiggins and McTighe (2005), any high quality learning experience is characterized by a reflection component to help facilitate understanding. Service learning is no exception, and reflective practices are key to its success. Reflection as a tool promotes metacognition and emotional exploration as learners relate new knowledge and experiences to their own understandings and prior knowledge (King & Kitchener, 2004; Blumenfeld, 2010; Chick, Karis & Kernahan, 2009). Reflection has been shown throughout the literature as the assessment of choice for both measuring individual growth in service learning, as well as the success of the program (Blumenfield, 2010; Cord & Clements, 2010; Novak, Markey, & Allen, 2007). Through reflective processes from journaling to blogging to portfolio creation, learners can exhibit their understanding of global citizenship and changes in their conception of themselves as global citizens (Mautadin, Santally & Boojhawon, 2011). Such constructivist exercises have been shown to improve students' long-term retention of knowledge and experiences (Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Levesque-Bristol & Stanek, 2009).

Also through reflection, students reveal how they understand the experiences and how they connect them to larger concepts learned in the curriculum. Sheckley and Keeton (1997) offer a framework to understand service learning and the way in which students process those experiences. They theorize that learning happens in three ways for students: accordion, conduit, and cultural. Accordion learning experiences create cognitive dissonance and force the learner to grapple with knowledge that contradicts previously held beliefs. Conduit learning experiences give students information that works with prior schema to make more concrete or understood concepts previously held. Finally, cultural experiences offer new information that neither goes against or with prior knowledge but rather broadens one's worldview. This framework was chosen due to its ability to encompass the broad spectrum of experiences and information processed by the learner and as an adequate operational model of their understanding of that information.

Project Background

The Global Citizenship Program at Lehigh University is an undergraduate program aimed at preparing students for civically engaged learning and living in a culturally diverse and rapidly globalizing world. The program emphasizes critical analysis and value reflection and aims at structuring impactful educational experiences through which students can learn to negotiate cross-national and cross-cultural boundaries and develop a solid sense of personal and social responsibility to the global community. Envisioned as an interdisciplinary certificate program rather than a traditional major or minor, the program attracts students from all three of Lehigh University's undergraduate colleges (Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Business and Economics) and offers an integration of curricular, co-curricular and study abroad experiences so as to address the personal and civic development of students – as it relates to a globalized world – in all of its dimensions. From the point of view of the academic curriculum, the program requires the completion of five core courses as well as three free electives that best suit each student's major or minor (to be chose from over 60 courses cross-listed with more than 25 academic departments across the university). The study abroad component of the program requires students to be involved in two experiences abroad during their four years at the university. The first experience is subsidized by a university scholarship and the second one (of the duration of a minimum of five weeks in a non-English speaking country) is planned and funded by the students themselves. Finally, the co-curricular component is fulfilled through a multiplicity of leadership activities and opportunities for civic activism and social engagement outside of the classroom.

The program strives to achieve the following interrelated goals:

  1. Structure learning opportunities for the students that can involve them not only intellectually (via more traditional, scholarship-based classroom learning), but also emotionally (via engaging forms of experiential learning and empathy-building experiences);
  2. Provide students with knowledge and awareness of global inequalities, while also nourishing their ability to become agents of change and preparing them for transformational leadership in a global world;
  3. Challenge the students to make meaningful connections between the local and the global, to identify theoretically poignant analogies between their domestic environments and the foreign environments they are being exposed to through their two study abroad experiences.

The service-learning experience that is the subject of this article served particularly well in achieving these goals. In our experience, it proved to be an effective tool through which to engage the hearts and minds of the student participants, as well as to address very tangible needs in the target refugee population. As our data analysis and evaluation show, by the end of the service-learning project the students achieved increased compassion for other cultures and circumstances, as well as a new awareness of their own power and self-efficacy in the realm of global citizenship. Furthermore, the students exhibited through their reflections and writing that they were able to grapple with and construct their own identity as burgeoning global citizens and what that conceptual framework means to them. Before turning to the assessment outcomes, in the following section we present the work done by the students in preparation for the project and during its implementation phase.

Project Design

In an attempt to make service learning relevant to the students' global citizenship focus, the Global Citizenship Program has been experimenting for several years with globally-minded civic engagement projects implemented in the local community. While the students admitted in the program are, for the most part, self-selected in that they show the highest degree of eagerness to travel abroad and explore unfamiliar cultures, they are sometimes less ready to observe and analyze the complexities and correlations that globalization brings about in our own local communities. The typical global citizenship student is often fascinated by far-away destinations and distant challenges, but a little less cognitively and emotionally equipped to reflect on how globalization has been changing our own familiar environments. For that reason, the Global Citizenship Program seeks to provide students with opportunities for civically-engaged interactions with local populations that are as akin as possible to the foreign populations targeted by the study abroad experience the students will be led on.

An example from a past project may be helpful to exemplify this global-to-local service-learning approach. In preparation for a trip to Costa Rica, Global Citizenship students were matched with a Spanish-speaking-only population of residents from a nearby low-income facility funded by the local Housing Authority. This population (mostly from Puerto Rico, with a small minority from other Central American countries) offered our students an invaluable understanding of the challenges posed by the language barrier (which made interactions arduous for our students, and made it necessary for them to rely on body language, music and artistic expression to facilitate some communication). Most importantly, it unveiled to the students the puzzle of the hundreds of legal residents interspersed in our local communities who, despite being cut out from several key aspects of the US mainstream culture and way of life, seem to be leading a perfectly functional parallel life and displaying an amazing level of resilience and adaptability. Paired with these Spanish-speaking residents, the students were charged with the task of collecting their personal stories of migration and integration (or lack thereof), and to become their public voices within the campus community. This project sparked in the students an in-depth and real-life reflection on what it means to be a fully legal citizen of a country, and what socioeconomic, linguistic and cultural barriers may exist to the acquisition of such a full-fledged status (with all its attached rights and responsibilities) for people belonging to certain minorities impeded from any impactful access to the participatory nature of our democratic society.

Along the same methodological lines, the refugee service-learning project, which is the focus of this article, was designed to provide a meaningful civic experience for the students soon to head to Malaysia for their university-sponsored trip abroad. Unable to find a clearly identifiable local Malaysian community that would offer an ideal experiential opportunity similar to the one outlined above, an opportunity arose to partner with the local chapter of Catholic Charities, serving a population of a few hundred refugees mostly coming from South-East Asia, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Amongst them, the presence of a sub-group of Burmese refugees, who had spent some time as asylum seekers in a UN refugee camp near Kuala Lumpur while waiting for their final resettlement destination, offered the best service-learning community for our students. By reflecting upon these unexpected connections, and by drawing parallels between 'here' and 'there,' the students had an untapped opportunity to be exposed to the 'human face' of globalization. This prompted a high degree of compassion amongst the students, while at the same time offering them a priceless learning opportunity to draw important global-to-local connections at the cognitive level as well.

As a result of this serendipitous match-up, 23 first-year global citizenship students embarked on a semester-long service-learning project with twelve refugees. In order to design an experience that would be personally meaningful and academically solid at the same time, we had to make sure that the following criteria were met: 1) identify and address specific needs for both the student and the refugee populations; 2) ground the experience in appropriate scholarly work; 3) provide the students with the tools to be able to become active co-planners of the experience, and not just passive executors; and, 4) complement the experience with a variety of reflective assignments that would help the students tie the experience back to some scholarly discussion.

Criteria 1) and 2) were met by a careful preparatory stage that occupied the students for the first four weeks of the semester. Towards the beginning of the semester, the refugees were invited on campus to present their perspectives in the form of a panel. It was clear that the refugees were eager to share their stories and to overcome their shyness and linguistic barriers in order to show their thankfulness for the country and the organization that had assisted them so heavily in their resettlement process.

This is how one of the students reflected upon what she was presented with during this panel presentation:

"I learned that being a refugee is much more mentally challenging than physically challenging. Also, I think refugees tend to value personal connection over physical aid, and I will make a conscious effort to provide a personal connection in my own interaction with the Lehigh Valley refugees. Moreover, yesterday's presentation reiterated the idea that a refugee basically must re-start their life when they move to a new country. When one of the refugees said that she went from having everything to having nothing, I suddenly grasped the magnitude of the changes a refugee encounters."

Another student debriefed that first moving encounter thus:

"One of the refugee stories we heard was very moving and inspirational. This refugee was forced to spend two months in prison just because he questioned authority and asked about his rights. We live in the US and we sometimes take for granted the rights we have, the rights that the government cannot take away. We have read about and idolized leaders such as Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Nelson Mandela, who have taken their stand against injustices. The refugee who was imprisoned, to me, is a leader, similar to the leaders we read about in our history textbooks; he spoke up for what was right, despite the significant dire consequences to himself and his family."

If the introductory refugee panel was a very inspirational venue for the exchange of personal feelings as well as of life stories that would otherwise be hard to share, a preliminary meeting with a refugee caseworker from Catholic Charities assisting the refugees on a daily basis laid the groundwork for an understanding of the complexity of the process that leads to the final refugee resettlement. The high level of professional expertise and personal compassion displayed by the refugee caseworker provided the students with additional opportunities for reflection. As one student put it:

"After listening to the presentation on refugee resettlement and management I gained an overall view of how the process of resettling refugees works in the United States, the obstacles the refugees face when resettling in America and what my fellow classmates and I should expect when we are working with the refugees. One fact I learnt that struck me the most was that about 15 million people on our planet are refugees, all trying to resettle to a safe place away from the terror, prosecution, oppression, danger and fear that tore them away from their homes. This number is too big for me to even wrap my head around. [...] The presentation also gave me a better understanding of how much bureaucracy a refugee has to go through to obtain legal status as a refugee. People can be waiting for years to be relocated, sitting in camps or apartments waiting and waiting for an answer."

The information presented by the refugee caseworker was actually echoed in some of the scholarly readings assigned for the course. Amongst them, there were reports on refugee resettlement trends and demographics around the world and in the United States, as well as an article on the reactions spurred in the New Orleans populace, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, by the improper use of the term "refugee" by the media to describe the victims of that catastrophe. The class discussions that were elicited by comparing proper and inappropriate "labels" as well as stereotypes attached to such labels were quite effective ways of bridging classroom learning and the real-life experiences that the students were beginning to be exposed to via the refugees' and the caseworker's testimonials.

In line with the third criterion for a meaningful service-learning experience outlined above, we aimed at providing an opportunity for service that would not be, so to speak, prepackaged, that is, that would not transform the students into mere deliverers of helpful tidbits of information. A series of preliminary meetings with the refugee caseworker had helped us narrow down some key areas where to focus our efforts on, namely, English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction (with a special emphasis on workplace and medical terminology and etiquette) and computer literacy, introduction to US customs and culture, and arts and crafts sessions for the children of the refugees. Despite the availability of several ready-made instructional tools, we wanted to make sure that the students could contribute to designing their own instructional tools, tailoring them to the particular needs and characteristics of the population they were going to serve. For that reason, the students were provided a minimal framework, and some simple assignments aimed at helping them refine their own personal learning objectives and teaching strategies.

The first such assignment asked the students to reflect on how to "bring service and learning together." The following table was presented to the students, with prompts provided by the instructor (listed in table). A selection of students' responses is provided in the following rows, and it reveals how deeply at heart the students took this charge.

Fig. 1 – Student-generated learning educational and community objectives


Educational Objectives for GC

Community Agency Needs/Objectives

Instructor Prompt

Understand the importance of global change through local interaction.


Assist the refugees with basic adjustment needs (ESL, computer literacy, arts and crafts).


Reflect about what makes of a person a full-fledged citizen.


Teach the refugees the spirit of solidarity and self-reliance Americans are known for.


Student-Generated Objectives

Understand the relationship between helping/volunteering with refugees and becoming a better global citizen.


Teach the refugees how to use the computer (and other skills) instead of using the computer (or those other skills) for them.


Learn to listen to the refugees' needs and problems.


Expose the refugees (and especially their children) to positive, friendly, and welcoming role models.


Learn how life in the US is different from life in the refugees' societies.


Teach the refugees a way to effectively communicate in a society that relies so heavily on technology.


Reflect on how Americans treat people who do not "belong".


Make the refugees more aware of opportunities available for their education and personal enjoyment.


Understand what kind of struggles refugees go through when transitioning from their homeland.


Help the refugees to incorporate aspects of their own culture in their new American way of life.


Understand cultural barriers and how to express and overcome them.


Offer an open-minded forum to allow the refugees to tell about their experiences.



Understand the root causes of the problems the refugees face and what needs to change in order to address those causes.


Help the refugees become more competitive on the US job market.

Based on the identification of mutually relevant objectives, the first assignment then brought the students' planning one step forward by asking them what service-learning strategies would allow for both the educational needs of the Global Citizenship Program and the practical needs of the refugees to be fully met. Again, a sample of the students' own, self-generated responses is reported in the table below.

Fig. 2 – Student-generated service learning strategies

Instructor Prompt

Student-generated service-learning strategies

Given the objectives above, what would be the best service-learning strategy to meet those objectives?


GC students will create a friendly environment for the refugees to eagerly learn basic survival skills, and for them to be comfortable to share the real life political/social injustices and problems from their respective countries and in the US.



GC students will create an open-minded environment where they can listen to the refugees' questions, evaluate their previous knowledge about ESL and technology and try to address their specific needs on a one-on-one basis.



GC students will use their previous knowledge of learning a foreign language and talking to people whose first language is not English to better teach English and other skills to the refugees.



GC students will use the information available to achieve simple goals with the help of carefully planned lesson plans.


A second assignment subsequently asked the students (who were by then divided into small teams of 3-4 students each) to reflect upon "best practices" to achieve the objectives identified through the first assignment. The students were presented with a list of resources (gathered from the Internet upon doing research on a variety of programs –mostly offered by non-profit organizations– working with refugee resettlement issues) and were asked to compare and contrast resources, teaching techniques, and identify what tools could be best used given the specific logistical constraints and challenges posed by the project (e.g., transportation issues, timing issues, conflicts with classes and after-class activities, uneven levels of English language proficiency, etc.).

A third preparatory assignment would then ask the students' teams to further build on this knowledge by making specific, detail-oriented plans on how to structure the various sessions and by preparing engaging, self-contained, age-appropriate and impactful lesson plans. This last preparatory stage allowed for the students' teaching to be extremely effective and focused, and hence for the refugees to take advantage of the face time at its best. The student teams alternated for the rest of the semester offering computer literacy, ESL, US culture classes and activities for children, offering a total of about 30 hours of service to the refugees and using class time to debrief on each session with the rest of the class and the instructor and to reflect upon what they were teaching as much as about what they were learning.

As the students were eagerly working on the project throughout the semester, we made sure to assess the project's impact with the use of a mixed methodology. According to the fourth criterion for an impactful service-learning experience as outlined above, reflective assignments of various kinds accompanied the students through this journey. The next section presents in some detail our research and assessment design and highlights some of the most meaningful findings.

Research Design

The purpose of this study was to understand best practices for service learning and inform future iterations of the service-learning component for our students. Upon completion of our survey of literature and goals for the program, the following research questions emerged:

  1. How does service learning allow for students to practice and apply skills of global citizenship education?
  2. Can service learning affect conceptual change in undergraduate freshmen in the way they see themselves as global citizens and in the way in which they perceive their civic self-efficacy?
  3. How do undergraduate students exhibit change and growth through their reflective practice? And are such self-reported accounts accurate measures of such change?

The researchers aimed at answering these questions by means of a mixed-methods research approach comprised of surveying, psychometric testing, interviews, and document analysis. It was informed by the work of Tashakkori and Teddlie (2003), who assert that mixed methods research has developed in recent years into a scientifically sophisticated practice that can give researchers what Geertz (1973) calls a "rich, thick" narrative from participants and subjects. Utilizing this methodology, we aimed to understand the complex reality of identity development for these first year students and their growth as global citizens through in-classroom curriculum and experiential service-learning opportunities. In order to understand the ways in which students were developing their identities as global citizens, the assessments designed provided both quantitative and qualitative data. From the qualitative perspective, reflection was the key assessment tool. This reflection came in many formats: group reflection at the end of each session with the refugees, reflective writing assignments, and the student creation of an e-portfolio that displayed evidence of their global citizenship development.

For the quantitative data portion, a survey was administered prior to the service-learning experience and again at the conclusion of the semester to capture perspectives on service and social justice, prior knowledge, and psychosocial factors. Ethnocultural empathy (signified as "Emp" in the figures below) was an especially important metric because so much of what we intend to instill into our global citizenship students has to do with acceptance of other cultures and ideas. To measure empathy, participants answered questions on the Scale of Ethnocultural Empathy (SEE), an instrument that aims to understand individuals' comfort level when interacting across cultural boundaries (Wang et. al., 2003). The reliability of the SEE has been tested at ranges between r = .73 to r = .91, p < .01 and has a re-test reliability of .76. The SEE also has subscales built into the measurement for more detailed understanding of which realms the subjects gain or lose aptitude in. Those subscales are: empathic feeling and expression, empathic perspective-taking, acceptance of cultural differences, and empathic awareness.

Ambiguity tolerance ("AT" in the figures) was another factor used as an assessment tool. As global citizenship educators, flexibility and openness are essential to the character development of our students. Previous research shows that students who self-selected service-learning projects over traditional instructional formats exhibited a higher tolerance for ambiguity (Weber, Schneider & Weber, 2008). Ambiguity tolerance has also been shown to be a characteristic developed in short-term study abroad programs (Tucker, Gullekson & McCambridge, 2011). Goel, de Jong and Schnusenberg (2010) have also found a high ambiguity tolerance to be a predictor of those choosing to participate in study abroad. Thus, with the nature of this program being self-selecting, challenging, and with a study abroad component, it was a worthy measure for the researchers to see if our Global Citizenship students follow such a trend.

Data analysis took place in phases and in capacities both individual and collaborative. First, we combed through the qualitative data individually to capture and understand patterns and thematic overtones. The second level analysis then incorporated the framework of Sheckley and Keeton (1997) to assess the process of service learning by the students and their method of utilizing the knowledge that was presented to them in each session. Finally, the qualitative and quantitative data was triangulated to understand the connections between the students' perceptions of their own experience, the impact that interactions with the refugees had on them, and how they responded to the challenges and successes of working in a community-based partnership towards a social justice aim.


The following data analysis incorporates nineteen out of 23 students' work (pre- and post-test survey, reflections, group participation, and digital portfolio). While the other 4 students did complete all of their coursework, either a pre- or post-test was missing from the data and therefore they were not included in the analysis. The most significant outcomes are highlighted in the table below, as well a correlation to the aforementioned Sheckley and Keeton (1997) model for each qualitative sample. The qualitative sample is from end-of-semester reflective essays that ask the students to reflect on their experiences throughout the semester.

Fig. 3: Student profiles and indicators of change





Qualitative Evidence and Type of Learning


Arts and Sciences




"The refugee project made me re-evaluate my stance on the concept of "citizenship". I am a born-citizen of the United States, yet I don't fully understand the reasons behind American traditions. Although understanding American traditions is not a qualification of being an American citizen, shouldn't this be considered? Through the refugee project, GCP 010 has made me question why I qualify as a citizen in a social sense, rather than just in a legal sense." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"Before then, I had never really thought to stop and examine our most treasured holiday [Christmas] from an outside, objective perspective.  It truly opened my eyes to how strange our own traditions can seem even though we have always accepted them to be completely normal.  Overall, our meetings were very successful.  We all had a lot of fun and I felt that we really bonded with the kids.  Moreover, it showed me how difficult it must be to be immersed in a completely foreign culture and not understand anything that is going on." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"Though the objective was to teach them more about our culture to help them understand American culture specifically during the holidays I learned much from them. The job of a Samaritan is not only to help humanity but to learn from the individuals we help." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"While our goal was to teach the refugees English as a Second Language, Computer Literacy, and Arts and Crafts, they taught us so much more through their personal stories. I learned from Umeri, a migrant from Eritrea, that one could be put in prison for questioning the motives of a military operation; from Ismael who is from Burundi what it was like to be "country-less" and to grow up in a refugee camp; and from all how genuinely excited they were to find their places in mainstream America….  I will never forget when Ismael said, "all people have the same hearts; but some just have more to give."  Coming from a teenager who has been through so much hardship, worry, and fear, this observation, spoken in a Burundian accent, resonated deeply within me.  No matter how we live our lives, all humans can relate to one another as we all share a common destiny." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"The refugees expressed interest continuing lessons, especially ESL lessons so they can continue to practice and learn more about American culture and try to adjust to life here. Being part of their adjustment to life in America and aiding them as they try to move on from their past is something I would be honored to be a part of…Doing service projects like this will develop and improve my skills working with people from different cultures and being a global citizen, and in addition, aid to my career as an anthropologist." [Conduit]



Engineering & Business




"This project had a bigger effect on me than the Oxfam project because instead of us just sending money to an organization, I gained firsthand knowledge from people that have been around the world. They had such compelling stories to tell from the interesting situations that have lived through. It was also extremely interesting to see the similarities and differences between their cultures and ours. I distinctly remember the class when my group taught the refugees about holidays. To explain the reasons behind our holidays, we had to ask them about and compare them to their holidays, such as Eritrea's Martyrs' Day to our Memorial Day. Not only did I become more comfortable teaching a group of people, but my listening and improvisation skills as well as my patience have greatly improved. The positive feedback I received from the refugees really made me appreciate being a global citizen." [Cultural]



Arts and Sciences




"In the past, I have taught a wide range of material to young children as a part of a summer volunteer program. I was sure the skills I developed working with them would lay dormant in me until I had children of my own; I never pictured myself teaching classes again, especially not in college. The global citizenship program forced me to revisit those skills and utilize them when I was assigned to teach computer literacy skills to a group of refugees with some of my classmates. I panicked. I felt highly unqualified to teach a group of determined, capable young adults valuable skills that they would later depend on in their search for jobs. I also felt inconsequential. I felt that the two lessons our group would be providing would not have a big enough impact on these refugees' lives for them to really learn anything. Teaching takes time, and time was not something of which we had an abundance. However, my expectations were wildly exceeded. Not only did the refugees assure me of how much they had learned at the end of each lessons, I was approached after lessons were over and asked to keep teaching! This is a solid example of simple, local action making a difference." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"…before actually working on the Oxfam and Refugee project I had no clue what global citizenship was to me. However, through my experience I learned that global citizenship is making a meaningful contribution to a local community that impacts the global community. Throughout both projects, I needed to keep a positive mindset even when projects did not go well, think on my feet, and work with my peers to make a positive impact. My experience showed me that global citizenship does begin in one's own community." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"These experiences contributed to our learning and filled a void that essay writing and reading could not.  It is impossible to fully understand global citizenship until it is seen and put into action affecting those beyond my direct surroundings.  Through these projects, I was able to witness grassroots efforts in conjunction with government aid to make a positive change in civil society, expand my ability to question my preconceived ideas as well as my ability to listen to others, and learn the importance of judging my own community to see its flaws.  All of these learned objectives were achieved by simply working in my direct community thus proving the simplicity of incorporating global citizenship into everyday life as well as finding its role in 'my own backyard'." [Cultural]







"This project helped show us how we, as poor college students, can help others. We did not need to give any money to the refugees; all we needed to donate was our time. How much does time really cost? Nothing. We helped the refugees without needing to pay on our own part. We are on our way to slowly becoming global citizens by helping others in need. The refugees did not ask for our help but we gave it willingly anyway and they were grateful. There is no reason that they should not get the opportunities that we get. They had to flee their own country for various reasons and should be given safety and respect here. Some of the refugees came here as children and have lived in the United States as long as they have lived in their home country. These children are growing up in the United States and should not be treated differently than other American children. They are Americans too." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"My communication skills also improved this semester through working with the refugees.  Communication is the most vital to civil society when there is a cause to be advocated.  This semester I have seen how communication brings the individual into direct contact with acts of global citizenship.  The refugee project put together two grassroots organizations, Global Citizenship and Catholic Charities.  We had to work through cultural and language barriers to communicate our lesson plans.  By breaking down these barriers and communicating effectively, we were able to create a setting that fostered global citizenship.  I previously had thought the individual was only able to communicate to the government what needed to be done in terms of performing global citizenship work, but through this project I learned that communication within civil society was of even greater advantage." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"If we are able to teach the refugees English, and later they teach their children English, their children may one day be inspired to try to attend college. The world's most intelligent people are not destined to come from one nation or one class status. Innovation is a human characteristic, we want to learn more and bring about change. The individual who is capable of curing cancer, or inventing the next great piece of technology may be one who does not have the funds to attend college. It is our job, to help these individuals thrive to become the world's next great leaders. The readings throughout GC 010 have inspired me, made me question my beliefs and myself, and ignited me to start making a difference today." [Conduit]



Arts and Sciences




"The amazing thing is that it does not take much to get familiar with the situation – after one two-hour session, we had learned the names and the learning techniques of most of the refugees, and were better able to communicate our questions, advice, and opinions to them in the next session.  In that moment, between when a confused refugee looked us in the eyes blankly and when he smiled and nodded in understanding, we came just that much closer to being global citizens.  With this knowledge, of how to get to know other people and their plights on a basic human level – unguarded by language barriers and culture shock – and an idea of what to do with it to improve the lives of people who aren't as fortunate as us, we can truly conquer the world." [Accordion]



Arts and Sciences




"Through volunteering for Oxfam to solve the problems causing FGM as well as teaching English to refugees it is easy to see small "global" acts on and off campus combined into a larger understanding of global citizenship. Originally thought to be a broad, even confusing concept, global citizenship has different meanings for each individual depending on the extent of their awareness, action, and personal connection." [Accordion]







"As a person who has two different cultural backgrounds and experiences, I could easily link myself to the refugees and there was something that made me want to help them more than I was required to. Since my parents moved to America, they have always been having little and big problems that they would not have had in their own country, and I was fully aware of how difficult it was to do anything in a foreign country. Especially when I joined the Computer Literacy group and had the opportunity to work with one of the participants, Dawit, it was the moment I was very proud of myself that I decided to join Global Citizenship. Dawit was far more familiar with the computer than other refugee participants, but he could not figure out how to open his brother's email that contained a very important message. When I finally got to the email from his brother and once he finished reading it, he would not tell me what it was, but he kept appreciating me, and I was grateful to see his big smile. At that minute, I earnestly felt like he was my brother and I would like to help him continuously." [Conduit]







"The refugees taught me that you can thrive no matter what you have faced in your past and I taught them how to use a computer. Although what I learned from the refugees was much more serious and impactful in life than what I taught them, I felt that we were able to learn a lot from each other--something I did not necessarily anticipate. In all, the refugee project taught me that a true global citizenship should approach any service project focusing on commonalities rather than differences and without rigid expectations for their interaction with the people they will be working with." [Accordion]







"Before, I was one of those people who was uncertain about their own voice and was a little afraid of getting involved. However, after the refugee project I have come to realize that you don't need "saintlike" characteristics to tackle the worst and the biggest problems at once in order to help out and make a difference. What matters is to use the knowledge and the wisdom you gained through your experiences to see the world and its people in different perspectives. By being able to put yourself in others' shoes and try to reflect about your surroundings you evidently start reflecting about yourself and realize what you can do to improve yourself as well as the world around you" [Accordion]



Engineering & Business




"At first I was slightly skeptical that teaching the refugees how to use a computer would make any impact at all on the world or even their lives.  I thought to myself, "Who in this day and age does not know how to use a computer?"  I just assumed that everyone knew how to use a computer, even though ironically my mom just turned on a computer for the first time a few years ago.  It was at the first refugee class that I realized that some of the refugees had never touched a computer before.  Mya said that it was her first time on the internet, which was such a shock for me.  After seeing the refugees so enthusiastic to learn and quickly picking up all of the technology skills, it was clearly evident that they would take away much more from the class than I had initially anticipated." [Accordion]







"For me, the discussions we had in class and the service projects we did in Global Citizenship was similar to the way I had donned my first pair of global citizenship glasses. Through these glasses I did not just see clearer letters; I saw different worlds, different cultures, and different thoughts. Every foundation, every thought and theory I had beforehand was crushed, kneaded, and baked into the bread of knowledge and what else could I do but to feed my starving mind? I realized that, similarly to the way I had thought the world was supposed to be blurry, the ideas I had about citizenship, refugees, the world was just my own illusions I had built around myself. I not only learned how global citizenship is best served with grass root efforts, but to expect the unexpected and to open my mind." [Accordion]


Finding 1: Conceptualization of self as global citizen promoted through service learning and reflection

Throughout the analysis of the documents and notes from sessions with the students, the theme of development of a global citizenship identity clearly emerged. Frequently, students said that they were unclear about what global citizenship was technically, or had a grasp of its theory but not of how it would be put into practice. As evidenced by their writings, the students grappled with the definition and worked out their own understanding of what it meant to be a global citizen. These characteristics included acting on a local level to affect change globally, respecting cultural differences, improving their communication skills, and the importance of volunteerism. Student GC19 clearly articulates this through a metaphor on bread, likening her prior knowledge to raw dough that had been kneaded and crushed into a new framework. This is one example of a recurring theme through the student's work that had not previously seen the possibilities for local manifestations of global citizenship work. Student writings also indicate their acceptance of global citizenship as a process. In student GC13's words, "we came just that much closer to being global citizens".

Finding 2: Depth of emotion and transformative experience through service learning

Empathy was a key indicator for this change in the students. While our sample of students was small, interesting patterns for growth emerged. Quantitatively, data was inconclusive for a pattern of change for our students in terms of empathy, as no trend or correlation appeared to explain the changes. This could be attributed to a number of reasons ranging from quality of individual engagement with the experience to outside first-semester stressors that could have affected the students. However, key patterns that emerged in the reflective writing pointed to the increased compassion and understanding for the refugees and their challenges in a new environment. Through reflective writing, participant observation and conversations with students, many students demonstrated that they could relate the refugees' experience to their own as first-year students in a new environment, trying to acclimate and understand a new culture. In the work of all of the students, words such as "moving", "inspirational", and "grateful" were used to explain their experience. More specifically, in the work of student GC16, she articulated that "a true global citizenship should approach any service project focusing on commonalities rather than differences and without rigid expectations for their interaction with the people they will be working with."

Ambiguity tolerance (AT) was the other factor for which we tested quantitatively. While there were many students who experienced increases, there was no significant pattern to point to in the quantitative data to show that the service learning directly impacted it. However, one important finding of note is that the AT-20 scores were high to begin with for most of our students following the service-learning experience. In line with previous research on study abroad, service, and social justice, ambiguity tolerance was high from the time of admission into the program for many students, and even more students had above-average (10 or higher) AT-20 scores following the service-learning experience. Students post-service learning experience exhibited an average score of 10.22 (minus one outlier who improved in score from 1 to 2 between the experiences). A number of dramatic changes in student scores (i.e., GC 17 scoring an 8 in pre-testing and a 13 in post-testing) also gives us an indication that there is further research to be done in this area to better understand the correlation.

Finding 3: Student self-efficacy and learning success

Using constructivist models of education, students were involved in the planning and implementation of lesson plans for the refugees, as well as being the self-reflector that guided their own education. Through student-generated program objectives and service-learning strategies, global citizenship students were given the ability to play a vital role in the success of the project (see figures 1 & 2). Such responsibility was reflected in the quality of their created materials for the refugees as well as their reflective writings, which mentioned the feeling of importance of their work for their own development as well as the benefit of the refugees. For instance, student GC12 cited her work teaching ESL to the refugees, and theorized that such a small act could nevertheless encourage the perception of education as important for the refugees, thus impacting themselves and their children. The student's writing indicated pride and amazement at their own ability to make such an impact.

Finding 4: Reflection as a tool for understanding conceptual change

Reflection is a necessary tool that promotes metacognition and processing of identity development, as was stated in the literature review. Giving many avenues for reflection – group discussion, individualized writing, and e-portfolio creation – enriched the learning process. Using the framework of Sheckley and Keeton (1997), the reflective writings showed that students did process information in the forms of accordion, conduit, and cultural means. The majority of information processing came from the accordion effect, with students learning or transforming knowledge that was in opposition to previously held beliefs. Reflection allowed students to work through the complexities of global citizenship. As student GC14 stated, global citizenship seemed a "broad, even confusing concept". Rather, through the service learning they found that it has a variable meaning but with concrete steps for application. This is a detail that would not have been captured in the numbers, but instead was an obvious learning moment found in the qualitative work.

Discussion and Implications

The strength of the positive outcomes for student learning as well as the perceived benefit to the community partner leads to the conclusion that there is value in the addition of service learning to global citizenship curricula. Community-based service learning indeed proved to be an effective educational tool through which to engage the hearts and minds of the student participants, as well as to address very tangible needs in the target population. Our data analysis and evaluation showed that, by the end of the service-learning project they had embarked on, the students achieved a higher level of appreciation of the impact of local civic engagement to address issues that have a global reach. Student participants not only showed a higher degree of understanding of the global power dynamics pushing individuals to claim asylum-seeking status, but also a higher level of empathy for the struggles and tribulations of those who traumatically lost their citizenship status in their home country. All in all, as we set out to argue in this article, they displayed a higher level of "global citizenship" learning and a heightened sense of personal and civic empowerment.

Future iterations of this program will continue to engage the students through an empowerment model, allowing for student-generated lesson plans, assessment, and implementation. This methodology allowed for student growth and exploration of their connection with the community and building of self-efficacy, and that was considered essential for their development as global citizens (albeit in early stages for many). With that in consideration, the team will also continue working closely with our community partner. We would look to expand our assessment beyond the students and engage refugees as well, to see what programming particularly helps their transition and what learning occurs through these sessions. This allows for a meaningful experience for both the students and the refugees. This collaboration gave both the facilitators and the students the ability to be more connected with the community and their work's impact.

Finally, the use of both qualitative and quantitative approaches to evaluate service learning in the global citizenship context is a useful framework for future studies. Through the triangulation of data sources, it was apparent that the students grew and processed information about the experience meaningfully through the constructivist tasks of reflection, teaching, writing, and portfolio creation. If we had used only qualitative or only quantitative assessments, we could have missed out on the larger picture of the transformative experiences had by the students. This gave us ample data with which to work and understand how to design future assessments and iterations for maximum student and refugee growth.


The refugee service-learning component of the Global Citizenship Program's first year experience has proven to be both a successful learning experience for the students and a valuable contribution to the community. For the purposes of this study, the focus was on individual change in the students and their ability to operationalize global citizenship. Service learning does have the potential to affect students' concepts of themselves as global citizens, as students practice theoretical concepts learned in the classroom. Mixed methods design allowed a multifaceted look at the service-learning process and provided metrics to triangulate with the reflection data. Through reflection and psychometrics, there was an observable growth in ethnocultural empathy, as well as a burgeoning understanding of oneself as a global citizen.


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i Names have been changed for the refugees and students are identified by code to protect identities.