Eleanor J. Brown
International volunteering is an opportunity to provide a learning experience that can generate different perspectives through intercultural exchange. At its best it can generate positive attitudes towards cultural difference, call into question bias and prejudices. However, it can also do just the opposite, reinforcing frames of ‘lack’ and ‘helplessness’ based on contradictions regarding the relationship to colonial history and problematic tensions surrounding how volunteering ‘encounters’ with the ‘other’ act as an educative experience. Finding a place to negotiate the subjectivities and assumptions caught up in these debates could offer powerful learning opportunities.
This research will gather some exploratory data on the experience of international volunteers travelling to Thailand in their university summer vacations. The aim is to explore the learning that takes place during this type of experience, in terms of personal development and volunteers’ discourses of challenging structural injustice. The main research question is: In what ways does this international volunteering placement impact on the political engagement of the volunteers and their attitudes to development, charity and cultural difference? This will be considered through analysis of their motivations and for taking up the placement, what they think they got out of the experience, what they think they contributed, and how they see this affecting their future plans.