International Service Learning: Catalyst for transformation in language learner identity?


  • Jennifer A Kozak Western University


International Service Learning, Language Learning, Learner Identity, Transformative Learning


An ever increasing number of North American universities offer International Service Learning (ISL) programs to meet the interests of civic minded students hoping to gain international experience and develop cultural awareness while, at the same time, “making a difference” to a community in need. While there is an abundance of anecdotal accounts to support the claims that combining study abroad experiences with service-learning pedagogy has great transformative learning potential, there is a lack of reliable evidence (Grusky, 2000). This paper will present the theoretical framework of the author’s doctoral research; a qualitative study exploring the link between cultural sensitivity and student investment in language acquisition by following Spanish language learners participating in a short term international service learning program. I focus on the transformation (Kiely, 2004) in students’ cultural sensitivity due to the interactions with host communities during the “service” portion of the ISL component and how this cultural awakening in turn transforms the students’ social identities and their investment in acquiring the target language (Norton, 1995).

Grusky, S. (2000). International service learning: A critical guide from an impassioned advocate. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(5), 858-867.


Kiely, R. (2004). A Chameleon with a complex: Searching for transformation in international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 10(2), 5-20.

Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9-31.


Author Biography

Jennifer A Kozak, Western University

Jennifer A. Kozak is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Western University, in London, Ontario, Canada. Her work has examined music and dance in Cuban literature and currently examines the impact of international service learning on the acquisition of Spanish as a foreign language. She has served as co-ordinator for the University’s study abroad in Cuba program for several years, created an international service learning in Cuba program as well as a cultural enrichment program for Spanish language learners.






Research Study/Recherche