‘Don’t Worry About the Worries’: Transforming Lives Through International Volunteering
In countries around the world, universities promote study abroad and other initiatives to enable students to benefit from meaningful international experiences. In the USA in particular tens, if not hundreds, of instruments such as the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) (Hammer & Bennett, 2001) are available to measure quantitatively the impact of such activity on inter-cultural skills. Academics have developed innovative ethnographic and other approaches to support student learning during experience abroad (see Savicki, 2008; also Bosley and Russell & Vallade, this volume). In support of such work, large-scale studies such as the Georgetown University consortium project (Vande Berg, Balkum, Scheid & Whalen, 2004) seem to suggest that, ‘students left to their own devices will tend to gain very little in the way of intercultural development’ as measured by instruments such as the IDI (Bosley, this volume). As a linguist who studied abroad, I tended to support those who consider a full year to be the gold standard, with three months the ‘minimal time in which significant culture learning may take place’ (Martin, 1987, quoted in Hoff, 2008). A recent initiative in my university, and my research into its impact, have caused me to question some of those assumptions.