International volunteerism is an increasingly lucrative industry spanning the public, private and non-profit sectors. In 2008, approximately 1.6 million tourists participated in international volunteer programs and the industry was estimated to be worth between $1.66-2.6 billion USD annually; these figures were at the time projected to grow annually (TRAM, 2008). In light of increasing demands from schools and individuals for more volunteer opportunities in other countries as part of the educational mission of secondary and higher education, and the growing industry and non-profit capacity to offer such programming, it is surprising that very little study and evaluation has been done of these programs (Tiessen & Heron, 2012; Tiessen & Huish, 2014). My doctoral research evaluates the recruitment, training and volunteer program practices of international volunteers deployed through volunteer cooperation agencies (VCAs) operating out of Canada. VCAs pair youth volunteers with organizations seeking their labour – they provide the crucial links between Canadian institutions (such as universities, non-profit organizations or government agencies), individual volunteers and in-country volunteer programs. I ask fundamental questions of their programs: what are the specific learning outcomes for volunteer participants and host community members? How do these learning outcomes contribute to a commitment to ideals of cosmopolitanism, global solidarity or global citizenship? Do the programs deliver on their learning goals and how might we begin to measure or assess the models of volunteerism these programs provide through foreign volunteer service?
Following from Lilie Chouliarki’s claim that a collective “post-humanitarian imaginary” is constituted by spectacular representations of foreign aid such as benefit concerts, celebrity endorsements for humanitarian causes, news cycles and international non-governmental organizations’ branding and fundraising practices (Chouliaraki, 2013), my dissertation will suggest that the social practice of international volunteerism is influenced, shaped and transformed through the communicative practices of mass media. Furthermore, this form of volunteerism itself relies on complex, multi-media marketing and participant recruitment strategies including digital and print advertising, staged recruitment fairs and trade shows, as well a wide array of training curricula, including audio-visual, print and digital teaching material. Volunteers who participate in these sorts of international goodwill expeditions, do so under the auspices of simultaneously helping those who they perceive to be in need, while developing their own skill sets and life experiences and seeking the pleasure that is commonly associated with international tourism. My work seeks to challenge prevailing orthodoxies that this kind of volunteer activity is always mutually beneficial for volunteers and community beneficiaries alike. Ultimately, this research hopes to engage with national policy-makers, private sector employers and inter-university pedagogical practices that privilege this form of global citizenship education by shedding light on the media constructions of solidarity, altruism and global citizenship.
This research contributes to the emerging fields of post-humanitarian communications and the study of global citizenship education. My dissertation analyzes a key site of international volunteerism in Lima, Peru where several Canadian volunteer organizations operate. I aim to assess how, whether and with what effects these programs fulfill their promises to offer Canadian students a transnational learning experience that, as programs suggest, get them “outside of themselves” and into contact with other people’s lives, cultural practices and social struggles.
I will undertake a period of fieldwork in Lima during the winter of 2015. While there, I will undertake participant observation and conduct interviews with international volunteers and volunteer coordinators while also collecting key organizational and training documents to analyze after I return from the field. I aim to interview between 20-30 volunteer participants between the ages of 18-30 to identify volunteers’ own perceptions of their motivations for traveling and volunteering abroad, and to assess their judgments of the programs in which they participate. Interviews will help me assess volunteers and community organizations’ short and long-term goals in their volunteer partnership, and what they perceive to be the best ways of achieving those goals. I will also interview volunteer coordinators to understand how they use and evaluate the training they provide to prepare volunteers for what they will experience in the context of their placements. I will then explore how these techniques may or may not affect project outcomes.
Chouliaraki, L. (2013). The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism. Cambridge, UK & Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Tiessen, R. & Heron, B. (2012). Creating Global Citizens? The Impact of Learning/Volunteer Abroad Programs; Final Report. Ottawa, ON: International Development Research Council.
Tiessen, R. & Huish, R. (Eds.) (2014). Globetrotting or Global Citizenship? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
Tourism Research and Marketing (TRAM). (2008). Volunteer Tourism: A Global Analysis. Arnhem, NL: ATLAS Publications.