Published on Brock University (http://www.brocku.ca)
Supervisor: Dr. Erin Sharpe 
Research Topic: Exploring Issues of Reciprocity in International Service Learning Programs.
Today, evidence is mounting surrounding the positive impacts of International Service Learning Programs (ISL) on participants. While support for ISL programs as a vehicle for fostering student transformation is strong, new questions and criticisms concerning the impact of ISL programs have begun to emerge surrounding the relationship between ISL programs, the communities they serve, and the service projects in which they engage. Observation and critical query surrounding these program areas have led to much greater discussion within the ISL community on the need to recognize and incorporate the perspective and needs of the host communities within ISL program development. What has emerged from these discussions within the field is greater focus on reciprocity as a guiding ethical principle in ISL programming. The purpose of my graduate research is two fold (1) to explore the meaning of reciprocity in ISL programs and (2) to explore how ISL practitioners attempt to achieve reciprocity through the service project component of their programs.
Data for this research was collected by interviewing ISL practitioners from a variety of organizations offering international service programs. All interview participants had experience setting up international partnerships and service projects.
I became interested in this area of research through international travel experiences in both China and Haiti. During these experiences I became aware and uncomfortable with the power dynamics that began to unfold between myself as a volunteer and some of the locals with whom I was working with. Being a western traveler I found I was immediately given more respect and seen as more successful.
Looking ahead it is my hope that my research will help influence a more mindful practice of ISL programs. This includes more intensive pre-departure curriculum for participants and a greater focus on the long term impact and sustainability of service projects.
Brock University has provided me with incredible opportunities to maintain a balance between theory and practice. Working with my academic supervisor, Erin Sharpe, has allowed me to contribute to the development of the first international program in the Recreation and Leisure Department. In May 2010 Erin and I accompanied a group of seventeen students on 17 day field course in Havana and Pinar del Rio, Cuba. In May 2011, Erin and I returned to Cuba to present at a conference and continue to develop the program with our Cuban partners. Certainly, my time spent in Cuba has helped to ground my thinking and bring my research to life. Additional opportunities have included guest lecturing, seminar facilitation and field instruction for Brock BaseCamp and 2nd and 3rd year field experience classes.
In the future, I would like to take on a teaching or program management role that will enable me to continue to merge social justice curriculum and outdoor experiential education.
A large part of a successful graduate experience is a good relationship with your supervisor. My advice for prospective students would be to take the time to meet and get to know potential supervisors. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and seek out a supervisor that has the mentorship style that will work for you. On the recreational side, invest in a road bike because Niagara has some of the best road biking opportunities in Ontario. Finally, research something that you are passionate about and will contribute to making the world a better place. With this in mind you will get through the challenges of graduate school and be reminded to always work with integrity.
Sam was the recipient of the 2010 Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.