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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 6 Issue 3 Highlights

 

Study and Research

VOLUNTOURISM AS A CATALYST FOR WISDOM: EVIDENCE FROM THE PAY IT FORWARD TOUR

Andrew W. Bailey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Recreation & Youth Development
Calvin College

For this issue of the research forum section of The VolunTourist Newsletter, we are very excited to welcome Dr. Andrew Bailey from Calvin College. Andrew has been leading, designing, and investigating service and adventure trips for fifteen years. His early interests revolved around poverty-stricken areas in Appalachia, in part because of his being born and raised in that area of the US. As a professor and avid traveler, his current research focuses on the educative opportunities inherent in cross-cultural service activities. Andrew examined the growth in Wisdom, Openness and Civic Attitudes of college students attending a 9-day volunteer travel experience, one that is near and dear to our hearts: The Pay It Forward Tour.

Introduction

Tnternational This study investigated the impact of a volunteer travel experience on the holistic development of emerging adults.  There is, and will likely always be, much debate about what knowledge, skills and attitudes must be mastered to thrive in a democratic culture.  Where most people agree, however, is that not all of these competencies can be taught in a traditional classroom setting.  Educational research indicates that formal schooling does not sufficiently address important non-cognitive assets (Gardner, 1983; Goleman, 1995).  A college student, for example, may graduate with honors but still lack the compassion and perspective needed to apply their knowledge appropriately.  This is being realized in many ways, perhaps best illustrated by the barrage of financial scandals and predatory lending practices being scattered across news headlines in the US, most of which were orchestrated by brilliant but self-serving individuals.  The growing concern over such selfish and short-term actions in schools and on the job has elicited a variety of responses.  Terms such as Emotional Intelligence and Social Emotional Learning are showing up in the school curriculum and in job trainings (c.f. www.6seconds.org; www.CASEL.org).  The premise behind the current study, however, is that compassion, perspective, and interpersonal competence are taught best through first-hand experience with others and with real world problems.

This research examined the growth in Wisdom, Openness and Civic Attitudes of college students attending a 9-day volunteer travel experience.  Wisdom was measured as a balance of cognitive (i.e. intellectual), affective (i.e. compassion), and reflective (i.e. perspective-taking) personality traits.  While a true measure of wisdom may be unachievable, this holistic model is based on decades of Psychological research (Ardelt, 2003).  Theoretically, a wise individual would demonstrate a balance of all three domains, giving him/her an internal system of accountability to provide a check on their behavior.  Civic Attitude indicates the level of personal responsibility one feels in solving social problems.  Finally, Openness to experience describes people who are willing to explore possibilities, entertain discordant opinions, and investigate novel approaches to ongoing conundrums (Costa & McCrea, 1985; Webster, 2003).

Procedure

The Pay It Forward Tour

Service-oriented programs often emphasize social activism but may overlook the importance of regular personal reflection. Given that both social action and reflectivity are positively related to Wisdom, Openness and Civic Attitudes, a balance of both should be encouraged. Activism without reflection could easily result in the unfortunate exploitation of those being "served". Reflection without activism may result in nothing.

The Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), a nonprofit company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the organization of focus for our study. Each year, STLF implements an alternative spring break trip called the Pay It Forward Tour (PIFT). The trip incorporates cross-country travel, community service, cultural tours, and experiential activities in an effort to facilitate positive personal and civic development. The experiences (e.g., games, service, cultural tours) are processed via post-activity debriefings and group discussions. The trip directors lead discussions designed to intentionally highlight the underlying social issues (e.g., achievement, power, inequality) and establish connections to daily life. Participants completed a battery of survey instruments before, immediately following, and one month after the PIFT.  Results are based on data from 288 participants (80% response rate), ages 18-26 (M = 21), 66% of whom were female.

Results

The data were analyzed using Latent Growth Modeling (LGM) in order to determine if students improved in certain domains and what may have caused that growth.  The students demonstrated significant gains in all outcomes immediately after the PIFT.  Openness and Civic Attitudes continued to grow (at a slower rate) for one month after the trip, but Wisdom scores declined by 25% during the month at home.  Further analyses revealed that the cognitive and affective domains of Wisdom drove the decline, while the reflective domain (i.e. perspective-taking) continued to grow for the month after the PIFT.

As with many exciting and novel experiences, it is not surprising that outcomes would decline a bit after the return home.  This may be due to the reality one faces when they are no longer living and serving with like-minded and energetic peers.  Further analyses, however, indicated that certain activities may help students to retain these outcomes when they return home. For example, students who were involved in a variety of social groups and clubs exhibited higher scores in Civic Attitudes before the PIFT.  However, only those who held some type of leadership position in these social groups continued to grow in Civic Attitudes for one month after the trip.  In other words, group leadership may prolong one's sense of social responsibility, though passive group attendance may not.

A surprising finding was the importance of routine personal reflection for continued personal growth.  Those participants who participated in journaling, meditation, or prayer on a frequent basis also reported higher levels of Wisdom, Openness, and Civic Attitudes before the PIFT.  Additionally, frequent personal reflection prolonged the impact of all of these outcomes for at least one month after the trip. This may have implications for a western culture that is increasingly hyper-active.  A lack of reflectivity has been associated with lower levels of Wisdom both historically and empirically (Assmann, 1994; Webster, 2003). This may be further complicated by the finding that those who are involved in more social groups reported a significantly lower level of personal reflection.  Service-oriented programs often emphasize social activism but may overlook the importance of regular personal reflection.  Given that both social action and reflectivity are positively related to Wisdom, Openness and Civic Attitudes, a balance of both should be encouraged.  Activism without reflection could easily result in the unfortunate exploitation of those being "served".  Reflection without activism may result in nothing.

This study provides evidence that voluntourism can facilitate growth in holistic, developmental assets.  When paired with social engagement at home, various leadership experiences, and routine personal reflection, the longevity of these outcomes may be increased.

Discussions & Implications

The strongest overall effect of the PIFT was for civic attitude followed by openness and wisdom. The positive outcome for civic attitude was expected in light of the STLF mission, which was “to reveal leadership.” The emphasis placed on leaving a legacy and making a positive change combined with opportunities for direct community service, evening debriefings, and activities centered on the themes of servant leadership and cooperation were likely contributors to this growth (Billig et al., 2005). When confronted head on with the human problems of poverty, educational inequalities, and substandard living conditions, such change might be expected.

Increased openness is a common outcome of travel outside of a home environment (Wearing et al., 2008). Though volunteer tourism is often associated with travel abroad, the cultural contrast can occur in a student’s home country. PIFT participants indicated that openness came as much from overcoming stereotypes of their own peers as from interacting with different community members across the country. Perhaps the otherness sought by volunteer tourists traveling abroad could be just as easily encountered by sitting down next to “that frat boy or that hippie girl [sic]” on a long bus ride. The PIFT encourages such interactions through facilitated discussions and dynamic bus seating arrangements. The increase in wisdom could also be attributed to the service and direct interaction with participants and community members over the course of the trip. Two important contributors to lifelong wisdom are a broad range of diverse and profound experience and a tendency toward life review and reflection, which facilitates learning from an experience (Assmann, 1994; Webster, 2003).

Cross-country travel, cultural tours, and community service could qualify as experiences that would impact a student’s life perspective. The intentional periods of group and personal reflection designed into the PIFT encouraged learning from these experiences. All voluntourism opportunities would likely include various novel experiences, but dialogue and reflection may not occur without programmatic influence.  

This study provides evidence that voluntourism can facilitate growth in holistic, developmental assets.  When paired with social engagement at home, various leadership experiences, and routine personal reflection, the longevity of these outcomes may be increased. Of course, not all voluntourism experiences have an educative intent, and a singular focus on the growth of trip participants may result in exploitation of the host community.  Each program should relegate their own influence on participants, but any effort to increase compassion, perspective-taking and wisdom seems a welcome endeavor.

References

Ardelt, M. (2003). Empirical Assessment of a Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale. Research on Aging, 25(3), 275-324.  

Assmann, A. (1994). Wholesome Knowledge: Concepts of Wisdom in a Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective. In Life-Span Development and Behavior (Vol. 12, pp. 188-222). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  
Billig, S., Root, S., & Jesse, D. (2005). The Impact of Participation in Service-Learning on High School Students' Civic Engagement. Denver, CO: RMC Research Corporation.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
  
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1999). A Five-Factor Theory of Personality (Vol. 2, pp. 139-154). New York: The Guilford Press.
  
Wearing, S. (2001). Volunteer Tourism: Experiences That Make a Difference. Cambridge, MA: CABI.
  
Webster, J. D. (2003). An Exploratory Analysis of a Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale. Journal of Adult Development, 10(1), 13-22.
 

 I hope you enjoyed this edition’s Research Forum!  If you have any questions or comments, please submit your questions to The Voluntourist Newsletter, or e-mail Drew at: Awb7[at]calvin.edu.

See you next issue!

Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.
Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg VA
nmcgehee@vt.edu

For more Study & Research Articles visit Dr. McGehee's VolunTourism Research Forum>>>


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