This chapter follows an action research design, a methodology frequently used in educational contexts and one that aligns with the purpose of this investigation. Action research is commonly conducted by instructors who have a vested interest in improving the teaching and learning process. This approach seeks to enhance the instructor’s practice not by proving something to be true but by finding out whether something will work or not (Mills & Butroid, 2014, p. 5). Action research typically has a sense of purpose rooted in an area of focus. In this study, the puipose is twofold: on the one hand, this investigation seeks to determine the impact of ISL on SHSs. On the other hand, students’ participation in ISL is motivated by a purpose of civic responsibility to provide company and emotional support to the elderly. In addition, action research is considered a collaborative enterprise, where feedback should be gathered from those who have a stake in the area under investigation (Herr & Anderson, 2015, p. 4). For this study, results are informed by data collected not only from students but also from residents and staff members. Furthermore, action research “focuses specifically on the unique characteristics of the population with whom a practice is employed” (Mertler, 2020, p. 6), in this case the SHSs who participated in the study and who will be described in more detail in the following section.


The 30 SHSs who participated in this study were students from a small public university in Southern California, where they were pursuing a variety of majors, including Spanish, sociology, psychology, business, health science,

International service learning for SHSs 259 and nursing. Five of them were born in Mexico and migrated to the United States during their childhood or early teenage years. The remaining 25 were also of Mexican lineage, but had been born in the United States. The youngest student in the group was 19 years old: the oldest was 25. In order to assess their language proficiency, participants took an online language test designed by Instituto Cervantes, the official Spanish organization responsible for promoting the learning and teaching of the Spanish language around the world. In this assessment, the group performed quite homogenously; 26 of them obtained a level of Cl according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages - equivalent to a rating of Advanced High following ACTFL standards. Only four students were ranked at the B2 level, or Advanced Low to Advanced Mid on the ACTFL scale (2016).

The study abroad program

The SA program was purposely designed for SHSs with three primary goals in mind: to increase their linguistic awareness in Spanish, to expand their sociocultural and historical knowledge of Spain, and to provide opportunities for personal growth. The program was located in Málaga (southern Spain), where participants lived for four weeks during the summer. The selection of a destination outside of the Americas provided SHSs with ample opportunities for reflection regarding dialectal variation and differences in cultural norms and customs. In order to provide a full immersion experience, students stayed with Spanish host families. They also received formal instruction in Spanish at a local language school for a total of 20 hours a week. The course content was designed to meet the specific linguistic needs of SHSs, including advanced grammar, academic register, and composition (paying particular attention to orthography and accent use). The literature, culture, and history of Spain were also part of the curriculum. During the weekends, excursions were organized to nearby cultural sites and attractions. The SA program included a required ISL component, described next.

The international service-learning experience

The ISL component of the program was conducted in collaboration with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), whose goal is to improve the lives of the most vulnerable individuals in the community, especially the elderly. In the framework of the ISL experience, students were asked to provide a total of 16 hours of their time during their monthlong SA experience. The NGO gave access to three local nursing homes and identified residents who did not have visits from family or friends and for the most part felt isolated and lonely. Residents were men and women over the age of 65. Many of them had a physical impairment or health condition. A few exhibited slight mentalhealth issues, such as early signs of Alzheimer’s. Residents with severephysical- or mental-health issues did not take part in the 1SL experience, since students were not equipped to deal with the specific needs of this population.

As mentioned before, the goal of the 1SL program was twofold: on the one hand, it sought to promote students’ linguistic, cultural, and personal growth; on the other hand, it aimed to provide company and emotional support to the residents. The visits took place twice a week for two hours at a time. Students were divided into three groups, and each group was placed in one of the three nursing homes. The NGO provided a coordinator in each home, who oversaw the experience and matched students with residents in pairs and small groups during each visit. This meant that students were not always paired up with the same residents. It was expected that students and residents would share their diverse life experiences and backgrounds, in order to enrich each other’s appreciation for the other.

Before the first visit to the homes, students received a three-hour orientation conducted by the researcher (who was also the faculty director of the SA program) and the director of the NGO. During this orientation, students met the staff and were educated on the way nursing homes are run in Spain. Students also learned about the residents, their reasons for being in the nursing home, and their daily routines. Staff clarified some ground rules and provided clear instructions on how to react in case something went wrong. A period of time during orientation was dedicated to analyzing the linguistic profile of the residents, including dialectal characteristics (mostly Andalusian from the southern region of Spain). Lastly, students had one hour to prepare conversation topics, activities, games, and songs that would form part of their toolbox in case they encountered awkward silences during their visit. Students mentioned in the focus group that this orientation made them feel more at ease and confident.

Instrumentation and data collection

fundamental element of SL is reflection. According to Kolb (1984), learning is a transformative process that starts with students’ concrete experiences. However, to comprehend their involvement, learners must engage in reflective observation and conceptualization. With this in mind, a selfreflection questionnaire was designed for this study in order to facilitate students’ reflection (and learning) and, at the same time, serve as the main instrument for data collection. After each visit to the nursing homes, students were asked to use their smartphones to video record themselves reflecting on the experience, responding in Spanish to the following five questions:

  • 1. What did you do today during your visit? Who did you speak with? Did anything unexpected happen?
  • 2. Reflect on the linguistic aspects that you noticed during your visit (e.g., new vocabulary, new expressions and phraseology, dialectal features, misunderstandings, etc.).
  • 3. Reflect on the cultural elements that you learned today during your visit.
  • 4. Reflect on how this visit has impacted you personally.
  • 5. Any other insight that you would like to share?

The first question provides the necessary information to contextualize students’ answers to the other questions. As can be noted, questions 2, 3, and 4 align with the three broad categories created for data collection and analysis (namely linguistic awareness, cultural understanding, and personal growth). The last question opens up the opportunity to comment on any other observations that students may have regarding their encounters with the residents. Students were instructed to take a notebook during their visit, so that they could jot down notes that would help them remember the information that they would later share in their video blogs (or vlogs). After each visit, students were asked to send their vlogs to the researcher. Twenty percent of the final grade for the course depended on the students submitting all of the required vlogs and responding to all five questions before the established deadlines. The average duration of the videos was three minutes and 42 seconds. The researcher received a total of 225 videos, whose content was transcribed for analysis. At the end of the SA program, a focus group was formed where students were able to collectively share their opinions in a semi-structured way, facilitated by the researcher. The transcription of this focus-group session also formed part of the data utilized for this study.

Since one of the goals of this research was to evaluate the perceived impact of this ISL project on the residents, the researcher spoke with them regarding their personal perspectives on the experience. Nursing-home personnel were also interviewed. Since recordings were not allowed inside the facilities, the researcher took notes during these conversations. The content of these discussions provided valuable feedback as it pertains to the ways in which the residents benefited from this collaboration.

All of the data collected for this chapter was analyzed following a contentanalysis approach. Content analysis can be defined as “a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use” (Krippendorff, 2004, p. 18). The main body of the data (the vlog transcripts) was carefully examined to identify emerging themes, classified under the three previously determined categories. This material was triangulated with the data collected in the focus-group session, which provided another layer of reflection about the experience, in this case from a communal perspective. The same data-analysis approach was followed using the information collected from the interviews with the residents and the staff, revealing residents’ unique points of view.

262 Antonio F. Jiménez Jiménez

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