Methodological Approach

The chapter uses an action research framework in that we seek to foster positive change (Berg, 2011) through the building of global solidarity. We intend that our empirical analysis and reflections in this chapter will inform the study of volunteering and the pedagogy of ISL and might serve to “enlighten and empower” the persons involved in our work (Berg, 2011, p. 224, emphasis in the original). We have collected data through course evaluations, reflective essays, questionnaires, observation, film, and interviews. Data were gathered from several program stakeholders, including student volunteers, program faculty and staff, and the volunteers and partner leaders in the Peru. We collect data from the field based on experiences over several years and provide recommendations to strengthen global solidarity.

Some data were already available from student course evaluations and reflective essays. Course evaluations were completed by all 26 students who have participated in ISL and include a combination of closed- and open-ended questions. Each student also wrote and submitted concise (500 word) reflections throughout their time in Peru and within 1 week of returning to the U.S. These reflective essays were analyzed using a thematic coding process. First, one of the authors analyzed the data; then the other authors did the same. All themes were independently applied by the authors to provide a measure of interrater reliability in the qualitative analysis.

Additional data were collected through a series of online questionnaires of program participants, including students, faculty, administrators, and on-site partners. Surveys over 2 years of the program were sent to a total of 26 student participants. In addition, two faculty leaders, three administrators, and two partner leaders were surveyed across 2 years. The surveys included some common questions as well as some targeted specifically for the stakeholder group. Surveys were a combination of closed- and open-ended questions to balance our ability to compare responses across groups and calculate some basic descriptive statistics while also providing the opportunity for elaboration of ideas and perspectives.

In addition, we conducted participant observation during our time in Peru among students and our partners in order to “observe the naturally unfolding worlds” (Berg, 2011, p. 151) of the volunteering frameworks in Peru. We also conducted interviews with community leaders in Peru—including both the municipal officials responsible for overseeing the program and coordinating our partnership as well as the women leaders of the individual Comedores Populares—to garner more targeted information. These added to the participant observation and daily contact with the community leaders during our projects. In addition, several videos were recorded during the project days, and we reviewed them later for evidence of interactions representing solidarity.

We recognize reflexivity as an important tenet of qualitative research, understanding that as two faculty members and an administrator of the Peru Program, we were part of the social world we were exploring. Given our action research orientation, we recognize our location within the research process. In addition, studies looking at international education, study abroad, and ISL observe that social desirability bias might be a limitation (see, for example, Moore McBride et al., 2012). That is, given Comedores volunteers’ understanding of the program, they might report on what they think they should report. However, our attempt to temper this included clearly explaining that the surveys and interviews were to gather data and information to inform how better programmatically we can reach solidarity.

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