"Out of My Comfort Zone": Understanding the Impact of a Service-Learning Experience in Rural El Salvador

  • Paula J. Beckman University of Maryland
  • Lea Ann Christenson Towson University
Keywords: service learning, short-term study abroad, education, El Salvador, pre-service teachers, early childhood


This qualitative case study was designed to explore the impact of a two-week service-learning experience in rural El Salvador on students' perceptions of its impact on them personally, professionally and  their global awareness.  Students stayed in an economically impoverished village in rural El Salvador and worked on projects that promoted education for children in the village.  Participants included 15 graduate and undergraduate students; 13 from the College of Education of a large university in the northeastern part of the United States. Multiple data sources were used to understand these impacts including: open-ended interviews conducted two to four months after the trip; field notes from participant observations in large and small group activities, group reflections; and informal incidents and conversations; review of documents related to the class (student journals; student final papers), and daily activity and health logs.

   While the initial process of adjustment was difficult for some students, all students felt that their participation in this experience had an important, positive impact on them.  Data indicated that this impact occurred in all three major areas addressed in this study, including: personal (e.g. sense of appreciation, gaining perspective, rethinking consumption, clarifying values, and learning they “could do it”/self-efficacy, professional (affirming career choices, ability to work with Latino children and families; improving professional skills) and global awareness (e.g. perspectives on poverty and social justice, views of immigration, understanding of the world).  Findings will be discussed in terms of exant literature related to the impact of short-term service experiences.

Author Biographies

Paula J. Beckman, University of Maryland


Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education

Lea Ann Christenson, Towson University
Assistant Professor