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For Community-Driven Global Development

With Reflection Comes Understanding — Ourselves and the World

During pivotal moments in life it is crucial that we reflect and process experiences that have the ability to shape who we may become. When we are in environments of intense learning, such as a university setting or during an international program, this reflection becomes even more crucial. According to Hatcher & Bringle (as cited in Larkin, 2008), when engaged in regular reflection activities, students are able to move appropriately through a development process and track their own learning.

With this understanding, FSD conducted a survey with international program alumni to see when reflection was the most useful and what types of reflection was beneficial for them as they processed the experiences they were having abroad. We then had the opportunity to present this data at the Global Service Learning Summit (GSL 5) at the University of Notre Dame in April.

With more than 18 years of experience as a Program Director with FSD in Bolivia, Mauricio Ramirez along with International Program Officer, Devin Graves, analyzed the data from the research surveys in order to gain insight into the value of reflection. Here are some of the things we learned:

  • 52% said that reflection significantly or greatly impacted their experience abroad
  • More than 40% said that reflection during their program gave meaning to the experience
  • More than 20% said reflection helped them academically and/or process learning experienced during the program
  • Around 15% of survey respondents said that reflection during their FSD program impacted their career choices
  • 17% said that reflection on the program helped them to understand their role in the world better

The key moments of reflection were during the first week of the program when volunteers and interns were feeling the most overwhelmed and felt the highest degree of culture shock. Properly facilitated reflection helped volunteers and interns understand that they were not alone in their experience, which was a comforting thought that allowed them to move forward with a renewed perspective.  Many of the recurring themes of the benefits of reflection can be summarized in these quotes

For the presentation at the GSL5, we teamed up with Amizade to share our data and showcase different tools that practitioners can use when facilitating experiences abroad. The activities we used in the presentation are called Liberating Structures, a set of 32 activities that can be adapted to a variety of settings and make reflection fun and engaging. The engagement as part of the presentation was electrifying, and everyone in attendance gained a newfound insight into the way we can more effectively plan and facilitate reflection sessions to guarantee good results.

We are grateful for the insight that our alumni provided as part of the reflection survey. Congratulations to Joanna Piedrahita, who participated in our program in Nicaragua in 2016. She is the lucky winner of the $100 Amazon gift card drawing for alumni participating in the survey. On behalf of everyone at FSD we want to thank all of our alumni who continue to stay engaged and help us as we share our experience with the Global Service Learning community.


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