EIESL Project

What is Ethics?
Ethics is messy. It’s messy, but very important.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines ethics as “the discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong. The term is also applied to any system or theory of moral values or principles.”

– [1] Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ethics. N. Date. N. Author. Online.


The Ethics of International Engagement and Service-Learning (EIESL) project, and its related community of practice, adopts an understanding of Ethics as a Reflexive Praxis. Ethics as a Reflective Praxis intends to honor the complexities of international engagement and service, and support pursuits for human rights, social and ecological justice, and a just and equitable global society.

Ethics as a Reflective Praxis underscores that individuals, international projects and organizations are constantly evolving. An enduring cycle of reflection an action deepens and strengthens international collaborations.

Ethics as a Reflective Praxis suggests there is no blueprint for what is universally or essentially right, good, just, or moral. Rather, every decision requires weighing out circumstances, considering who is involved, what the costs and benefits might be, and mobilizing what we believe to be right into the decisions and actions that we take in any given moment.

Ethics as a Reflective Praxis means critically examining on one’s own views, assumptions, convictions and actions. We prompt students, staff, and faculty to consider such questions as: Who am I in relation to those that I serve? What do my multiple identities (for example: race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, for example) have to do with this relationship? Am I engaging in a community that is my own, or is not my own? How does this shape my international work?

Without a rigid directives for action, Ethics as Reflective Praxis encourages thoughtful, careful, and evolving engagement in international initiatives.

What is EIESL?

The EIESL project aims to establish a platform and a community of practice for sustainable, supportive and ethical approaches to international engagement and service-learning at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The EIESL project fosters collaborations across faculty, staff, students and international partners to bring reflective attention to the ways that we think, act, speak, and engage as global citizens committed to social and ecological justice. The popularity of International Service Learning (ISL) projects is rapidly growing. Through ISL, students have the opportunity to work and learn in an international setting (often in “developing” countries) for periods of a few weeks, months, or perhaps a year.

Those participating in these programs may have a genuine desire to help, learn and improve quality of life in their host communities. There is, however, a growing concern around the conflicting motivations for engaging internationally. Motivations may include: a positive desire to promote equity and to work with and for communities; fulfilling a graduation requirement; enhancing a résumé; or securing research funds. The Ethics of International Engagement and Service Learning (EIESL) project aims to establish a platform and a community of practice for sustainable, supportive and ethical approaches to international engagement and service learning at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Project Methods

Through a public dialogue sessions and interviews EIESL listened to the comments, questions, concerns, and stories to help us understand the culture of international engagement at UBC and abroad. Through these conversations EIESL identified six major themes pertinent to international engagement and service learning: intercultural understanding; training and education; sustainability; balance and reciprocity; motivations; and witnessing and observing.

The public dialogue sessions (attended by students, faculty, and staff) focused on the following three consecutive areas:

What? discussions identified: what is the perception of ISL at UBC? What do we think are the ethical issues that take place during an international project? What is the definition of ethics in application in international service-learning contexts?

So What? discussions identified: How do students, staff, and faculty at UBC personalize ethics and apply them to their own lives and experiences with ISL?

Now What? discussions identified: What are the knowledge and resource gaps at UBC, specifically around ethical education related to ISL? How do UBC students think that faculty and administration should address those gaps?

In the months following the dialogue events, the EIESL Faculty Coordinator arranged one-on-one meetings with faculty members to further discuss the relevance of the themes. From these conversations, a broader understanding of the themes arose.

Through interviews, community partners in Comitan and Tzimol, Mexico responded to the ethical themes identified by students, staff, and faculty, and added the theme “Witnessing and Observing”. We acknowledge that the community contributions are by no means complete and are committed to seeking continued participation from our community partners as the guidebook evolves. We would like to thank our community partners in Comitan and Tzimol, Mexico for kindly contributing, we are deeply grateful.

Building from the identified themes EIESL designed this web-based guidebook in order to address some of the knowledge, service, and resource gaps at UBC associated with these themes.

Current Initiatives

Currently we are also developing a resource kit that offers practical and interdisciplinary learning activities that guide users to explore the ethical themes discovered in the first year of our project. The resource kit will be comprised of engaging, interactive and creative learning activities drawing from case studies, arts-based learning, discussion, and critical reflection. Faculty may integrate learning activities into their courses, staff may use this resource in student support services or in trainings among colleagues, and students may use it in their clubs, research, or service activities. We invite students, staff and faculty to co-construct this vital resource with us. Please see our “contributors’ instructions” to submit to the resource kit.

This year we are collaborating with the Global Lounge to deliver events and student development initiatives. Through interactive events we invite the UBC community into critical inquiry of the ethics of international engagement. With logistic support and mentoring from the EIESL team, UBC students design and facilitate 2-hour workshops addressing critical issues that are important to them. We also offers a six hour training, “Global Praxis: Reflective Leadership in International Engagement”, in which participants critically reflect on their own internationally focused projects, learn strategies for developing interactive workshops that engage others about international issues, and gain practical skills in workshop facilitation. We hope that through student-led workshops and the Global Praxis trainings ethical considerations will become more deeply imbedded in UBC’s culture of international engagement.

Our goal is to ensure that ethical considerations have a permanent place in
UBC’s global identity.

If you have any questions about this guidebook or the EIESL Project, contact us at ethicsofISL@gmail.com