Over the past five years, through interviews and focus groups, the authors have been exploring the impact of international service learning (ISL) programs on host villages and villagers in the south. While most communities express ongoing interest, this paper focuses on one rural Nicaraguan village that decided to end their long-standing involvement in ISL, citing the North’s persistent lack of sensitivity to the interests and needs of their community.

Drawing on Basso (1996) and Gruenwald (2003), we explore the concept of place-making - drawing the individual into a collective story and focusing on discovering social meaning in and though the places they inhabit. We argue that the ISL has the potential to challenge and transform both the visitors and the host community members, but for that to happen the host community must exercise agency with respect to defining the behavioural and learning expectations of their visitors.