Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Taylor, Shelley

2nd Supervisor

Larsen, Marianne



In the current era of globalization, universities strive to internationalize their curriculum. One popular method, is the addition of an international service learning (ISL) component to the curriculum. ISL programs focused on language learning often aspire to encourage social transformation as well as language competence. While this option is gaining popularity and has been the object of some research, the role of language in universities’ internationalization process remains under-researched, as does the role of ISL as a tool for language learning. This dissertation examines a week long ISL program involving a Canadian-Cuban university partnership. It is guided by the following research questions:

1 - How do university students perceive and/or demonstrate any:

  1. shift in their identities
  2. increase in their investment in foreign language learning
  3. social transformation

as a result of participation in an international service learning (ISL) program?

2 - Are any changes noted in 1a, 1b, and/or 1c maintained over time?

To address these questions, I drew upon investment in language learning and identity, as well as transformative learning theories.

This research involves a longitudinal, qualitative case study design. Triangulation was achieved through three data collection instruments: online questionnaires (pre- and post- travel), short informal interviews (pre-, post- travel, and longitudinal), and document analysis (pre- and post- travel reflective blogs, work logs, and personal travel journals). It involved various cohorts of students over a five-year period. The lived experience of the participants was a much messier entanglement than expected, given the prior literature. Longitudinal findings suggest that time further differentiated student experiences. Language fluency was identified as essential, and those with an increased investment in language learning cited a need for meaningful interactions. Participants who experienced a social transformation began examining their experience on a deeper level, others returned to Canada with reinforced negative stereotypes. Differences in participant experiences led to the creation of a unique heuristic called The Model for Dynamic Transformation and Investment in Language Learning (MDTILL), which combines concepts from both critical applied linguistics and transformational learning theory to demonstrate clearly the diverse ways students are (and are not) transformed through ISL experiences.