Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Myrna R. Olson


The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the perspectives of occupational therapy practitioners who engaged in international service learning (ISL) as occupational therapy students. This study included transcribed interviews and observations from nine practicing occupational therapists who all graduated from the same occupational therapy program and participated in a two-week long ISL project in Guatemala.

Case study approaches were utilized to identify the specific phenomenon being studied, and phenomenological methods were utilized to analyze the interviews and observational data into codes, categories, themes and an assertion. Following were the three themes supported by the data collected:

1. Participants reported encountering many new experiences during their international service learning (ISL) projects and voiced a variety of emotions experienced.

2. Participants built relationships with those they served while experiencing the

Guatemalan culture, which further contributed to a deeper level of understanding about the Guatemalan culture.

3. All participants reported that their ISL experiences allowed them to practice occupational therapy skills and interventions. Their ISL challenged them to become more creative and resourceful, which is needed in most of their current practice settings.

These three themes culminated into one assertion. The Guatemalan ISL project provided to participants of this study: greater appreciation of what they have in their current lives; a deeper level of cultural understanding which advanced the participants’ ability to provide culturally competent care; and opportunity to practice occupational therapy skills with fewer resources resulted in greater creativity when implementing interventions. In conclusion, the results of this study supported that the participants provided culturally competent care during their ISL experiences and in their current practice settings.

Faculty who are interested in beginning international service learning (ISL) experiences for their specific programs should expand their search for literature in a variety of journals to become informed of the aspects that comprise successful ISL programs. Recommendations for future research were to conduct additional qualitative research studies to gain perspectives of practicing occupational therapists who completed ISL from a variety of programs in order to gain insight to how and what ways their past ISL experiences contributed to their current lives. Furthermore, completing quantitative studies that measure these potential benefits would further strengthen the ISL literature.