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Research Articles

Vol. 25 No. 1

Efficacy of Border-Crossing Service-Learning in Empathy and Moral Development: Urban Students in the Rural Developing World

December 14, 2019


For a service-learning course focusing on poverty, students from a Hong Kong university took a 12-day trip to engage in various poverty alleviation services in Cambodia. This course was border-crossing on five dimensions: (1) urban versus rural, (2) developed versus developing world location, (3) classroom versus practical and experiential, (4) Hong Kong versus Cambodian (cross-cultural), and (5) teachers’ paternalism versus students’ voice. Students’ firsthand observation of service recipients’ absolute poverty gave them a deeper understanding of the problem of poverty. Evidence indicates that this service-learning experience led to incremental, rather than striking, empathy building and moral development, and built on cognitive empathy more than affective empathy. However, as an invaluable experience in the formative years of these undergraduates, this border-crossing service-learning trip may pave the way for future subtle or evident changes in their lives through having broadened their horizons and given exposure to another culture socioeconomically, culturally, and nationally.