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Despite the increasing popularity of volunteerism in student activities and service-learning courses on college campuses, little is known about the experience of volunteers. This study examines the experience of 16 students from the University of Utah who t participated in community service. The qualitative investigation is based on 54 interviews regarding student descriptions of their experience. What common events occurred? How did they make sense of their experience? What, really, did they learn? Ethnographic interviews and a "naturalistic" approach were used to identify patterns and analyze the data. Grounded in reoccurring themes such as leaving familiar surroundings. the shock of a new environment, and efforts to adjust, the concept of a sojourn was used to interpret students' experience. This interpretive metaphor not only provided a framework for conceptualizing common aspects of volunteer experience, but it also highlighted the cross-cultural nature of these encounters. Students who ventured on these "sojourns in service" reported positive outcomes such as a better understanding of others, a matured sense of identity, a more complex view of the world, and an enhanced sense of personal efficacy.


© Brian C. Schmidt 2000

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