International Service Learning

Why choose International Service Learning?

International Service Learning (ISL) is a volunteer organization offering global health, education, and community enrichment opportunities in twelve different countries. Our mission is to support cultural awareness, service-based learning, and sustainable development projects through experiential and responsible travel.

All of our programs are organized and facilitated by our local, bilingual coordinators who identify real needs within their communities where they direct ISL volunteers and resources. In return, volunteers gain impactful cross-cultural relationships and experiences. Reciprocity, equity, and genuine partnership are the guiding values of our work.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience!

I went to Managua, Nicaragua to deliver medical care to people in need, and my experience was amazing. I plan to be a physician assistant some day soon and this experience helped me get hands on experience that will be important to me for the rest of my life. My group leader was incredible and I felt safe the entire time. Not only did we work hard, but ISL helped make the experience fun too by adding in cultural lessons and sight-seeing!

What would you improve about this program?
I honestly have no complaints...
Response from International Service Learning

We're so glad you had such a rewarding experience with us, Kaitlyn! Thanks for sharing!

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Yes, I recommend this program

Global Health in Belize

I went on this trip with just my daughter and we were able to stay in the home of our host. She was amazing! She was incredibly prepared, helpful, knowledgeable and made us feel like members of her family. We worked in schools, a senior center, did community home visits, and participated in a day of community health clinic. It was eye-opening and truly enriching. Rose was in contact with the country coordinator and even made adjustments to our schedule to assure our comfort and safety for our recreation days. I would highly recommend this program.

Response from International Service Learning

Thank you so much for your review, Keryn! We are so happy to hear that you had such a positive experience in Belize. Thanks for volunteering with International Service Learning!

Yes, I recommend this program

Global Health In Mexico!

ISL is a wonderful organization from the pre-trip planning to the post-trip follow-ups. There are trips offered for every interested from health to sports to education. I went on a Global Health trip to Mexico. Preparing for the trip was painless as ISL has the requirements listed very clearly on the trip website, and any questions are answered promptly. They also provide a large list of fundraising ideas to offset the cost.

In country we felt very safe with our locally based team leader, paid friendly, security staff, and wonderful chef. The translators were very patient and knowledgeable.

As far as medical experience, we assisted with vitals in a local health clinic, performed community health surveys with abbreviated triage including taking blood glucose, held a free clinic with a doctor, nurse, and pharmacy, and shadowed in a local hospital. In the hospital I was able to assist in the beginning of a live birth, and watch the delivery! The best part of the program is that, rather than setting up a clinic once a year or once ever, ISL strives to maintain clinics so that communities have regular access to medical care.

Beyond service, we had so many opportunities for recreation, exploring the local community, and eating exquisite food. After the trip, ISL reached out to find out what was good about the program and what to do to improve it. They also offer incentive to continue in the ISL family, and help it grow.

What would you improve about this program?
The cost can be a bit overwhelming compared to other service trips, but the quality of staff and the overall trip is comparable to the price.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Lima and Pisco, Peru

The trip leaders from ISL are ANGELS in disguise. They were the highlight of this trip. There were aspects I enjoyed, and some I did not. I enjoyed our two trip leaders, our two fun days at the end where we went sand boarding/sand duning around the Ica Desert in Pisco, Peru and our trip to the National Reserve that included a beach in Pisco. I also felt very safe traveling with ISL and the other students I was with. They made sure to give us safety tips like when we could safely take our phones out for pictures, how to identify fake money, and how to watch each others backs when we went out in public. Our trip leaders had such a heart for service and I will miss them so much. If I were to do another ISL trip, it would HAVE to be with these two. We also had a third ISL representative who was from Peru. She was very knowledgeable about where we should and should not go, and obviously knew the culture well. Her attitude some days was unbearable however. She was pregnant so I kept that in mind, but at times I feel like she didn't care what experience we were getting. For example, on days where ISL paid for our lunches (which was about 3 or 4) we had to split 5 entrees for 17 people for lunch and dinner for about 3 or 4 days in a row. We went very hungry for those days. Fortunately, we brought some of our own snacks but I can't imagine the $4,000 we paid to go on this trip could not cover the cost of more meals. Another lack in this trip was communication, which was KEY for 17 people to have a successful trip. The two trip leaders communicated everything they knew to us. Our nursing "leaders" that went with us had no idea what was going on and if they did the rest of the group was so confused day after day with what we were doing because our itinerary got changed from what we were originally given. I would not like to go on another trip with this Peruvian representative from ISL. I just could not find where our $4,000 went for this trip. Our plane tickets had to be about $1,000-1,500 because we flew out Wed to Wed and we even took a red eye home, our first hotel in Lima was disgusting and could NOT have cost more than $30 USD per night for 4 nights. Our second hotel in Pisco was better, I would say 4 stars on the outside, 2 stars on the inside and in the middle of a desert so that couldn't have cost much either. We did pay for bus service the entire trip which was nice but it was often late because of A) Peru time (it's such a real thing..) and B) they weren't always told when to be there to pick us up. One last aspect I would suggest to change would be to have a more relaxed schedule. I understand they wanted us to see as much as we could in two weeks but we got up between 6 and 7 AM every single day and got home at between 9 PM and 11 PM every single day. Girls were very sick and still had to go to the days events and it was exhausting. If our schedule wasn't as packed as it was and we could spend more or less time at places we liked or didn't like it would have been more enjoyable.

What would you improve about this program?
-The trip leader attitude
-Less stringent, less packed schedule and be prepared for when people get sick and need to stay in for a few hours.
-A breakdown of where all of our money was going because this was not worth $4,000.
-More doctors at our clinics or at least one American doctor.
-Everyone gets their own meal EVERY meal. No sharing. We were so hungry some days.
Response from International Service Learning

Thanks for your thoughtful comments Lydia! We take all feedback to heart, and appreciate when our volunteers take the time to communicate where we succeeded, but also how we can do things better. I'm glad to hear the experience was safe, educational and pushed your cultural boundaries a little bit! We'll look in to how we can streamline the daily activities to make sure we aren't burning our teams out with too many activities; we pride ourselves on our intensive experiences, but also have to find a good balance with downtime. I'm sorry to hear about your time with our local staff. We haven't had any issues to-date and will make sure our ISL staff training in Peru is where it needs to be. Regarding using an American doctor instead of the local one - even though it can be more difficult with the cultural differences and language, we strongly adhere to our best practice of only using local doctors to treat patients, even when it might create some initial communication challenges. We will look at providing additional local doctors for the clinic days on future teams however. Peru is one of our most expensive countries to operate in, and on each team between 70-85% of all costs go directly to in-country operations. It is also important to understand that the program fee charged by your university includes learning seminars and professional evaluations beyond your two week experience with ISL in Peru. We do not charge $4,000 for short term service learning experiences.

- Jonathan Birnbaum, ISL Executive Director

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Yes, I recommend this program

Peru- Machu Pichu

Overall the trip was a good experience, if we include recreational and tourist time. Strictly speaking about the missionary work, I am extremely disappointed. It was my first time traveling alone outside of the country and everything went smoothly for me, I felt safe at all times. However, there were a few things which I cannot ignore. For being a 12 day mission trip we really only had 3 days worth of clinic, or hands on time with patients. This was extremely disappointing to me as I really hoped to go to communities in need and serve them with all of my knowledge and donations we were able to. More over, OUR GROUP LEADER WAS RELATED TO THE PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY IN WHICH WE SET UP OUR CLINIC, her father was our driver and he knew all of the people in the community. I asked one patient that came to our clinic what had brought her in- if she was having any pain, etc, she said no, she knew our group leaders father and he told her to come in. I felt lied to, like this was all a show, a set up for us, like none of it was real and I wasn't making a real impact in this community. I was so disappointed. At that point I realized there are some many other people in the world who have no access to care, and who could have better benefited from my time, efforts and especially money, rather than our group leader's fathers family putting on some sort of show for us. Granted it wasn't all of his family members coming into the clinic, but how suspicious, how can something like this be allowed? Also, the next few days we were scheduled to go to a local hospital is Maras. When we got there the doctor explained to our group leader it was the beginning of the month and they don't see patients, they only do paper work. The day before I saw our group leader make a phone call to this doctor to give him the heads up we were coming to the hospital, so there was no planning done in advanced. So after we got to the hospital with nothing to do, we ended up folding gauze for the nurses for the next few hours. At one point I thought to myself, did I really just travel all the way to Peru to fold gauze? What good is this possibly doing? So the next day they (our group leader translated from the doctor) promised we would be able to see patients, make house calls with the doctor, do injections, etc. Turns out September 2nd is "nurses day" in Peru, so there were no patients again. I really feel like this should have been planned out ahead of time. This could have been avoided, it was two whole days wasted, traveling two hours to this hospital and back, when we could have been doing more good in the community we set the clinic up in. Perhaps if our group leader called further ahead than one day we could have swapped the hospital and community clinic days and avoided this all together. Overall 12 days was WAY too long, being that we only saw patients three days. Something else that happened was, our Peru country organizer did not tell us there was limits on the luggage when traveling from Lima to Cusco. We had to transport our personal items as well as the donations we brought and the donations ISL made us transport. My fellow team members and I ended up having an extra bag due to donations and we had to pay this out of pocket. This too could have been avoided with communication. No where in the itinerary did it state needing to take Peruvian airlines or their luggage restrictions of one bag, especially if someone was coming from a flight where they could have two bags. I really wish I could have had a more profound affect on the surrounding communities, but I am leaving that to no fault of my own. I am grateful that I was exposed to the conditions and the healthcare system of Peru, it ignited my desire to become the best healthcare provider possible so that one day I can return to communities like the ones I saw in Peru and better treat them without the constraints and strings of ISL.

What would you improve about this program?
More patient care time. Better planning. Better communication.
Response from International Service Learning

Hi Haylie, Thanks for sharing your feedback with us. We are very glad that you enjoyed the Peru experience overall, and share your concerns for the number of days you were able to have for clinic. We rely on our local staff to pave the way for our teams to serve, and oftentimes they start with communities they have close ties with and work out from there. Rest assured that your work was vital to ISL's sustainable presence in Peru, and was greatly appreciated by the government and community. Oftentimes, communication overseas does not go as smoothly as we are used to or would like, and we have to adapt the best we can. We constantly strive for the best quality programming, and will look at ways to ensure that future teams get as much clinic and hospital time possible. Thanks for taking the time to leave us feedback Haylie, we take it to heart!

- Jonathan Birnbaum, ISL Executive Director


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Katie Kaplar

Katie Kaplar volunteered in Belize from July 6-19, 2012. She is from Crown Point, IN but lives in Chicago, IL. Katie is 24 and currently a 3rd year medical student at Midwestern University.

Why did you decide to volunteer with ISL in Belize?

ISL was introduced to me by a student at my school who took a similar trip to Nicaragua the summer previously. After doing some research on summer abroad volunteer programs, I found that ISL was the best option for me. It was relatively inexpensive, had an available trip within the dates I wanted to travel and had great reviews when it came to safety and overall experience. The website ( has so much information to help you in choosing a trip and planning you trip.

I chose Belize as my destination (one of the many places ISL does volunteer trip to) because I want to experience something new. I had previously studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and traveled in Europe but I had never immersed myself in a country where most people, in American standards, are below poverty level. I heard Belize referred to as "the melting pot of Central America" and it is - with so many different cultures represented in such a small country. Another big selling point for me was that I didn't need to know a different language to be able to get around. Although many people in Belize speak Spanish and/or Creole, most speak English so I wasn't faced with much of a language barrier.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Our main duty as volunteers was putting on clinics in 3 towns over the duration of 2 weeks. In setting up each clinic there were multiple steps. We would visit each town the day before putting on the clinic. On this day, we would walk to various houses to see if anyone in the house needed to see a doctor. If they did, we would give them a ticket with a specific time slot they could come to the clinic the next day. The clinics always took place the day after handing out the tickets. At the clinic we would interview the patients and perform do some physical exams if needed as well. The doctor would then come and speak with the patients and prescribe medications if necessary.

I did have down time when there wasn't a clinic going on that day. I got to go zip-lining and cave tubing one day. I also got to see 2 different sites of ancient Mayan ruins and temples. I also had time to walk around and explore San Ignacio, the town I was living in.

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

I loved Belize so much because of the people. Even though I'm not a doctor and, as a first year medical student, I didn't know much about many diseases common to Belize, the people were still so happy to see me. Many were happy to share life stories with me even though our interactions were typically only 15-20 minutes.

I also really enjoyed the way ISL scheduled the end of our trip. We got to spend the last 2 days on an island called Caye Caulker, about an hour water taxi ride off of mainland Belize. Caye Caulker is so tiny that I was able to walk the width of the island in about a half hour. The water was turquoise and the views were amazing. Here I was able to snorkel with sting rays and nurse sharks and had barracuda as one of my meals. It was nice to end the trip on a relaxing note since my entire group had worked so hard the weeks prior.

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

The trip definitely made me interested in incorporating medicine for the underserved in my future as a physician. It also helped me in being better able to talk to and relate to people from all walks of life.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Pavel Guevara

Job Title
Nicaragua Country Coordinator
Pavel works as a dual Country Coordinator with his wife Ivette, in Nicaragua. He started casually in 2004, working with a variety of teams and helping coordinate activities. Pavel's family has helped ISL grow tremendously, and the relationships we have in Nicaragua are some of our strongest.

What is your favorite travel memory?

In May 2004, I was invited to translate for a Valparaiso team. All of the memories of that team were so good thanks to the kind and proactive people that volunteered.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Having the opportunity to serve along these teams over the past several years, has been a life changing experience. It has allowed me to grow as a person, putting love and passion into what we do to help others living in poor conditions. I have also been able to improve my English skills greatly.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

One of our volunteers had come to us with a lot of stress because of problems she was facing at home. She came to Nicaragua and met the reality that many young people do once they visit, and realized how difficult life can be. At the end of the tour, with tears in her eyes, she confessed to us that she had thought about committing suicide. Once the trip ended she realized how many things she had to be happy for and that once she found the joy of serving others, that the rest of her problems didn't seem so bad.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

It would be Belize. Belize is a nation near my country and its people have many needs I would appreciate serving. I would like to learn about their culture, language, and ways they do service.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The passion for service that the entire Nicaragua staff puts into their work and how humble the people are that we serve make us unique. I am especially proud of my team when a group member becomes ill or is going through difficult times.

It's incredible to see the solidarity and love and support the team puts in to lift the spirits of their members.

When there are difficult situations with patient health, where we might not have the medicines, it's always amazing seeing the way the team comes together to come up with solutions for our patients in need.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

To make everyone work together as a team, we must all believe in the same mission and objectives.

Professional Associations

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