Weakness, Belonging, and the Intercordia Experience: The Logic and Limits of Dissonance as a Transformative Learning Tool

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Abstract

Educational theorist Richard Kiely highlights the central importance of “high intensity dissonance” in successful international service-learning. This essay applies Kiely's model of dissonance and transformative learning to Intercordia, an international service-learning program offered at the University of St. Michael's College and the University of Toronto, in partnership with the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Intercordia Canada. By placing its students in situations of significant vulnerability and weakness, the Intercordia program attempts to problematize familiar assumptions about the otherness of oppressed persons and thereby to encourage an authentic sense of belonging across boundaries of difference. The results, as reported by participants in the program, are quite profound. At the same time, the program design invites critical questions about how, and to what extent, such transformative experiences of dissonance should be scripted for students as an expected and desired result of their international service.

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