Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Amy Quark

Committee Members

Deenesh Sohoni

Iyabo Obasanjo


Voluntourism has become a hotly contested industry, but despite the criticism, the trend of international volunteering has not declined significantly. Alternative break programs, different from voluntourism, require pre-trip education and advocate for the establishment of an equitable relationship between students and communities. These equitable relationships or “mutually beneficial partnerships” are supposedly a departure from the donor/ recipient model used to justify liberalizing projects in the Global South. Students in the Global North are incentivized by their institutions, peers, and future employers to participate in international volunteer opportunities. William & Mary, the institution this study is focused on, presents itself as the University for service minded students – evident in its mission statement and its long record of being a top volunteer producing school for the Peace Corps. As a part of the Students Partnership for Aid and International Development (SPAID), William & Mary students involved in a seven-year partnership with a rural community in Ghana, completed a number of technical projects to the benefit of the community, but ultimately decided to end their work. This begs the question, why would students who are rewarded for their participation opt for organizational demise? Based on my analysis, I argue these programs and the concept of mutually beneficial partnerships train students in critical perspectives on international development, and yet some of their modernizing assumptions, as well as the institutional conditions under which they operate, frustrate the realization of this critique in practice. Facing this tension, students chose to end their partnership after concluding that international alternative breaks are incompatible with the ideal of equity that originally attracted students to and was cultivated by the program itself.

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