Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2008


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program for Education Leaders (IDPEL)


School of Education

Committee Chair

James E. Henderson

Committee Member

Marian B. Schultz

Committee Member

P. Duff Rearick


Christian Service, Costa Rica, Experiential Education, Honduras, Service Learning, Spiritual Growth


This research study examined the effect of international short-term mission trips on the intercultural sensitivity of secondary Christian school students. Christian schools utilize mission trips as a strategy to prepare students for an increasingly global, interdependent world. Research literature purports the short-term mission trip as one model for facilitating a higher degree of intercultural sensitivity through an experiential framework. Current literature contains studies that examine the effect of mission trips for post-secondary students and for younger students through mission organizations, but no empirical study explores mission trips organized by a secondary school.

A qualitative case study framed this research, providing an appropriate methodology for exploring the abstract human quality of intercultural sensitivity. Fourteen senior students attending two rural Christian secondary schools and participating in two similarly designed international mission trips were randomly selected for the study. Reflexive photography was a key methodology in unraveling the underlying themes of the participants' experiences.

All participants described a substantial impact from the trip. The effect was observed at both a corporate and personal level. Students noted changes in their worldview, attitudes toward life and possessions, and an increased empathy for others. Cognitive dissonance facilitated the changes described by participants. Three themes that illuminated the multifaceted change participants perceived were developing relationships, awareness of poverty, and serving others. Students were affected by their relationships with children, local adults, and classmates. An awareness of poverty evoked much reflection on the host culture as well as the participant's home culture. Serving others provided the framework for developing relationships and the awareness of poverty. These themes were generally convergent with themes from related studies. One divergent finding was the impact of classmates on participants. Students described a personal impact from their observation of colleagues during the trip. A discussion of the findings and implications for practice and further research conclude the dissertation.