International volunteer service is defined as an organized period of engagement and contribution to society by individuals who volunteer across an international border. There is growing interest in the potential of international service to foster international understanding between peoples and nations and to promote global citizenship and intercultural cooperation. Studies suggest that international service develops skills, mindsets, behaviors and networks that prepare volunteers for living and working in a knowledge-based global economy. Many believe that even short-term experiences abroad can begin to prepare participants for longer-term engagement and future international service.
International service may be growing in prevalence worldwide. In the United States, more than one million Americans reported volunteering abroad in 2008. Despite the scale of international service, its impacts are not well understood. Although there is a growing body of descriptive evidence about the various models and intended outcomes of international service, the overwhelming majority of research is based on case and cross-sectional studies, which do not permit conclusions about the impacts of international service. Scholars and practitioners in the field have called for rigorous research that documents impacts.