The motivations, expectations and experiences of secondary school students involved in volunteer tourism: a case study of the Rangitoto College Cambodia house building trip
Volunteer tourism is increasing in popularity and this trend is also occurring within New Zealand secondary schools. Students are engaging with charitable work in a variety of developing countries around the world. Using an exploratory case study approach, this research investigated the motivations, expectations and experiences of Rangitoto College students in Auckland, New Zealand, who travelled to Cambodia to assist with building houses in impoverished communities. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews with students before and after the trip, photo elicitation, a focus group of teachers and lead teacher interviews. The data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach. Findings suggest students are motivated by a complex set of intrinsic desires and external factors. In particular, altruistic behaviour, the desire to explore new and interesting places and the positive encouragement of friends and family were important. Students had high expectations of the trip, predicting the experience to be either life changing or incredibly important for both themselves and for the people they were helping. Actual experiences generally lived up to these expectations; however, many did not expect the heightened emotional state many trip activities evoked. Students discussed their volunteer work in mostly positive ways and described their experiences of poverty and dark tourism as important to see, but difficult and challenging. Criticisms of the experience were limited to disappointment in the short duration of the volunteer work. The theme of connection also emerged as students placed great importance on the interactions they had with the host community and bonding with their peers. Finally, personal development, changes in perspective and increased social responsibility were identified by the students as important effects of the trip. These findings have implications for the education of secondary school students and the potential for volunteer tourism to contribute to the development of empathetic, globally aware young adults.