Efficacy of Border-Crossing Service-Learning in Empathy and Moral Development: Urban Students in the Rural Developing World

Betty Yung, Kam Por Yu, Yuk Ping Barbara Leung, Jack Chun

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleTeaching and learningpeer-review


For a service-learning course focusing on poverty, students from a
Hong Kong university took a 12-day trip to engage in various poverty
alleviation services in Cambodia. This course was border-crossing on
five dimensions: (1) urban versus rural, (2) developed versus developing
world location, (3) classroom versus practical and experiential, (4)
Hong Kong versus Cambodian (cross-cultural), and (5) teachers’
paternalism versus students’ voice. Students’ firsthand observation of
service recipients’ absolute poverty gave them a deeper understanding
of the problem of poverty. Evidence indicates that this service-learning
experience led to incremental, rather than striking, empathy building
and moral development, and built on cognitive empathy more than
affective empathy. However, as an invaluable experience in the formative
years of these undergraduates, this border-crossing service-learning
trip may pave the way for future subtle or evident changes in their lives
through having broadened their horizons and given exposure to another
culture socioeconomically, culturally, and nationally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-64
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • rural service-learning
  • pedagogy
  • urban students
  • empathy
  • education programme evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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