Just Visiting. Immersions Risks

Potential and Risks

There may be many benefits to be gained from developing a school partnership and conducting a student immersion if:

  • Catholic Social Teaching principles are adhered to, 
  • there is the time and investment available to sustain and monitor the program, and
  • the arrangement is mutually beneficial.

Some potential benefits of a student immersion include:

  • cultivating an openness to new thinking and ideas
  • inspiring a desire for positive change, locally and globally.
  • developing self-awareness
  • developing respect for others
  • developing skills of inquiry and critical thinking, and the ability to apply these to local and global issues
  • developing the ability to communicate in different ways and settings
  • developing an appreciation of diversity
  • deepening a sense of injustice and a commitment to tackling it
  • fostering an understanding of how local and global are interconnected, and of the impacts that actions have at both levels. 

While local or global student immersions can develop social justice and cross cultural awareness, they are not necessarily an action that achieve the above.

Film clip - Great learning can happen

Watch the film clip and discuss:


  • What learning potential can you see for your students and the community you are visiting? 
  • What 'cross cultural, cross generational' learning potential can you see?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the financial and human resource expense?
  • What impact might the visit have on the host community?
  • What impact will the travel have on the environment?



Without adequate preparation and human resources, student immersions also run many risks, such as:

  • closing minds instead of opening them
  • promoting pity and sympathy for those in the economically poorer country, rather than empathy with our one human family
  • highlighting differences, with too little recognition of a common humanity
  • reinforcing stereotypes
  • cultivating paternalistic attitudes and feelings of superiority
  • failing to examine local, national or global issues of inequality and injustice.
  • Where a service component occurs, such as building of structures, local labour may be displaced.
  • When there are gifts in kind brought from the wealthier country, for example stationary or clothing that could be purchased within the local economy, the opportunity to support small local business and highlight the role of employment in sustaining a livelihood may be missed. 
  • Where there is a financial component it can encourage a dependent relationship that is limited in its nature and does not take into account the broader context of the local communities funding or government support structures. It may also highlight inequality between schools and foster an unequal power relationship.

local labour


Consider and Discuss the following statement: 

"If you come back from an immersion trip and your main conclusion is 'I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little' you have missed the whole point". 

  • Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • What might be a more valuable conclusion?
  • What do you hope is students 'take away' from their experience?
  • How will you design the program to facilitate valuable learnings?
I grew up in Alice Springs. So it was interesting taking a group of students to be "tourists" in a place that was my home. I saw the same thing but with different eyes. I realised that without proper preparation our students wouldn't be clear about why they came here. Most would think they come here to help. But I don't believe the Arrernte people need help - they are a self sufficient community. It is more about what Lila Watson says, about 'our liberation being bound together working together' Immersions are essentially about relationships. We have to look at the reality - and ensure that it is not poverty tourism.
Darcie, Immersion Coordinator at Avila College.