Social Education Through Travel: How Intentions to Volunteer Abroad Are Formed: Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior

Iris Ellen Dobschall

Student thesis: Master thesis


Volunteer tourism combines short-term volunteering activities with traveling abroad. By this, travelers obtain the chance to contribute to social change while exploring exotic countries and meet local community members.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore what motivate US-American college and university students to participate in a volunteer tourism experiences abroad, specifically in Mexico. Through application of the theory of planned behavior (TPB), factors that contribute to the formation of volunteering intentions are investigated. Ajzen's (1988) theory of planned behavior is a common concept to study and explain human behavior. According to the theory, intentions are a predictor variable for actual behavior. Furthermore, intentions are created based on positive or negative attitudes towards the behavior in question, seized social pressure, and perceived behavioral control.
To begin research, literature on voluntourism is reviewed. Then, a pilot study was conducted, using items from different disciplines that were adapted to the context of volunteer tourism. Results suggest that self-efficacy consists of two different constructs, that can be defined as cultural and impact self-efficacy. Data analysis, however, shows that the collected responses from German students and young professionals was not completely consistent with the theory of planned behavior. Hypotheses derived from the TPB model were only partly supported. The impact of subjective norms was found to not be significant.
Yet, perceived social pressure is an important antecedent in the original theory and should be maintained as explanatory variable. As consequence, a post hoc model specification was undertaken. This revised version of the TPB model proposes an indirect effect of social norms that is assumed to mediated via attitude and self-efficacy. Data from the pilot study supports this adjusted hypothesis.
For the final study, an online questionnaire was distributed amongst US- American college and university students. A total of 126 valid responses were collected. Findings from the final study are in line with the results gathered during the pilot study. Again, the influence of service attitude and both self-efficacy constructs is significant and thus consistent with the theory of planned behavior. Contrasting to the theory, however, findings only show an indirect effect of perceived social support on volunteering intent. Service attitude, cultural self-efficacy, and impact self-efficacy mediate the relationship between subjective norms and volunteering intent.
The sample consists of students aged 18 to 34 years. A group comparison based on age groups shows different estimates for the predicting power of each antecedent. For younger students (18 to 25), favorable service attitude seems to have the strongest influence on volunteering intentions. For older students (26 to 34), however, findings indicate that intentions to volunteer abroad are mostly based on favorable impact self- efficacy.
In sum, findings of the study suggest that the theory of planned behavior is a useful tool to explain international volunteering intentions amongst US-American students. Yet, it is recommended to revise the model in a way that accounts for the indirect effect of subjective norms. Further research is required to test the post hoc model specification on a larger sample and in different contexts.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages83
SupervisorsKai Hockerts