«Title: STUDY ABROAD AS A PASSPORT TO STUDENT LEARNING: DOES THE DURATION OF THE STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM MATTER? Jill M. Neppel, Master of Arts, 2005 ...»
An additional study worthy of mention is a 1959 study conducted by McGuigan.
This study compared a sample of study abroad participants at Hollins College with a control group of students who remained on campus. Using the Social and Personal Distance Scale, Adorno’s Authoritarian Scale, Pelmutter’s Scale of Hostile Feelings toward Americans, Pelmutter’s Xenophile Scale, Finley’s Social Opinion Inventory and the Navorani Dependency Scale, McGuigan found study abroad participants to be more hostile toward other Americans upon return, demonstrated by a proclivity to attribute more negative traits to Americans in relation to Europeans. Study abroad participants were also found to be more xenophobic and dependent than members of the comparison group. McGuigan hypothesized, “It would thus seem that the ‘abroad’ experience hampers the development of independence relative to that which occurs ‘at home’ (p.
248). To the discredit of the article, the study’s results are not interpreted.
Study abroad research: Inconclusive results. Many studies have also been conducted only to find that there are either no empirically significant results – positive or negative, giving the illusion that study abroad participants do not experience any changes as a result of their international experiences – or the results are contradictory, thus making it difficult to generalize. For example, Nash (1976) conducted a study with the purpose of examining the effect of international education on the self-realization of 41 University of Connecticut students who spent their junior year studying in France. The subjects were compared with a control group comprised of 32 students who remained at the University of Connecticut during this same time period. Pre-tests and post-tests were administered to all participants before and after their junior years. Results of the study were contradictory. First, on the variables, increased autonomy and expansion or differentiation of self, study abroad participants were found to have significantly higher scores than members of the control group. No statistical differences, however, were found to exist between groups on increased tolerance and flexibility, or increased selfassurance and confidence. In fact, to the contrary, the self-confidence scores of study abroad participants were found to have decreased significantly between the administration of the pre- and post-tests. Furthermore, two additional findings of interest were that students who had studied abroad increased significantly in their interest in international affairs, but concurrently held significantly less favorable attitudes toward France, their host country.
Inconclusive findings were also the result of a 1980 study by Marion, who used locally defined antecedents and transactional questionnaires along with scales measuring dogmatism, internationalism, radicalism-conservatism, perception of host country, and perception of the U.S. both before going abroad (i.e., the pre-test) and after returning from abroad (i.e., the post-test). The study attempted to investigate attitude change among 90 undergraduate students from the University of Colorado as a result of study abroad.
The sample was comprised of students who either studied abroad in England, France or Germany for an academic year, and who took regular classes at a foreign university, or who studied in Italy for a semester, and who took classes apart from the foreign university due to a lack of language proficiency. Admittedly, the study was designed to explore a diverse array of variables, and not to focus intensively on a few select variables (Marion). However, the following quote essentially summarizes the effectiveness of the
study to find definitive results:
In general, certain kinds of people became more conservative, more nationalistic, less positive toward the host country, and more positive toward the U.S., and other kinds became more radical, more international, more positive toward the host country, and less positive toward the U.S. (Marion, p. 62) In an attempt to explain the phenomenon whereby change in study abroad participants’ attitudes toward other nations and cultures is a result of the type of international contact, Salter and Teger (1975) postulated a theory of generalization of affect. They identified two primary variables that they believed to be involved in attitudinal change, namely types of personal contacts experienced by study abroad participants (i.e., genuine and superficial) and the overall satisfaction participants felt toward their experiences. Both variables were assumed to be independently important;
however, the theory of generalization of affect contends that the degree and direction of attitude change is likely to correlate with the overall positive or negative evaluation of the experience. Therefore, all aspects of attitude change, such as feelings toward one’s home country and culture, feelings toward the host country and culture, as well as feelings toward host nationals, will depend on the general experience and reaction to the international experience. According to Sell (1983), this finding could help to explain why study abroad research is often unable to detect any significant results. Due to the fact that individual study abroad participants are likely to vary in terms of the degree and direction of the attitude change that they experience, this theory would rationalize that opposing positive and negative results would cancel each other out. In essence, this suggests that it would be unlikely that any research attempting to study attitudinal changes in the aggregate would be successful in finding net results.
Study abroad research: Positive results. Despite the limitations and varied findings of study abroad research, there is a powerful contingent of students, educators and researchers that believe strongly in the benefits of study abroad, and they have research at their disposal to support their claims. As was alluded to in the introduction, study abroad outcomes most often fall into the following domains: academic, vocational, cross-cultural, personal and social. Therefore, this section will be devoted to those studies that have found international education to positively affect student participants in any of these domain areas.
Recently, the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) released the results of their 50-Year Alumni Survey, which according to Courtney Peters, the Communications and Media Relations Coordinator of IES, (personal communication, May 6, 2004), is the largest ever quantitative survey of study abroad alumni. Results of this study were reported in the following two articles: McMillan and Opem’s (2004) Study Abroad: A Lifetime of Benefits and Dwyer and Peters’ (2004) The Benefits of Study Abroad. This comprehensive study included more than 3,700 participants, representing all IES study abroad programs and more than 500 colleges and universities. Each of the participants in the study had studied abroad at some point between 1950 and 2000. The results of the survey were reported as frequencies. The following findings are some of the most impressive.
Looking first at academic and professional outcomes, it is striking that 80% of respondents indicated that study abroad had enhanced their interest in academic study (McMillan & Opem, 2004); 63% reported that study abroad had prompted them to expand or change their academic majors (Dwyer & Peters, 2004; McMillan & Opem);
64% responded that they had enrolled in graduate school as a result of studying abroad (Dwyer & Peters); and more than 50% of participants confirmed that they received their post-graduate degrees after studying abroad (McMillan & Opem). Approximately 35% of study abroad alumni whose programs had necessitated that they communicate in a foreign language while abroad declared that they were still speaking a foreign language more than twice monthly (McMillan & Opem). Results of the survey also showed that, in addition to academic decisions, study abroad affected professional pursuits. In fact, 62% of respondents indicated that new professional interests were engendered and acted upon as a result of studying abroad (Dwyer & Peters), and more than half of the respondents had worked or volunteered abroad since returning from their IES study abroad programs (Dwyer & Peters).
The cultural values and cross-cultural skills of IES study abroad alumni were also found to have been positively impacted through study abroad, as the following findings clearly indicate: 98% of respondents attributed a better understanding of their own cultural values and biases to their study abroad experiences (Dwyer & Peters, 2004); 94% of individuals responded that their cross-cultural interactions continued to be influenced as a result of the study abroad experience (Dwyer & Peters); 90% concluded that the study abroad experience influenced them to seek out a more diverse group of friends (Dwyer & Peters); and 64% had been prompted to explore additional cultures because of studying abroad (Dwyer & Peters).
Personal growth and development was also found to be a significant result of study abroad. In fact, 97% of respondents felt that they had experienced self-revelations and had increased in maturity due to study abroad (McMillan & Opem, 2004); 96% felt that their levels of self-confidence had risen as a direct result of study abroad (Dwyer & Peters, 2004; McMillan & Opem); and 95% felt that their study abroad experiences have had a lasting effect on their views of the world, as well as their individual values and choices (Dwyer & Peters; McMillan & Opem). Finally, 89% felt that their tolerance for ambiguity had increased (Dwyer & Peters) and 73% indicated that the experience of studying abroad continued to affect the decisions they made with their families (Dwyer & Peters).
These findings were the result of a study which involved study abroad alumni;
however, similar results have been replicated with participants while they are enrolled at a college or university, thereby limiting the amount of time between study abroad experience and participation in the research study, as well as the related factors which could potentially confound the variables of interest. For example, the study conducted by Carlson and Widaman (1988) compared two groups of students: those students who spent their junior year abroad in Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, or the United Kingdom as part of the University of California’s (UC) Education Abroad Program (EAP), versus a control group comprised of students with junior standing who remained at their respective UC campuses (i.e., Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Riverside). The study used retrospective analysis (i.e., students were actually surveyed in their senior years) and a survey instrument that involved three parts. The first part of the survey instrument asked for background information, specifically the respondent’s academic major, gender, and whether the respondent or the respondent’s family had lived abroad for three or more consecutive months at any time prior to the student’s junior year. The second part of the survey asked students to retrospectively indicate the positions they had held on a number of items prior to their junior year. Examples of these items include: awareness of problems common to many countries, desire for international peace, and respect for historical and cultural traditions and achievements of nations other than a student’s own. The third and final part of the survey asked students to evaluate the extent to which they had changed their perspectives since their junior year on items such as the following: negative feelings about foreigners, critical views of one’s own country, and belief that conflicts among particular nations do not affect the rest of the world. Factor analysis and analysis of variance were used to compare the study abroad and comparison group students on their before and after attitudes. The limitations that were noted by the researchers centered on the use of retrospective analysis. First, the researchers admitted that respondents may have “misremembered” the attitudes they had once held (Carlson & Widaman, p. 5).
Furthermore, those students who had studied abroad may have felt compelled to respond to the survey in a socially desirable way, by virtue of the fact that the survey was obviously designed to measure changes resulting from the study abroad experience. This, of course, is a limitation that is inherent in most social science research.
Carlson and Widaman’s (1988) research study involved a large number of respondents. The study abroad group consisted of 308 total respondents (405 were surveyed, for a response rate of 67%) and the control group consisted of 519 total students (800 were surveyed, for an equally high response rate of 65%). The results of the study were in line with the researcher’s expectations, namely that study abroad was found to result in increased levels of interest in international politics, in cross-cultural matters and in cultural cosmopolitanism. Study abroad participants were also found to concurrently report significantly more positive as well as more critical attitudes toward the United States than members of the control group.
Another study, conducted by Carsello and Creaser (1976), asked students to assess whether their interests, attitudes or skills had changed across 30 different categories, and to indicate whether the change was in a positive or negative direction. The study surveyed 209 U.S. American students while they were studying in Italy, France, Spain or Switzerland for a semester or academic year. The majority of the respondents were traditionally-aged juniors (the average age of respondents was 21.5). The respondents represented a variety of U.S. home institutions and majors. Forty-eight student respondents had financial assistance in the form of loans, and sixty-two students had scholarships. Finally, 145 of the respondents were female and 64 were male. The following are a few of the study’s significant findings: more than 75% of study abroad participants felt that they their interest in travel, art, foreign language, and/or history had increased as a result of study abroad; interpersonal skills were also found to be positively affected, as demonstrated by the fact that 71.3% felt that their ability to relate to strangers had improved, and 46.9% felt better able to relate to fellow students. Finally, more than half (55.5%) attributed a heightened interest in a career to the international experience.