“I can navigate the world”: Student reflections of study abroad - evidence from one university campus

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Erin MIkulec Kathryn Jasper Lea Cline

Abstract

Participating in a study abroad program can be transformative for students as they experience new cultures and ways of life. Many research studies have shown the benefits of study abroad, including personal growth as well as professional skills such as interpersonal communication skills (Braskamp, Braskamp, & Merrill, 2009; Cai & Sankaran, 2015; Costello, 2015). Another outcome of studying abroad is an increase in intercultural competence, which is considered a requisite skill in the 21st-century global workforce. Therefore, many universities have developed initiatives to increase the number of students who participate in education abroad programs.  However, to date, there has been no study that examines the changes that take place in students from one university and how this contributes to the development of a learning culture. This study presents the findings of a campus-wide research project on the learning outcomes of undergraduates participating in study abroad programs. 1,500 students who had completed a study abroad program in the last three years were invited to complete an online survey about their experience. 151 students completed the survey, and 23 participated in focus group sessions to delve deeper into their experiences and perceived learning outcomes. Results indicate that participants experienced increased levels of confidence, autonomy, and self-efficacy, the ability to connect with others and identify aspects of U.S. culture.  The researchers conclude that the education abroad experiences heavily influenced personal development but that the participants did not always see a direct connection to their academic learning or professional development.

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Author Biographies

Erin MIkulec, Illinois State University

Dr. Erin Mikulec is Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

Kathryn Jasper, Illinois State University

Dr. Kathryn Jasper is Associate Professor in the Department of History.

Lea Cline, Illinois State University

Dr. Lea Cline is Associate Professor in the School of Art.