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This Just Published: Study abroad opportunities

by Brett Ranon Nachman | May 1, 2018

ThisJustPublished_OnWhite, smallBrett Ranon Nachman is a ​doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at ​UW-Madison and a ​project assistant for WISCAPE. His research focuses primarily on the experiences and depictions of college students on the autism spectrum, as well as STEM community college students’ experiences and transfer pathways.

Brett NachmanWelcome back to 'This Just Published.' The National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) finds that more than 325,000 U.S. students participated in study abroad programs during the 2015-2016 academic year, with Europe ​being the most popular hosting region (54.4​ percent) and ​an especially high proportion of white students ​participating (71.6 percent). More students, and students of color in particular, are embracing these opportunities. What students gain from these experiences, however, cannot be explained by such statistics. The following recently published studies detail how students across different levels of postsecondary education viewed and embraced their study abroad experiences. 

Amani, M., & Kim, M. M. (2017). Study abroad participation at community colleges: Students’ decision and influential factors. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-15.

View the journal article.

As Monija Amani and Mikyong Minsun Kim indicate in their newly published article, few community college students participate in study abroad opportunities. Citing the Institute of International Education’s 2015 Open Doors Report, the authors note how, in 2014-2015, community college students constituted only ​2 percent of students in study abroad. To discover what factors motivate this student population to partake in short-t​erm study abroad, the authors interviewed students at three community colleges in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Amani and Kim argue that while, yes, we know how college students have long gravitated toward using study abroad as an outlet to gain more professional development experience and to learn more about other cultures, intent among community college students remains largely unknown. Reviewing the literature, the authors point out that studies often address the role of personal, social, and institutional factors in influencing student decisions, but too often center solely on four-year institutions or fail to disaggregate by institutional type. Here is where their study adds some novelty.

Following Hossler and Gallager’s 1987 College Choice Model, the authors frame their study by accounting for how predisposition, search, and selection serve as primary components of why students may pursue study abroad. The authors strategically use this framework to meet their needs of examining community college students’ intentions. While the authors later reference how this model was implemented as more of a guide than in demonstrating its application, the model’s emphasis on looking at the levels behind predisposition, including the individual, social, and institutional levels, were all helpful and pivotal in shaping this study.

The authors interviewed 24 students from three mid-Atlantic community colleges in different locales, and noted how they purposefully reached out to those in their second year in community college or planning to leave the college that semester.The authors recognize eight themes that compelled these community college students to pursue study abroad, indicating precisely how many students’ responses fit into each respective theme. Perhaps most prominently were faculty encouragement and family support, as more than half of the students noted these particularly themes as significant motives in taking the leap and studying abroad.

Other themes illustrated, such as the desire that participation would boost their transfer applications, and would be more affordable at this level compared to at a four-year institution, reveal the distinct nuances of thought processes that might be exclusively limited to community college students. Interestingly, one-third of students shared how the study abroad opportunities aligned with good personal timing. This is especially important for non-traditional students who may face further professional and familial demands. Themes like these exemplify nuances shaped by students’ institutional status.

Nonetheless, students understandably recognized the obstacles they faced in deciding to study abroad. In fact, 19 of the 24 students shared concerns or challenges. For many, they feared that study abroad would be financially ​prohibitive, but weighed the figurative and literal costs to realize that enough pros outweighed the cons. A few students experienced anxiety over the idea of traveling to new places. Others wondered how they could maintain some sort of balance with academics and life, particularly if they had family obligations. These three main points, driven home by moving quotes from participants who questioned how they would leave their significant others or children behind, show the complexity of making personal choices that could directly impact their loved ones.

Within their implications section, the authors state how community colleges must consider students’ unique predispositions and challenges to pursue study abroad, as well as distinctions between traditional and non-traditional students. Though the authors could have offered more depth to explicitly explaining how study abroad advisors can recognize these factors in providing advice, they argue how students’ multifaceted life experiences and priorities may compromise seeing study abroad as a realistic option. The point about more prominently connecting faculty with study abroad coordinators to incorporate study abroad into the curriculum is certainly reasonable, and with more faculty awareness, this objective appears feasible.

Additional ideas for supporting community college students to view study abroad as viable may include offering scholarships, particularly for working parents, ​and staging panels with former study abroad participants from the college, who may assuage student concerns. The study’s distinctiveness in eliciting perspectives and themes from community college students, in conjunction with the exceptional insights that emerged from the data, should hopefully motivate administrators to find new ways of supporting these students’ goals. It should also encourage other scholars to further examine particular student populations within community colleges, such as returning students or first-generation students, in how they perceive and engage in study abroad.

DuVivier, R., & Patitu, C. (2017). Effects of study abroad on graduate student dispositions, knowledge and skills. College Student Affairs Journal35(2), 15-28. 

View the journal article.

​Study of graduate students partaking in study abroad is similarly thin in the literature. Referencing ACPA/NASPA's competencies regarding globalism, which emphasizes how student affairs staff should possess an understanding of other cultures and skillsets in this more interconnected world we all share, Roxanne DuVivier’s and Carol Patitu’s study explores this theme. In particular, they examine similarities and differences in 14 student affairs graduate students’ global dispositions and worldviews both before and after participating in study abroad.

Students, who possessed diversity in both age and racial/ethnic diversity, participated in one of two types of study abroad programs in Western Europe: a global diversity course in France and an international internship in England. Whereas the French course prioritized discussions and examining of issues related to student affairs, the seemingly more intensive English internship culminated in a student services project. Prior to and following participation in the respective programs, students filled online, open-ended surveys with items to assess global competence.

Survey results suggested their global competence had increased through being immersed in the culture, as opposed to merely reading about it. A majority of students sought study abroad to grow personally, whether than entail getting outside their comfort zones or embracing new customs. Similarly, they noted how their cultural knowledge had increased and were now able to compare European higher education approaches to those in the United States. Most of the students reported gaining new skills, particularly around communication and human relations, even though only five said they entered the study abroad experience with those desires. In the same way, nearly all of the students recognized their viewpoints had been altered through studying abroad, despite just two entering this opportunity with those expectations. These two disparities show how, in the case of these students, most attained newfound skills and perspectives they had not anticipated. What accounted for these changes is not articulated in too much specificity, but the bottom line remains that students found the program beneficial for these reasons. Not to be dismissed were student increases in personal confidence, in terms of their globalism, such as how they communicate about issues with international colleagues.

That said, as these were self-reports, students’ interpretations of their novel abilities and perspectives could be inflated or inaccurate. This article could have benefited from a table to depict how students’ interpretations of themselves had changed before and after the study abroad experience. Due to its omission, the extent to which individuals viewed themselves growing through possessing the experience is ambiguous. Scholars may consider strengthening studies through not only including visuals, but also adopting a longitudinal approach, if within means, to determine to what extent the takeaways of study abroad improved their long-term skillsets as student affairs graduate students and practitioners.

In their discussion, the authors aptly mention a few points that also provide opportunities for further inquiry. For instance, they recognize how six participants came from populations historically underrepresented in study abroad, and how their access in such programs is often based on fiscal and aspirational barriers. It would be fascinating to discover what types of study abroad programs, and in what fields and countries, students from historically underrepresented backgrounds pursue, and this study offers inspiration in that regard. Similarly, they reference how participants acquired a new desire for global learning. Determining if that translates to students’ career trajectories or specialties upon finishing graduate school, and understanding their proficiencies and perspectives years later, could help both scholars and practitioners discover lasting impacts of global competencies from study abroad opportunities.

Streitwieser, B. T., & Light, G. J. (2018). Student conceptions of international experience in the study abroad context. Higher Education75(3), 471-487.

View the journal article.

In their pursuit to understand how undergraduate students develop and make meaning of their study abroad experiences, a new study by Bernhard T. Streitwieser and Gregory J. Light shows how students’ understandings cannot be tied back to metrics and learning outcomes, but rather reveal much more intricate and nuanced takeaways. The authors mention the literature and frameworks on study abroad remain all too concentrated on the messiness of measuring individuals’ intercultural competencies and not enough on how students conceive and understand their experiences. Instead, they propose a new way of framing what students attain from study abroad experiences through developing a Student Conceptions of International Experience (SCIE) typology that recognizes the “underlying structured categories of conceptions students more broadly have of their experience.” Accordingly, this phenomenological study appropriately relies on Marton and Booth’s 1997 Variation Theory of Learning, which appreciates the multitude of understandings based on where and how students learn, extracts rich and relevant perspectives from participants. 

The authors’ three main research questions, centered on students’ conceptions of international experience, in terms of what they are, what the key features are, and what are chiefly responsible for varying conceptions, offer a multilayered take on this abstract topic. In their study, Streitwieser and Light conducted interviews with 28 American undergraduates across different disciplines at a mid-sized university. All had participated in study abroad programs of different lengths, focus, and within different stages of their lives; two participants had studied abroad in high school. Many of the interview questions, which are nicely listed directly in the text, encouraged students to engage in deep reflection.

In their findings, the authors show the four conceptions that surfaced through students’ interviews: observing, interacting, participating, and embracing other cultures. Within these themes, they found that students discussed being, relating to, or changing in the other culture. Thankfully, the authors keenly map out the distinctions across these types by demonstrating examples in an easy-to-follow grid. A plethora of riveting revelations came to light. First, being in the other culture could be progressively framed by level of participation, whether entailing the more passive observation, a more interactive stance of communicating with native speakers, participating in cultural norms, or, most significantly, integrating oneself through a sense of acceptance. Second, relation to the other culture involved discovering to what extent participants felt detached or integrated into the culture. Third, changing, or learning, in the other culture entailed possessing new understandings of one’s cultural practices and norms as redefined by the other culture. The authors clearly, concisely, and compellingly articulate how students ruminated over these study abroad experiences and the evolution of their sense of culture and identity.

Through using the SCIE typology, the authors demonstrate how student learning possesses complexities based on time and place. As students gain new understandings, this can shape their conceptions in unstable and unique ways, and the authors keenly point out how while students may embody one type –- for instance, the notion of embracing a culture as part of “being in the other culture” –- they may still feel detached, which represents another type within the “relating to the other culture” feature. This reinforces the notion that students’ study abroad experiences are multifaceted and that students are multidimensional beings. 

Though it would have been useful for the authors to offer more actionable methods of how institutions can adopt such typologies like this in assessing study abroad experiences, as opposed to the traditional learning outcomes framework that pervades academia, the study’s efficacy in capturing students’ introspection of their experiences reinforces the value of what these experiences can afford to them. As the authors argue, using this data to inform the development or redesign of new programs would be a major improvement. How to get to that next step represents the key question and, perhaps most importantly, areas of opportunities for future studies. 

These three studies, though distinct in looking at students across different stages of postsecondary education, show the promise of study abroad experiences in enriching students’ personal and professional development. How to make t​hese programs more accessible, complemented by ensuring the quality of students’ experiences, continues to be lingering issues for practitioners. At the very least, the programs in these studies suggest how having the time and funding to head abroad, engaging in immersive experiences, and possessing spaces to reflect on their time internationally all account for students having more meaningful college experiences.

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