The high impact of education abroad : College students ' engagement in international experiences and the development of intercultural competencies

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Question: How many students have international exposure through a variety of education abroad – or travel abroad – options? Do different kinds of education abroad programs improve students’ intercultural and global competencies equally? Research Design: The researchers use data from a large survey of almost 30,000 undergraduate students attending large, public research institutions to identify in what kinds of international experiences students take part and how these experiences influence their global competencies. In this case, they define global competencies on five self-reported characteristics: “understanding the complexities of global issues, applying disciplinary knowledge in a global context, having linguistic and cultural competency in at least one language other than their own, working with people from other cultures, and working comfortably with people from other cultures” (8). The students were asked to compare their competencies in these areas when they entered college and at the time of the survey. There is no pre/posttest involved. The responses reflect the results of a single survey in which students reflect on the past and their current state of competencies. Conclusions: •What percentage of students have international exposure? Unlike the Open Doors report which surveys different kinds of universities and has a narrow definition of study abroad, this article is focused only on large, public, research universities and has a broad understanding of study abroad. The results, therefore, are different: o 11.4% have participated in one of their university’s study abroad programs; o 5.6% have participated in a study abroad program with another college or university o 10.7% have been abroad for service learning, volunteer or work o 15.7% have been abroad for cross-cultural experience or informal education; o 38.1% have been abroad for recreation •Formal study abroad programs through the university or another college bring the most increase to students’ self-reported intercultural and global competencies •All experiences abroad improve some aspect of their five pronged definition of intercultural competency. For those traveling abroad, this increase was seen most in students’ reports of improved cross-cultural interpersonal skills. •The most significant improvements are seen among those who are from underrepresented, low-income and working class populations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalFrontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad
Issue numberJanuary
StatePublished - 2013

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