With the rapidly increasing emphasis on the internationalization of higher education, study abroad is emerging as one of the major ways to enhance students’ intercultural competence. While national study abroad enrollment trends have shown significantly increasing numbers of students in shorter-term programs, the impact of short-term programs is largely unexplored.
The objective of this comparative case study is to assess the major program components that participants found the most valuable, and investigate the impact of their short-term study abroad experiences in two different locations (Thailand/Laos and the Netherlands). A mixed methods approach is utilized, including quantitative measures from pre- and post-survey questionnaires, pre- and post-sojourn assessments using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), and qualitative data obtained from in-depth interviews. The theoretical frameworks used include social contact theory (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), transformational learning theory (Mezirow, 1991), the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (Bennett, 1993), intercultural communication theories (Hall, 1956, 1976; Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005; Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010), and cultural intensity factors (Paige, 1993).
Findings suggest that a three-week short-term study abroad program can have a positive impact on participants’ intercultural sensitivity as well as professional and personal development, including career goals, educational aspirations, self-awareness, worldview and perspective change, global engagement, critical thinking skills, and motivation related to international affairs. Other benefits are that students who otherwise may not have had the time, financial resources, or inclination to participate in study abroad programs are able to gain a “foot in the door” in terms of international/intercultural experience. Variety in curricula including extensive field trips, the roles of on-site mentors, and the opportunity to interact with locals were major components that participants found valuable.
A total of 56% of participants showed enhanced intercultural sensitivity (as measured by the IDI) after completing the program. The statistical results, combined with interview data, suggest that factors such as individual readiness, the nature of activities in the host country, and the degree of difference between home and host country cultures all have an impact on intercultural development.
These findings have important implications for the design of short-term programs, and inform study abroad theories, policy, and practice. Overall findings show that what counts the most is how the program is designed and facilitated rather than how long the program is. Students learn effectively only if the program is structured appropriately before, during, and after their experiences abroad. Since transformative learning does not occur without appropriate intervention and facilitation, it is essential to focus on the quality of the experience. Particularly important are the developments of constructive field trips, the emphasis of in-depth debriefing and critical reflection, and the need for appropriate training for program leaders.
The results of this study provide empirical support for the benefits of short-term study abroad. Short-term study abroad can make a difference; when it is appropriately designed, effectively implemented, learner centered, and responsibly assessed. With the dramatic increase of short-term programs nationwide, it is imperative to enhance program quality through creative, innovative, and systematic curricular designs that foster transformative and intercultural learning.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2011. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisors: Gerald W. Fry,R. Michael Paige. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 199 pages, appendices A-E.
Intercultural development in the short-term study abroad context: a comparative case study analysis of global seminars in Asia (Thailand and Laos) and in Europe (Netherlands).
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