Creative Minds Abroad: How Design Students Make Meaning of Their International Education Experiences

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Creative Minds Abroad: How Design Students Make Meaning of Their International Education Experiences

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The purpose of this study is to explore the ways in which students majoring in a design discipline make meaning of their study abroad experiences in relation to their creativity and creative design work. Students and recent alumni from the College of Design (CDes) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMTC) who had studied abroad formed the population of interest. Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning theory is at the center of this epistemologically constructionist study’s theoretical framework, and is combined with the intergroup contact theory (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1998), the systems perspective on creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988), and motivated cultural cognition (Chiu et al., 2000; Chiu & Hong, 2005) to form an integrated conceptual model. The model proposes a rationale for how study abroad is meaningful for design student sojourners. A variant of Brinkerhoff’s (2006) success case method (SCM) was used to select study participants. A recruitment survey was sent to the entire population of interest, and then, based on the survey responses, information-rich interview participants were selected; therefore, the majority of the study data is qualitative. Both the survey instrument and the interview protocol were independently developed by the researcher. Blogs and designs created by the interview participants were used to triangulate information from the survey and interviews. The findings are organized by research question, and focus on four distinct yet related lines of inquiry: students’ expectations for the study abroad experience; the ways they describe the learning they experienced; the ways they make meaning of the experience in relation to their creativity; and the ways it influenced their future aspirations or plans. The key findings of the study relate to the process of making meaning of the learning experience, and include: the value of engaging with a culture mentor who has deep knowledge of both the host culture and design; the importance of experiencing, firsthand, the reciprocal relationship between culture and design; and the ability to borrow and apply concepts and processes from the study abroad host culture into new and creative designs.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2016. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Gerald Fry. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 287 pages.

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Johnson, Rachel. (2016). Creative Minds Abroad: How Design Students Make Meaning of Their International Education Experiences. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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