Intercultural Development and Study Abroad: Impact of Student and Program Characteristics Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
The number of U.S. undergraduates who study abroad is growing, as are expectations that the experience will result in increased intercultural competence. Conclusions in the literature regarding actual outcomes of study abroad, however, remain limited, and often are contradictory. This research examines whether a semester of study abroad is associated with significant change in students’ ways of understanding and approaching cultural difference (“intercultural development”), as compared to remaining on one’s home campus for the same period. It also assesses whether certain demographic characteristics and background experiences of students, as well as characteristics of study abroad programs, may have significant impacts on outcomes for international education participants.Changes over a semester in Developmental Orientation and Cultural Disengagement scores on the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) are the primary dependent variables. An experimental (i.e. study abroad) group of 108 undergraduates from Large Urban Private University (LUPU), which has a high rate of study abroad participation, completed the IDI before and after studying abroad in either the Fall 2014 or Spring 2015 semester. A control group of 65 LUPU undergraduates who remained on the home campus completed the IDI at the beginning and end of the Fall 2014 semester. The impact of study abroad as such, and of students’ personal characteristics, was analyzed via group comparisons using analysis of variance (ANOVA) techniques. Correlational analysis and ANOVA were used to explore the effects of study abroad program characteristics on experimental group members.Experimental group members experienced a statistically significantly greater positive change on both IDI scores, pre- to post-test, as compared to control group members, with small-to-medium effect size. In other words, students became on average slightly more interculturally-minded, and also less conflicted about their cultures of origin, after a semester of study abroad. But shifts from one way to another of understanding and addressing cultural difference (as defined in the IDI) were uncommon. Study abroad participants who were female, identified as members of more than one national culture, or had a grandparent born and raised outside the United States were significantly more likely than others to increase their intercultural-mindedness. Surprisingly, in light of the relevant literature, none of the study abroad program characteristics tested was significantly associated with pre- to post-test IDI score change for the experimental group members.