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Developmental Synthesis Project: Students who Study Abroad Sally Blechschmidt Loyola University Chicago

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT Student affairs practitioners expect that study abroad programs provide developmental opportunities for students, yet a comprehensive literature review of developmental gains is unfounded. In an effort to identify and consolidate research on how students develop while

studying abroad, this paper includes potential gains in cognitive, psychosocial and social identity development. The paper also considers implications for practice and suggestions for future research opportunities. However, before one can discover how development occurs as a result of studying abroad, one must first understand what study abroad is and who participates. Students who Study Abroad Kitsantas (2004) defined study abroad as any education which occurs outside of ones home country. Mohajeri Norris and Steinberg (2008) more explicitly described study abroad as: A holistic educational experience that affords participants opportunities to develop new academic interests, participate in academic internships, establish friendships with host country nationals, explore a new culture, expand their worldview and sense of self, as well as improve their target language skills. (p. 108) In regard to those who participate, the population doubled in the past decade, with 260, 327 students studying abroad in the 2008-09 academic year (Institute for International Education [IIE], 2010a). Women represented nearly 65% and men occupied the remaining 35% of the study abroad population, with no designation for transgender students (IIE, 2010b). Additionally, White students comprised 80.5% of this population followed by Asian or Pacific Islander (7.3%), Hispanic or Latino (6%), Black or African American (4.2%), Multiracial (1.6%), and American Indian or Alaska Native students (0.5%) (IIE, 2010b). Nearly 55% of students studied abroad for less than eight weeks, 41% studied abroad for a semester, and 4% studied abroad for an entire academic year (IIE, 2010a).

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT Study abroad is potentially instrumental in college students development because there is a greater need to work, live, understand and volunteer with others from different cultures and

countries (Braskamp, Braskamp, & Merrill, 2009; Kitsantas, 2004; Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2009). In the field of business, international experience is not only desired, but it is also expected (Peppas, 2005). Similarly, in the fields of nursing and social work, cultural competence is necessary to become an effective practitioner (Edmonds, 2010; Lindsey, 2005). In order to build these skills, students pursue study abroad programs. As a result, students who study abroad have many opportunities to develop cognitively, psychosocially, and socially; and, researchers, student affairs professionals, and faculty have recognized that students can develop in each of these areas (Braskamp et al., 2009; Hadis, 2005; Ingraham & Peterson, 2004). Developmental Theories Cognitive Development Studying abroad provides multiple opportunities for students to develop cognitively. Merely living in a foreign country and encountering different methods to address issues, ideas and policies can promote this development (Bender, Wright, & Lopatto, 2009; Hendershot & Sperandio, 2009). For example, a students perception of a situation may vary from host nationals, and this difference of opinion may provide a basis for dissonance in what one believes as truth (Perry, 1981). As a result, students exposed to diverse approaches to perceive and interpret the world may develop in their cognitive complexity (Dwyer, 2004; Lindsey, 2005). With very few studies focusing exclusively on cognitive development while abroad, the outcomes in existing literature vary. Doyle (2009) found that students reported less faith in authority figures and became more self-reliant in their search for truth, which correlates to Perrys (1981) transition from dualism to multiplicity. Similarly, Hadis (2005) found that

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT students developed in their cognitive complexity. This researcher reported that students who experienced culture shock upon return to their home country preferred pursuing knowledge to acquiring knowledge. Perhaps returning home and encountering their family and friends, who had not developed cognitively, encouraged students to move to a higher level of cognitive ability. Similar to Perrys (1981) theory of cognitive and ethical development, these students

may now embrace the idea that knowledge is qualitative (p. 80), which represents a component of relativism. However, when Braskamp et al. (2009) specifically studied cognitive development, they found no gains in students integrative and reflective thinking. Rather, students were only accumulating more knowledge about other cultures. Yet, the curriculum of a study abroad program could impact cognitive development. Students, who completed specific reflection requirements, began to identify that they could be authorities on their own knowledge (Elola & Oskoz, 2008; Lindsey, 2005). In one program, students wrote blogs about their experiences in Spain and received comments and questions from students in Spanish language classes at their home institution (Elola & Oskoz, 2008). In order for these students to answer their colleagues questions, they sought the information and made judgments about living and learning abroad in Spain. As a result, the students began to think more critically about their experiences abroad and how they, rather than a member of the faculty or administration, were experiencing the culture (Elola & Oskoz, 2008). Certainly, this body of research includes strengths and limitations. In a large, representative study, approximately 95% of students reported that studying abroad influenced how they perceive the world (Dwyer, 2004). Practitioners can find value in this universal agreement and they should recognize the potential opportunities for cognitive development. However, one should interpret this finding with caution. First, this study used retrospective data which could

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT include participant bias. Furthermore, because the study relied on asking questions about experiences which occurred up to 40 years ago, the participants may have failed to recognize other factors which contributed to their cognitive development. Nevertheless, research suggests that cognitive development can occur during and as a result from a study abroad program. Another notable strength within this research is the identification of innovative methods to encourage cognitive development. The design of some of these programs promoted reflection and supported students in gauging similarities and differences between home and host cultures.

Students confronted, addressed, and potentially resolved dissonance. However, very few studies described how modifying curriculum can promote cognitive development. Certainly, student affairs professionals would benefit from more detailed research. Psychosocial Development In contrast to the limited research on students cognitive development during study abroad, a multitude of psychosocial development research exists. However, similar to the cognitive development research, students who study abroad have multiple opportunities to obtain psychosocial developmental gains. As a manner of comparison, Chickering and Reissers (1993) vectors will be a baseline of psychosocial development. Multiple researchers found that students who interact frequently with host nationals can develop psychosocially (Doyle, 2009; Dwyer, 2004; Engle & Engle, 2004; Kitsantas, Mohajeri Norris & Steinberg, 2008). Through conversations and discussions about politics, host nationals challenge students to represent their home country (Doyle, 2009). Especially in the past decade, students are more likely to explain, defend, and/or dissociate oneself from their countrys actions. The ability to engage in dialogue, listen, and maintain patience with a host national requires students to be aware of how they are interacting. In these situations, students must also

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT manage any feelings of stress which could result (Kitsantas, 2004). These developmental gains relate to Chickering and Reissers (1993) vectors of intellectual and interpersonal competence, management of emotions and forming close relationships with others.

Studying abroad also influenced other areas of students psychosocial development. Students who studied and/or worked abroad during their undergraduate degree were much more likely to solidify their career plans and majors, improve their language ability, and decide to attend graduate school upon return to their home country (Doyle, 2009; Dwyer, 2004; Ingraham & Peterson, 2004; Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2009; Mohajeri Norris & Steinberg, 2008). These findings were especially true if the student studied abroad for a full year (Dwyer, 2004). Similarly, students who conducted independent research abroad were more confident in their decision to pursue more demanding research (Bender et al., 2009). Perhaps, a contributing factor is that 96% of students endorsed an increase in self-confidence because they studied abroad (Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2009). Once a student is more confident in decision-making, the student may recognize that they are productive in their field (competence), are choosing the correct field (purpose), can make decisions on their own (autonomy), and are personally relating to their field of choice (identity) (Braskamp et al., 2009; Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Hadis, 2005; Ingraham & Peterson, 2004). For students who were already committed to a specific career field, the study abroad experience strengthened their motivation for learning and self-efficacy in a short time period (Edmonds, 2010; Lindsey, 2005; Peppas, 2005). In a two-week graduate business abroad program, which included site visits and reflections about the respective culture, students reported an increase in knowledge about international business and an understanding of how culture affects practice (Peppas, 2005). In another short-term program, social work students endorsed a

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT greater connection and commitment to their field after studying abroad (Lindsey, 2005). For undergraduate nursing students also in a two-week program, the opportunity to work in a new environment with minimal orientation encouraged the students to think quickly about how to intervene (Edmonds, 2010). These findings suggest that for students who are comfortable with their current identity and purpose may need less time to obtain psychosocial gains while abroad. Similar to the limitations found in the cognitive development literature review, participant bias may potentially influence the generalizability of these results (Dwyer, 2004; Mohajeri

Norris & Gillespie, 2009; Mohajeri Norris & Steinberg, 2008). The studies included participants over the previous 49 years and other factors may confound the researchers findings. However, this body of research provides support that psychosocial development can and does occur in students while studying abroad. Student affairs practitioners can connect the experiences abroad to Chickering and Reissers (1993) vectors of building competence, managing emotions, becoming more autonomous, cultivating relationships, finding and solidifying ones identity, and developing ones purpose. Other limitations for this family theory is that no research indicated any development of Chickering and Reissers (1993) vectors of interdependence or integrity. Although Doyle (2009) suggested that students are potentially exposed to interdependent living while studying abroad, students did not significantly develop this vector. Perhaps, students only build their base of autonomous living while abroad and the development of an interdependent lifestyle follows after return to their home country. Furthermore, the vector of integrity may take longer to develop. Perhaps, as one learns more about oneself and interacts with host nationals, they are more inclined to act congruently. Overall, additional research is needed to comprehensively understand the extent of psychosocial development during a studying abroad program.

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT Yet, student affairs professionals must ask whether students who choose to study abroad are already likely to make psychosocial gains (Dwyer, 2004). Are there already specific developmental differences between those students who study abroad for a full year and those who choose a shorter program? Are there differences between students who choose to study abroad in a second language with those who study in English? Certainly, variance exists within and between programs and further research is needed to identify how students can find the best program to meet their needs. Social Identity Development Social identity development can also occur during a study abroad program. A model often used to measure a students degree of intercultural development is Bennetts developmental

model of intercultural sensitivity (DMIS) (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003; Rexeisen & AlKhatib, 2009; Rexeisen, Anderson, Lawton, & Hubbard, 2008). Based on ones behavior and beliefs toward ones own and other cultures, a person is identified along an ethnocentric (denial/defense, reversal, minimization) - ethnorelative (acceptance, adaption, integration) continuum. The structure of this model is consistent with Helmss racial identity theory, which becomes more complex as a person interacts with others from similar and different backgrounds; and, then also reflects on these similarities and differences (Helms & Cook, 1999). Additionally, this model allows one to exhibit aspects of multiple statuses simultaneously (Hammer et al., 2003). Within this model, variance exists in the research outcomes of students social identity development. For students who are consistently operating at an ethnorelative status, they maintained their developmental gains months after studying abroad; whereas, students reporting an ethnocentric perspective were less likely to maintain any ethnorelative gains (Rexeisen & Al-

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT Khatib, 2009; Rexeisen et al., 2008). Similarly, Medina-Lpez-Portillo (2004) found that students in shorter programs (seven weeks compared to 16 weeks) reported ethnocentric perspectives, whereas all of the students in the 16 week program obtained an ethnorelative

perspective. However, Anderson, Lawton, Rexeisen, and Hubbard (2006) found that students in a four week program moved upward or above their intercultural status. The differences between these finding may suggest how the type of program affects the outcome of social identity development (Rexeisen & Al-Khatib, 2009; Rexeisen et al., 2008). In studies which did not utilize this model to measure social identity development, researchers found that students reported an increase of self-awareness and a greater awareness of others (Bender et al., 2009; Hendershot & Sperandio, 2009; Lindsey, 2005). Comparable to ethnic identity models, as students learned about another culture they were more likely to reflect on their own culture (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004). Similarly, in Doyles study (2009), students who were abroad began identifying more closely with their racial and ethnic heritage, which could relate to Helmss statuses of Immersion/Emersion (Helms & Cook, 1999). Especially for students who are typically in the majority culture in their home country, being abroad and identifying as a minority provided another lens to view themselves and to recognize the difficulties of being a foreigner (Doyle, 2009; Lindsey, 2005; Medina-Lpez-Portillo, 2004). Furthermore, after education and work abroad, students reported continued interest in other cultures, lasting relationships with host nationals, a willingness to live and work abroad again, and a stronger commitment to social activism (Bender et al., 2009; Dwyer, 2004; Hadis, 2005; Hendershot & Sperandio, 2009; Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2009). For example, graduate business students reported improved interactions with international colleagues upon return from a short-term program, which related to advancement in ones career (Peppas, 2005). Edmonds

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT (2010) also found that cultural competence in nursing students improved while abroad and integrated into better performance with diverse others upon return to their home country. Additionally, with the identification of activism to promote positive change, students may be exhibiting the last statuses of Helmss racial or white identity theories (Helms & Cook, 1999). Such sustained gains provide additional support that studying abroad can influence students social identity development. However, study abroad students can also regress in their intercultural sensitivity (Engle & Engle, 2004; Rexeisen et al., 2008). For example, students may encounter cultural differences which they construe as abnormal behavior or beliefs (Engle & Engle, 2004). This finding is especially true if the student is encapsulated with others from their home institution or culture,


rather than being immersed in the host country (Rexeisen et al., 2008). Or, students may dismiss the value of their home country and view their host country as superior (Rexeisen et al., 2008). Nevertheless, this experience may have value in introducing dissonance into a students thinking (Helms & Cook, 1999). Many researchers reported that students became more culturally sensitive or aware from studying abroad. However, similar to cognitive and psychosocial development, all of these studies are based on self-report and are subject to participant bias. Similar to Dervin (2009), merely because someone believes they have intercultural skills does not necessarily equate to utilization of those skills. Although using a control group or implementing a proactive study may be nearly impossible, these outcomes should be accepted with caution. Another limitation is that students who study abroad may already be open to learning about other cultures, and consequently, obtain greater gains in social identity development (Anderson et al., 2006; Edmonds, 2010). Dwyer (2004) stated that this finding raises the question of

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT whether the experience promotes greater racial, ethnic, and cultural tolerance, or whether the students who study abroad are a priori a self-selected, more tolerant group (p. 158). Students


who prefer to remain in their own culture and do not study abroad may have the most to gain in regard to racial, ethnic, and sexual identity development. However, Salisbury, Paulson, and Pascarella (2011) suggested that because students of color are already likely imbedded in a crosscultural environment while attending college, they do not feel the need to obtain additional international cross-cultural experiences. Consequently, the White students perspectives may skew the results of many of these studies. Implications for Practice Multiple researchers (Engle & Engle, 2004; Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2009; Mohajeri Norris & Steinberg, 2008) found differences between students who study abroad in a foreign language and those who study abroad with English as the main language. These researchers suggested that a foreign language component correlated with greater developmental gains. Additionally, some researchers reported that students who partake in longer programs (six months to one year) benefit more than students in shorter programs (Engle & Engle, 2004; Medina-Lpez-Portillo, 2004). However, Anderson et al. (2006) purported that a four-week, English-focused course also promoted developmental gains. Certainly, variance exists between types of programs and the subsequent outcomes; however, student affairs practitioners should remember that nearly each program involves some form of student development. Nevertheless, student affairs practitioners should attempt to recommend the best program to fit a students needs. Would the student benefit more from an independent immersion program or a shorter term island program? Should students exhibit a higher level of development in order to succeed in an immersion program? If students commit themselves to a field of study, are



shorter term programs more effective to improve cultural awareness and self-efficacy (Edmonds, 2010; Peppas, 2005)? Although this recommendation is not yet based entirely in research, identifying a students current developmental level may assist in directing the student to the most appropriate program. Additionally, the structure of a study abroad program influenced the promotion of student development (Kitsantas, 2004). Hadis (2005) found that students involved in decision-making about their curricular and co-curricular activities reported increases in their cognitive and psychosocial complexity. Additionally, including frequent interaction with host nationals promoted students development. Furthermore, reflection about similarities and differences between home and host cultures improved ones possibility for developmental gains (Braskamp et al., 2009; Elola & Oskoz, 2008). If student affairs professionals can add these components to study abroad programs, development gains are likely to occur. Given that studying abroad may be one of the most influential aspects of an undergraduate career, students would likely benefit from debriefing about their time abroad. As a result, student affairs professionals may need to refer a student to or conduct personal or career counseling. Practitioners should be proactive and anticipate students potential concerns (Doyle, 2009). Especially if institutions hope to maintain students developmental gains, efforts should be made to ensure students are integrating what they learned from studying abroad as well as successfully reacclimating to their home institution. A final implication for practice is identifying methods to ensure higher numbers of nonWhite and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) students study abroad. How can student affairs professionals address these students financial, social, and cultural concerns which likely hinder them from studying abroad (Salisbury, et al., 2011)? Study abroad promotes

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT student development and should continue to be a viable educational experience for all students (Mohajeri & Steinberg, 2008). Certainly, how study abroad programs are marketed and structured can influence who participates, and student affairs practitioners should seriously consider how to conduct outreach. Gaps in Research and Future Directions An area of needed research is the intersectionality of cognitive, psychosocial, and social identity development as a result of studying abroad (Braskamp et al., 2009; Hadis, 2005; Medina-Lpez-Portillo, 2004; Rexeisen & Al-Khatib, 2009). Students with gains in


psychosocial development were positively correlated to more complex statuses of social identity development (Braskamp et al., 2009; Hadis, 2005; Medina-Lpez-Portillo, 2004). Similarly, students exhibiting greater cognitive complexity were more likely to report higher levels in the ethnorelative perspective (Rexeisen & Al-Khatib, 2009). Perhaps, students must develop cognitively and psychosocially before they can develop interculturally. King and Baxter Magolda (2005) reiterated these findings when stating that demonstrating ones intercultural skills requires several types of expertise, including complex understanding of cultural differences (cognitive dimension), capacity to accept and not feel threatened by cultural differences (intrapersonal dimension), and capacity to function interdependently with diverse others (interpersonal dimension) (p. 574). Consequently, additional research is needed to decipher how families of theories intersect when a student studies abroad. Other significant components missing from this research are discussions about students of color, LGBT students, and gender issues. Although researchers studied why students of color are less likely to study abroad (Salisbury et al., 2011), no research identified how students of color develop from studying abroad. Moreover, the literature lacked information about LGBT



students, whether they chose to study abroad or if developmental gains occurred. Additionally, gender differences clearly exist in the number of men and women who study abroad, yet no discussion occurred on how gender may affect ones development while abroad (Salisbury, Paulson, & Pascarella, 2010). Potential research questions to explore theses absences are: How salient is the students social identity (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation), and how does a students development of oppressed identities affect their holistic development (Torres, Jones, & Renn, 2009)? What, if any, additional barriers do LGBT students face when studying abroad? Do the countries in which they will reside accept, respect, and provide a safe environment for LGBT students? Does ones gender affect developmental gains? Certainly, the field of higher education needs to understand how similarities and differences exist within and between racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation groups. Without such research, student affairs practitioners may inadvertently utilize methods which have no merit to engage a population. Another frequent concern for practitioners is whether a program is developmentally appropriate and effective. Should practitioners recommend shorter or longer term programs? Should practitioners recommend immersion or English only programs? How can a students developmental level be accurately assessed when recommending a study abroad program? As noted above, research exists to support both short and long programs, as well as immersion and island programs. Yet, how can a practitioner know what is the best fit for each student? Also, because students study abroad more consistently in shorter programs, how can institutions structure these programs to promote development? Clearly, with a rise in accountability, researchers must begin to answer these questions if study abroad is to remain a critical tool to promote development.

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT However, once students return to their home country, will they sustain the developmental gains obtained from learning abroad? Multiple researchers discussed how students maintained


their developmental gains after numerous years; yet, three of these studies utilized data from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) (Dwyer, 2004; Mohajeri Norris & Gillespie, 2008; Mohajeri Norris & Steinberg, 2008; Rexeisen et al., 2008). These findings are potentially biased because the researchers only studied students who went abroad with IES. Although these studies provide rich information about long-term effects, additional longitudinal studies outside of IES would enhance this field of higher education. A final direction for future research is identifying the differences between students development at the home institution and at institutions abroad (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004). Would the same level of development occur if the student was at their home institution? Although one could suggest that experiences outside of ones home country would result in more development, without a control group, the significance between these settings is unknown. Considering that study abroad is a costly endeavor, it would behoove practitioners to provide evidence that study abroad programs promote development outside the realm of the home institution. Conclusion Students who study abroad have innumerable opportunities to develop cognitively, psychosocially, and socially. Ingraham and Peterson (2004) discussed that study abroad provides an opportunity for a synergy to be established between the academic, professional, personal, and intercultural components of the experience, leading to an overall effect greater than the sum of the individual pieces (p. 98). Although the option of studying abroad is not a recent addition to the university system, the majority of students who participate are still White and

DEVELOPMENTAL SYNTHESIS PROJECT female. With this disparity in representation, practitioners must identify how to advocate and promote study abroad programs for all students. In order to have a clear understanding of how students develop abroad, more research should focus between and within groups. Overall, institutions should continue to support study abroad programs through policy, financial, assessment, research and programmatic efforts so that students may further develop.




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