How Studying Abroad Can Change your Life

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The psychology of travel attempts to explain the effects of a temporary abroad excursion on personal growth. When studying abroad, one can experience extraordinary adventure; this adventure continues their education outside of class. Students are placed into diverse, foreign settings which enable them to experience different cultures and ultimately enhance both their personal and developmental skills. Dialectical points of view from locals can help one to understand political and economic issues, career selection and interpersonal issues (Howard, 1988). Along the way, a person might also feel obligated to bring new insights and visions to acquaintances met while traveling.

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In the end, most students will have new perspectives and unique personal development as a result of their experiences.Previously, the impact of experiencing new cultures has been noted by many literary authors. Through work or travel abroad, psychologists are finding that personal transformation can occur (Sleek, 1998). Individuals can be encouraged to explore personal interests, identities and skills as the processes of cognitive development and career choice are understood. When people learn more about themselves, they are in a better position to plan and implement goals and develop careers that lead to greater success and fulfillment.

Countries thrive in one specific culture but are based on a multitude of different cultures. Some experiences one might encounter while traveling to different countries include new languages, social differences, and lifestyle barriers, all of which are the basic necessities of a human society. Overtime, research has shown that when people visit new countries, they discover certain things about themselves. These themes revolved around the discovery of the individual, culture, and global ‘self’. Such experiences were formed through 2 factors: (1) negotiation within the host cultures, and (2) tension or stress from the role of tourist; and were made extant through signature, portal, and reflective processes (Richardson, 1996).

Psychotherapy groups can be used to seek self-awareness and growth, but these groups can be very slow and extremely expensive. However, there may be more beneficial experiences, such as studying abroad, that can truly transform one’s being. Weaver (1994) notes, “The overseas experience, like that of an encounter or sensitivity group, offers a new social milieu to examine one’s behavior, perceptions, values, and thought patterns” (p. 175). Three medium-sized religious-affiliated liberal arts colleges in the Midwest were used in a longitudinal study on The Impact of Study Abroad on Personality Change by Kauffmann (1983). This study included 126 study abroad participants and 90 control participants; they were given one pretest and two post-tests. When examining the results, semester abroad students showed the most change in three certain areas. These areas included the way they view the world; their interest in others’ health, happiness, and fortunes; and their self-esteem, confidence, and independence grew.

Anxiety can be lessened by establishing an identity, and an individual can also grow their personal integration and stability by this establishment. As people pass through the stages of growth, they acquire new behavioral skills. The theories of developmental psychology help define these stages. Psychologists have used these developmental theories to help define transformative learning. This type of learning refers to reexamining and changing perceptions, values and behaviors. According to Arthur Chickering (1969), developmental traits go hand-in-hand with the establishment of identity. He also stated that whom individuals think they are is the definition of self-awareness. This includes superficial aspects of appearance and the fundamental issues of feelings, self-esteem, importance, and worthiness. Personal growth can become an opportunity through travel and multicultural encounters. These experiences can ultimately transform individuals, organizations, and society.

Students studying for a degree are not always sure of themselves and their future. University atmosphere is often used as a place to find out who students want to be and results in personal experimentation. While obtaining a degree, students might want to go abroad with the intention of adding an international perspective to their education. In a survey of all major U.S. institutions by the Chronicle of Higher Education, results showed that from 1996 to 1997 there was an increase of 11.4% of American college students participating in study abroad programs (Desruisseaux, 1998). These study abroad experiences can be used to student’s advantage in finding out who they are and what they want to do.

Being immersed in different cultures can change a person. After a person’s first trip abroad, they may make statements such as, “This trip transformed me,” “I became more my own person,” “Now I know what I want to do with my life,” etc. (Desruisseaux, 1998; Kauffmann, 1983). After studying abroad, people can start to perceive alternate forms of behavior and cognition, or they might start to question their own attitudes and beliefs because of the diversity of other cultures. Traveling can give a person more than cultural awareness, it can give a cognitive jolt. This cognitive jolt entails a different perception of themselves and their world. It can give clarity to areas of their lives that did not seem clear previously. What caused this change, and how can it be explained?

During study abroad programs, university students reported to Asako Uehara (1986) that the program had changed views on gender roles, dress, and individualism; changed their relationships with old friends; changed goals and achievement behavior; formed different views on global issues; and gained an increased awareness of both home and foreign cultures. The researcher also conducted a survey to compare students studying abroad and domestic travelers. It was matched by age and status. This survey concluded that self-awareness and cultural awareness were directly proportional. Most importantly, students noted that they had learned more about themselves abroad, and both the travel and the reentry process provided opportunities for growth.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to determine measurements and analysis of study abroad. In 1983, Deborah Sell listed a few possible reasons that there is inconsistency with the results. The list is as follows: (a) loosely structured experimental design, (b) infrequent follow-up, (c) lack of an established theoretical base, and (d) lack of consensus concurring what to measure (p. 141). The same idea was reiterated by Jessie Glenora Kennedy (1994), “…further research is needed to better understand the relationship been [sic] developmental processes and levels and the cross-cultural learning experience” (p. 5). Kennedy researched how living abroad for a short period changes a person. For this experiment, she recorded information from 25 cross-cultural students— this information was gained through surveys and interviews. In this study, she even reveals about how her own experience living in Latvia for three months produced a personal change in the way she viewed herself and the world, and experienced change in values that were emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Kennedy (1994) outlined six factors she believed influenced a person while being abroad. The first was the reason for the trip— was the trip for vacation, business, or education? Second, how they communicated abroad (language, written, non-verbal, and mass communication skills). Temporal aspects was the third factor. This influence discussed the length of stay, time of year and the time in history. Environmental setting was the fourth factor, looking into physical, economic, political, social, and technological settings. Fifth, how the person interacted with other humans (intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual; in a setting from deep to superficial). Lastly, what were the spatial aspects: interpersonal, private, and public.

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How Studying Abroad Can Change Your Life. (2019, Nov 07). Retrieved from