Personal Growth & Study Abroad

Ingraham, E. C., & Peterson, D. L. (2004). Assessing the impact of study abroad on student learning at michigan state university. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 83-100.

Since 2000, Michigan State University (MSU) has been engaged in a process of assessing the impact study abroad has on student learning at their institution.  Ingraham and Peterson’s (2004) report is the first publication to present the initial findings of the study.  In the report, the authors rely on pre and post surveys administered to study abroad program participants, journals written by students while abroad, focus groups of returned students, and written reports from faculty who have led programs.  The study also used information from MSU’s central student database “to compare various aspects of students who have studied abroad with those who have not” (p. 85).

What I appreciate about MSU’s project is that it seems like a great example of action research in study abroad from which I can learn for my future research.  Rather than creating a study that is designed to have broad implications for the field, the institutional assessment committee established to oversee the project set out to carry out a study that would continually assess the impact of study abroad on the specific goals and learning outcomes MSU set for its students and programs.  These goals are listed by Ingraham and Peterson as follows:

1. Facilitate students’ intellectual growth
2. Contribute to students’ professional development
3. Accelerate students’ personal growth
4. Develop students’ skills for relating to culturally different others
5. Enhance students’ self-awareness and understanding of their own culture
6. Contribute to the internationalization of the students’ home department, college or university (p. 84)

The project used qualitative and quantitative analyses of the aforementioned datasets to verify its findings.  In terms of a qualitative analysis, the researchers used student self-assessments and consulted faculty observations of students on their programs.  As for qualitative analysis, the project reviewed student data obtained from the University’s central student database. The authors state that because the findings were meant to be used only internally at the institution, “we have not undertaken a search of the existing literature in order to provide a bibliography and citations” (p. 84).  While I understand this to some degree, I think it would have still been useful to present some key pieces of literature that the project’s assessment committee consulted in order to establish their research design, especially to glean some insight as to how they agreed upon the aforementioned goals.

The presentation of the report is organized and concise, but is notably lacking in some areas, such as the research design section.  I would have appreciated more insight into the pre and post program questionnaires that were used, as well as being provided more information in how focus groups were formed, although I suspect a reason why details such as these were not shared was because of the intent to have this serve internal institutional priorities.  I do not think that the findings can necessarily be considered to be significant for the field at large, namely because the research design was based around MSU’s specific goals for its students and programs, but the findings do seem credible and would probably be alike if other institutions were to carry out similar projects.  I appreciate that the study was closely linked to MSU’s own institutional priorities since outcomes of study abroad programs can vary depending upon how study abroad is situated at each individual institution.

As evidenced in some of my earlier posts on this blog, Ingraham and Peterson found that “overall, there is a strong perception of significant gain from participation in study abroad and it is evident that short-term programs provide notable value” (p. 90).  This study further clarified the nature of this gain in finding that personal growth was among the most impacted by study abroad, whereas professional development did not demonstrate any statistically significant difference.  One reason for such a profound effect on personal growth is “the psychological challenge posed by the unfamiliar…[it] is particularly acute when abroad and, while sometimes the anguish it can cause (e.g., homesickness, depression) can diminish the benefit, there is no doubt that the predominant effect on personal growth is positive and profound” (p. 94).

This recalls the notion, posed by Jordan and McDaniel (2014), of “productive uncertainty” (p. 34).  I strongly believe that part of the reason study abroad is lauded as such a transformative educational and personal experience by international educators is precisely because of its ability to encourage learning in highly unfamiliar contexts.  Students not only learn academics, but learn about their various identities and how they react in different scenarios when they are forced to navigate unstructured and foreign settings.  Therefore, it is not surprising to me that the authors would find such marked increase in the area of personal growth.  I think the area of ‘productive uncertainty’ in the study abroad context holds rich opportunities for research.  Specifically, on short-term programs led by American faculty, examining how groups of American students rely on one another and their faculty member to negotiate these unfamiliar settings seems to me as though it would be very useful.  Depending upon the findings, strategies for preparing students to embrace the idea of productive uncertainty rather than succumb to mental health issues that may arise, such as homesickness or depression, would be very useful for the field.

Concerning what further study might effectively build on this piece of research, since it is very tailored to MSU’s study abroad initiatives, I think the researchers should next look at a group of students who have not applied to study abroad and examine personal growth for this group.  In higher education, there is much discussion on student engagement theory so it would be interesting to know if the levels of personal growth gained during study abroad have any statistical significance as compared to those gains in personal growth by students who did not study abroad but who are engaged in other manners on the home campus.

Ingraham, E. C., & Peterson, D. L. (2004). Assessing the impact of study abroad on student learning at michigan state university. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 83-100.

Jordan M.E. & Mcdaniel R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams : The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences.


“Our failure to account for how researchers leave the field–how they can responsibly extricate themselves from an ethnographic situation that binds researcher and researched through ongoing processes of ‘colonialism, imperialism, missionization, multinational capital, global cultural flows, and travel’–is a troubling area of silence” (Figueroa, 2014, p.129).

This week I choose to reflect on the above quote from Paris and Winn’s (2014) Humanizing Research because of the applicability to my own area of research.  In education abroad, reentry, or reverse culture shock, “is the process of readjusting, reacculturating, and reassimilating into one’s own home culture after living in a different culture for a significant period of time” (Gaw, 2000, p.83).   In Figueroa’s poignant essay, she implores social researchers to pay more attention to the ‘exit’ phase of the research process, whereby the researchers depart their communities that they have been studying to return to their regular communities of practice. This part of the research process can be overlooked and instead, Figueroa suggests that researchers should ask, “have we acknowledged and fulfilled our responsibility to the communities who have welcomed us?  Have we–in both our own opinion and the opinion of participants–fulfilled the commitments we made at the beginning of the study?” (p.129).  

Just as researchers must leave a community that at once may have seemed foreign and personal to them, so to do our students leave their host cultures only to return to a home that is perhaps less familiar where they must then make sense of all that they encountered and learned while abroad.  Consider this #ReEntryProblem tweet from Twitter user @DanielleSleeper:

The sad fact is, that as Figueroa asserts is the case in research, often times, not much attention is paid to the critical exit and reentry period.  Aside from a myriad of psychological issues that might affect returning students, such as depression, loneliness, and general anxiety (Gaw, 2000), having an intervention during the reentry process can be important for meaning-making as part of the students overall transformational experience. Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus  (2011) echo this sentiment, stating, “as institutions provide these short-term experiences, it is also important for follow-up to occur after the experience is over. This follow-up presents opportunities for students to build on their experiences rather than letting them fade” (p. 225).

Therefore, as I consider the goals international educators often have for their study abroad participants it is intriguing to apply this education abroad lens to support Figueroa’s plea for researchers to “move beyond outdated notions of researcher neutrality,” (p.130).  Rather than merely being passive bystanders observing the host culture from a bubble, we tend to want to see our students engaging in thoughtful, reciprocal interaction with their hosts.  That is where intercultural learning and understanding can occur.  Why, then, do we expect that this would be any different for social researchers?

While I still struggle with the concept of forgoing objectivity in research, when I think about this dilemma from my education abroad lens, I begin to see logic in what Figueroa and others are advocating for in terms of humanizing research.  In order to maximize the learning opportunity, shouldn’t researchers seek to understand their subjects by injecting themselves in the middle of their daily lives?  The problem is, if this is done, then care must be taken when it comes time to leave the community.  It is a question of humans interacting with humans–a science wholly different from that of a researcher breaking down enzymes in a lab or an engineer working with software on a computer.  When we relegate our human research participants to data in a spreadsheet, what do we lose in the knowledge-making process?  What about ethics?  These questions are similar to those questions I have about our American students studying abroad.  When we fail to assist our students in reflecting in order to derive meaning and to be able to articulate their abroad experiences, when we turn a group of American college students loose in a foreign town without teaching them about humility and cultural relativism, do we not do more harm than good?



Gaw, K. (2000). Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 83-104.

Paris, D., & Winn, M. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.



Increasing Access to Study Abroad Via a Blended-Learning Experience Model

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business, 5(2), 163–173. 

With the 2013 Open Doors report finding that 76.4% of U.S. study abroad participants are White, there is much discussion in the education abroad field about how to increase access to study abroad for underrepresented groups (Institute of International Education, 2013).  Particularly given that the demographics of higher education participation are changing to include increased numbers of Black, African American, Hispanic,  Latinos, and non-traditional students, institutions like ASU are trying to determine how best to help their study abroad participation rates reflect their institutional enrollment makeup.  The article written by Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg details an emerging model that may hold promise for helping other institutions offer study abroad opportunities to these and other traditionally underrepresented groups.

Slotkin et al. describe a short-term study abroad program began in 2011 through the Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Business (FTCoB).  The FTCoB program included a short trip abroad to Madrid Spain in conjunction with an online learning component, thus constructing the blended-learning experience for this short-term study abroad program.  The reasons for the implementation of such a model are primarily because of the unique makeup of the FTCoB student population whereby:

  • 60% of the FTCoB students are enrolled in online programs
  • 39.4% of students enrolled in the offsite campuses identify themselves as minority students
  • 34.8% of online undergraduate students identify themselves as minority students
  • Online students are typically mid-career, full-time professionals pursuing a degree part-time
  • Offsite campus students are predominantly active military personnel, military veterans, or employees of U.S. government contractors and typically adult learner, part-time students

Because of the high level of minority and less-traditional students comprising the FTCoB’s student population, creation of the blended-learning study abroad experience was essential in ensuring its viability and being able to serve the disparate needs of these minority groups.

This article did not carry out a research study per se; instead it utilized a brief literature review to form the basis of the benefits likely to be derived for distance-learning students participating on a study abroad experience and then offered perspectives and discussion based on the experiences of the FTCoB program.  The review of the literature explored studies such as Donnely-Smith (2009) which made comparisons between distance learning and short-term study abroad, “mirroring previous debates held on the efficacy and rigor of online education, academics and administrators question if students can receive the same benefits in a short-term as opposed to mid or long-term programs” (Slotkin et al., 2012, p. 165.)   It appears that the debates about online learning bare similarities to those which are being launched at short-term study abroad programs at the moment.  Slotkin et al. continue by presenting literature (Donnelly-Smith, 2009, Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010) which suggest that short-term programs can actually be ideal in that they afford students a more structured learning environment and that having an abroad experience to then translate into future career skills is particularly important for business students.  In terms of access, Slotkin et al. also cite literature that suggests short-term programs afford students, who have other obligations such as family or work and who represent minority or low-income populations, the opportunity to participate in an abroad experience that, “provide[s] them with the cultural and academic skills they will need to compete in a global workforce” (Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010).

In terms of its strengths and areas for improvement, the article is very well organized, providing the reader first with an essential background into the unique demographics and structure of the Florida Institute of Technology and then presenting the authors’ hypothesis based on relevant literature.  The article ends with a succinct outline of the makeup of the program and a recapitulation of the main benefits the authors believe the blended-learning study abroad program afforded students.  Its contribution to the field is strong because, as previously stated, increasing the number of minority and less-traditional students in study abroad is a current topic of interest for the field at large, as evidenced by international education organizations such as the Diversity Network, and the numerous conference sessions at NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad dedicated to the topic.  However, as the article freely admits, research on the intersection of education abroad and online learning is in its infancy, and so there is much room for growth.  In the case of this particular article, the FTCoB program is relatively new and therefore its numbers too small to form generalizations for the field, however Slotkin and Eisenberg’s arguments are grounded in logical assertions based on the literature and hold promise for future research to be done in this area.

The perceived benefits that Slotkin et al. outline include:

  • Enhanced viability: the ability to pull from the online and offsite campus student populations meant a better chance for the study abroad program to meet its necessary enrollment numbers to be able to offer the program in the first place.
  • Enhanced diversity:  “Of the remote students who constituted the FTCoB study abroad, more than 70 percent identified themselves as African-American or Latino, in stark contrast to the predominantly white and international mix hailing from the main campus” (p. 168).
  • Enhanced experience for distance-learning students: whereas the online students typically only had interaction with university faculty via phone and e-mail, the study abroad program gave them a chance to interact with FTCoB professors, foreign professors, and their peers with many remarking “that they missed the process of contemporaneous discussion with their peers and professors” (p.169).
  • Enhanced relationship with the main campus: by affording online students the ability to have face-to-face interaction with campus constituents, Slotkin and Eisenberg propose that the FTCoB study abroad program may lead to increases in alumni participation and giving rates by this student population.  This is grounded in the claim they cite from Black et al. (2006), “campus visitation may increase the distance education student’s sense of inclusion into the university community at large.”

When I think about Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg’s article in relation to my experiences in working with short-term programs at ASU, I am excited at the possibility of further developing the blended-learning model to increase access for these underrepresented populations.  ASU currently does run a few short-term programs that include an online pre-trip module so I will plan to run some statistics to see if these programs have a higher participation rate of students from the ASU Online community or other marginalized populations than do our non blended-learning programs. With 9,612 students enrolled in the ASU Online program (Keeler, 2013), this seems like a sizable population from which to draw upon for study abroad participation and I have noticed an increasing number of online students apply to programs which I coordinate.  I think the possibility for more targeted marketing, advising, and resources for this population is great.

In terms of further study that might effectively build on this area of research, I think that it would be important to examine the needs of distance-learning students and non-traditional students in preparing for an study abroad program.  As I have slowly begun to see an increase in participation on study abroad programs from these two groups, I have noted that they involve different processes in preparing them for the experience.  One example is as basic as course the course registration process for online students.  Currently, there is not an automated process for allowing these students to register for study abroad courses as there is for our regular campus students and there is a lot of troubleshooting that goes on.  Similarly, when working with non-traditional students, they have specific advising needs in light of their family and professional situations that I feel would warrant specialized advising and pre-departure orientation sessions.  It would be very beneficial to learn what other specific needs these populations might have when pursuing a study abroad program.

Donnelly-Smith, L. (2009), “Global learning through short-term study abroad”, Peer Review, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 12-15.

Institute of International Education. (2013). “Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2001/02-2011/12.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Keeler, S. (2013). Record number of students choose ASU. Retrieved June 13, 2014, Retrieved from

Mills, L., Deviney, D. and Ball, B. (2010), “Short-term study abroad programs: a diversity of options”, The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 1-13.

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business5(2), 163–173.

Productive Failure?

For most of my life I have been involved in some form of schooling.  At this point, it is beginning to seem as though I will forever be a student.  It was with this framework that, as I read Jordan and McDaniel’s (2014) study this week, I began to think about the idea of failure and how since I was in kindergarten, I have been conditioned to think that failure is not an option.  There was no use for failure in terms of my education.  Though I acknowledge that my parents’ strong work ethics had a role to play in helping me to form this opinion, I think that much credit is due to my own self-motivation and being conditioned in the United States education system where competition seemed to start at such a young age.  Therefore, I paused when I read the following passage in Jordan and McDaniel’s study,

“However, research by Kapur and colleagues has shown that, properly managed, involving students in active struggle can be productive for learning.  Both failure and uncertainty create opportunities for argumentation, for the pursuit of different lines of logic, for knowledge construction, and for the movement of ideas from tacit to explicit…achieving productive failure is no easy task and requires careful attention to the entire process of the educational endeavor” (p. 34).

Productive failure.  As the product of nearly 20 years of conditioning myself to believe that anything less than an ‘A’ is unacceptable, this phrase seems highly oxymoronic.  Yet, when I consider the intersection of this aspect of the study with my line of research in education abroad, I immediately see the logic in this line of reasoning.  Some of the moments where the most powerful learning happened to me while studying abroad occurred when I was engaged in a process of productive failure (only I certainly did not think of it in this way at the time!).  I can remember a time when I was trying to communicate with a crêpe-maker on the streets in Paris after a long day of class and all I wanted was a ”crêpe au sucre,” only thanks to my poor American accent, the crêpe-maker could not understand what I was asking for.  Baffled at why I could not succeed in communicating when, in my mind, I was saying exactly what I wanted, I then proceeded to practice the nefarious French ‘R’ sound with my newly-made French friends later that evening for hours on end.  After failing to succeed in this most basic of tasks, I was determined to figure out what the issue was so I could fix it.  The rest of my summer seemed to be spent over-correcting my French R’s, much to the amusement of my Parisian friends.

Study abroad seems like a perfect environment in which to build upon Jordan and McDaniel’s intriguing research on how uncertainty is managed, in particular with relation to peer influence. On short-term programs where students are studying abroad with fellow U.S. students, group dynamics are very intriguing to watch as it seems relationships form and deconstruct very quickly as peers navigate the foreign and highly uncertain contexts in which they find themselves.  To be sure there are many opportunities for productive failure.

However, with productive being the operative word, success with this model all depends upon a methodical intervention.  I believe that left unsupervised, or without a student who is intrinsically motivated, these opportunities may do more damage then good.  Consider moments where students fail to understand why a host culture does something a particular way.  That student might interpret the host culture as worse than their own simply because of a misunderstanding that had gone unchecked.  As Perry, Stoner, and Tarrant (2012) argue in their article, “Within study abroad experiences, exposure to new places, cultures, and learning environments where a students’ preconceived and established notions and beliefs are tested, may act as the catalyst or impetus for bringing forth a transformative experience.  Of particular importance is the creation of moments of critical reflection and discussion.  In these types of environments, exposed to realities that are outside their previous understanding, the learner may discover a need to acquire new perspectives in order to gain a more complete understanding” (p. 682).  Though international educators laud the experience as a transformative one, the reality is that this cannot be the case without intentional opportunities for critical reflection.  Moments for productive failure will remain failure if we do not seek to engage students in this process of thoughtful reflection.


Jordan, M., & McDaniel, R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1-47.

Perry, L., Stoner, L., & Tarrant, M. (2012).
More than a vacation: Short-term study abroad as a critically reflective, transformative learning experience  Creative Education, 3(5), 679-683.

The Importance of Student Motivation in Short-Term Study Abroad

Allen, H. W. (2010). What shapes short-term study abroad experiences ? A comparative case study of students ’ motives and goals. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 452–470.

Summary of Study
Having been a participant on a short-term intensive French language study abroad program twice myself, I found Allen’s study to be very relatable.  Allen chose to examine the goals and motivations that shaped two female students’ short-term study abroad experiences, specifically examining their language learning while participants on a 6-week program in Nantes, France.  If there are naysayers out there about the ability of short-term programs to instill long-term cross-cultural benefits in students, it seems that there are even more academics who contest the true language skills students are able to derive from participating on a short-term study abroad program such as this one and the two I completed.  Consider the literature Allen cites, including Davidson (2007), “[Davidson’s research] claimed that for programs of 6 weeks or less, development of linguistic and cultural proficiency is extremely unlikely to occur” (p. 453).  Certainly I do not think that fluency in a language is something to be expected by participating on a program of such a short length, but reflecting on my personal gains, I cannot help but think there are other gains made, such as the acquisition of more colloquial and current vocabulary, as well as gains in self-confidence leading to continued study of the language.  This latter point was something that Allen actually examined in this study as well.

Allen’s findings indicated that the motives surrounding each students’ reason for pursuing study abroad seemed to have the most impact on determining to what extent the students’ language levels developed during the study abroad program.  Allen’s connection to Lompscher’s (1999) characterization of the types of learning motives was very powerful at contextualizing this finding, explaining that “Molly’s [learning motives] were consistent with social learning (i.e., to communicate or cooperate with others) and higher level cognitive motives (i.e.; arising from her intrinsic interest in learning), whereas Rachel’s were consistent with lower-level cognitive motives (i.e., learning with the goal of obtaining a result)” (p.467).  Therefore, it was logical to see that after the program, Molly went on to declare a major in French and was considering moving to France upon graduation, whereas Rachel ended her study of French after she completed her minor in it, something she had cited as a reason for participating in the study abroad program in the first place.

Strengths and Critiques
Though the research questions posed in this study are not terribly unique as language acquisition during study abroad programs has been studied before, I found Allen’s use of an active theory perspective to be quite revealing in the study’s findings, namely attributing importance to students’ own goals and motivations for participating on a study abroad program.  Overall, I find the article to be well organized and developed, leading to very logical conclusions and important discussion for the field (particularly for advisors and faculty leading short-term programs, who are perhaps best positioned to work with students on identifying their goals and motivations) however, the fact that Allen only examined two students on a single program makes drawing any large-scale conclusions rather tough.  Methodology included recruiting eight participants and then hand-selecting two females based on shared characteristics such as GPA, little prior travel experience, and similar levels of French language skill. I presume this allowed for an even ground for comparison, however I wonder if bias might have been present given that this does not seem very randomized.  The study’s main source of data came from participant blog entries and three interviews.  A pre-trip questionnaire and one administered during the program’s final week were also used.  The researcher also explains that she served as the program director for the trip and interacted with participants weekly, “allowing establishment of trust,” however I think that this, too, might have introduced some level of bias when analyzing data.

Relation to Personal Experiences
As I indicated, since I participated on a short-term French language program, it was helpful for me to reflect on my own motivations for pursuing a study abroad program and to think about how much I feel I learned on my program in terms of language acquisition.  For me, participating on the study abroad program was not an option but something that I felt I had to do in order to come closer to my overall goal of one day being fluent in the language.  This seemed similar to Molly’s motivation as Allen indicates, “What led Molly to participate in study abroad was that full immersion was critical for achieving French fluency” (p. 457).  However, like Molly, I fully acknowledged that participating on a short-term program was not going to make me become the fluent speaker that I desired to be.  Rather, I saw it as an important next step in bringing me closer to that goal.  After having 4 years of French study, it was time to take what I learned in the classroom and put it into practice, which was an important step in building my confidence at speaking French.

At the end of the program I felt pleased with what I managed to accomplish on my 4-week program.  Though I was not fluent, the biggest gains for me were that 1) I had connected with French people my age who taught me how young French people really speak (colloquial and slang variants as opposed to the textbook French I had been learning) and 2) I had succeeded in communicating with a variety of French people in multiple aspects of their society, not the least of which was passing two courses taught completely in French at a French institution.  These successes were critical for me in building my self confidence in continuing to speak and learn the language, and I think, helped me to make greater gains in the language at a quicker rate than I was learning in a traditional classroom setting.  I liken this to the fact that, like Molly in Allen’s study, my goals were more in line with wanting to be able to communicate and learn for the sake of learning, rather than merely wanting to complete the program to advance a degree requirement, which is more in line with Rachel’s motivations.

Ideas for My Area of Interest
In Allen’s discussion and conclusion, she raises two excellent points for my area of interest.
First, based on her findings, Allen asks, “How can study abroad curricula accommodate students with varied motives and goals who enact agency in different ways?” (p. 469).  Given that students’ decisions to pursue study abroad opportunities are so varied, how can international educators and faculty directors work together to develop learning outcomes that will speak to these differences?  As Allen discovered in interviews with Rachel, part of the reason that she did not advance as much as she wanted to with her French language skills stemmed from the fact that she was unable to adapt her learning methods to a style outside of the traditional classroom. International educators need to develop ways to identify students who are are not as self-sufficient at adapting to the new learning environments that study abroad incorporates and provide interventions that assist these students accordingly.

Secondly, and this is a topic I have considered for my own research before, Allen discovered that “Blogging can serve as a tool for self-reflection and goal-setting; however, it is evident that blogging without faculty mediation or other intervention is insufficient” (p. 469). Engaging students in meaningful reflective practices before, during, and after their time abroad is something that I believe is necessary to ensure maximum gains in benefits to be derived from participating in study abroad.  However, this reflection must be monitored and leaders of programs must intervene in order to help students make meaning from their experiences and reflections.  One idea I have is the development of an online course module that study abroad participants would engage in during their experience abroad, regardless of what program they were studying on.  This online module would be designed to be a reflection intervention that provides a way for international educators to help students work through the obstacles they might encounter when pursuing their goals and developing their new skills on their programs.

Allen, H. W. (2010). What shapes short-term study abroad experiences ? A comparative case study of students ’ motives and goals. Journal of Studies in International Education14(5), 452–470.

Learning How to Know

Lately I have been coming across the word epistemology a lot; talk about a difficult word to ascribe meaning to.  I suppose that is how it goes with most philosophical studies, no?  However, the study of knowledge and how one learns has become a central theme as I start my doctoral program.  In particular, when reading an article by Wenger (2000), the idea that we, as individuals, “…each experience learning in our own ways” (p.3) held significant importance as I thought about this in terms of my own field.

In my blog post from last week, I remarked that I recently had a light-bulb moment when I realized that the students I was preparing to send abroad could not hope to fully negotiate differences with other cultures without possessing a firm understanding and awareness of their own culture and identity.  Only now it seems obvious to me that we all would experience learning in our own ways, shaped by our own identities and experiences.  Nevertheless, I felt a similar sensation of discovery when I read Wenger’s words and reflected on some of the following points raised by other authors.

Though it was quite foreign to me, I found Cajete’s (2008) chapter on the different orientations of indigenous science education to be a fascinating way to contextualize this theme.  Since I have grown up in a Westernized society, what I think about knowledge acquisition and creation, and namely the scientific process, seem almost second nature to me.  However, I was not just born with the inherent knowledge of these processes, rather, like indigenous populations mentioned in Cajete’s chapter, my understanding of the world and how to learn and create knowledge are products of my environment and those who have taught me our society’s norms and traditions. Though it is difficult for me to imagine incorporating dreams into our scientific processes as it seems Garfield (1974) suggests some American Indian societies do as part of their knowledge-gathering traditions, I do agree that as educators, we need to be more flexible to adapting our own rigid means of conveying knowledge in order to better connect with those students that come from exceptionally different backgrounds than our own.

However, one point of disagreement for me that stemmed from an issue raised by a few of these articles was the idea that ‘White, Western’ society’s notion of objectivity in research and knowledge creation is unrealistic, and perhaps limiting.  Specifically, Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas “[rejected] the prevailing orthodoxy that scholarship could or should be “neutral” and “objective.”  These scholars believe that scholarship about race in America could never be written or distanced from or with an attitude of objectivity” (as cited in Cajete, 2008, p. 87).  Similarly, Cajete (2008) maintains that, “…focus on objectivity can block deeper insight into the metaphysics of the reality and process of the natural world.  Western science does not consider the affective, intuitive, and soulful nature of the world” (p. 491).  I find these claims truly vexing when I think about the implications of non-objectivity in scholarly work.  When I read reports and journal articles, read or watch the news, or am told something is a certain way by an authoritative figure, I find myself questioning to what degree individual biases have affected the information that is being transmitted to me; I tend to never take information at its face value.  Call me a cynic, but to me, knowledge creation that is not objective and devoid of emotional, spiritual, and personal notions cannot be truly counted to be knowledge.  At best, this would constitute someone’s educated opinion.  I respect that perhaps my opinion on this matter is colored by the years in which I have grown up with this Westernized doctrine, and I do agree that true objectivity is rare in most all fields and a very real threat to credible research, but to introduce these other aspects into research is to weaken its credibility.

That being said, there is truth to the general theme that we as individuals all learn how to know in our own way.  Just as other cultures perceive the world differently from one another, so to do individuals learn and create knowledge differently.  If we, as the new educational leaders, are to provide access and equity, and create positive impact in our field, we need to reflect on the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all method to learning acquisition, and that perhaps the solutions to some of our society’s most pressing issues will be solved by these new or different ways of thinking.


Cajete, G. (2008). Seven orientations for the development of indigenous science education. In N. K. Denzin, Y. Lincoln S. & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 487-496) SAGE.

Dunbar, C., Jr. (2008). Critical race theory and indigenous methdologies. In N. K. Denzin, Y. Lincoln S. & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 85-99) SAGE.

Garfield, P. (1974). Creative dreaming. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

Does Program Length Matter?

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.

Short-term Study Abroad Programs are on the Rise
Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus’ 2011 study focuses on a hot topic in the field of education abroad: the effects of short-term study abroad programs on students.  As a product of short-term study abroad programs myself, and considering that I currently work on short-term, faculty-directed programs, I of course see the benefits of these programs, but as they increase in prevalence, there are a growing number of professionals who call their academic integrity into question.  I think this study is a timely and important one because as the Institute for International Education details in its latest Open Doors report (2013), 51.50% of American students studying abroad do so on a program that is 8-weeks or less in duration.  With the continued growth in this sector of the field, we need more studies to aid in ensuring that the programs our students are participating in are indeed providing the meaningful impact that we want for our students.

Summary of Methodology and Findings
The study was conducted at a single institution on a short-term program of 10 days.  A small group of 10 students, studying in the Czech Republic were invited to participate, of which only 7 students actually participated fully.  The research questions Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus addressed were:
1.) What meaning do students make of their participation in a short-term study abroad experience, both immediately after the experience and a year later?
2.) How do the students attempt to integrate this meaning into their lives?
3.) To what extent do students follow through on new commitments or intentions developed as  a result of program participation?

The researchers used a case study approach grounded in Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning, which is a theory that “describes the ways in which students’ experiences alter their frames of reference, or the ways they make meaning of the world” (p. 215).  Methods included participant observation, document analysis, and 3 interviews: the midway point of the trip, right after the trip ended, and one year after the trip had ended.  The findings of the study suggest “students who had engaged in subsequent learning opportunities continued to find meaning in their study abroad experience. The experience had faded into a distant memory for students who did not integrate the experience into their lives in some way” (p. 213).

Strengths and Areas for Improvement
Among the study’s strengths, I found that the organization of the article was logical and made their processes and conclusions very easy to follow.  Concerning the literature review, I found it to be balanced, presenting both sides of this debate, something I have not always seen.  In particular, I was delighted to see studies such as Neppo and Chieffo (2005) and Griffiths (2004) included since these studies produced findings that confirmed benefits of short-term programs. Additionally, I think the piece does contribute to the field, providing a strong argument for requiring meaningful re-entry intervention with students participating on short-term programs.

However, the study is not without its shortcomings, and most notably to me is the small sample size.  For one, only a single program at one institution was studied.  In order to build more confidence in these findings, I think groups from a variety of institutions and short-term programs should have also been included.  Feedback from 7 students can hardly be considered a basis from which to make broad applications for the field.

Furthermore, I take issue with the study’s data collection methods because the researchers were leaders of the program in which they were assessing.  Perhaps this is a risk of action research, but I think the opportunities for bias are heightened because of the ties they have with the program, a fact that the researchers attest to in their limitations section stating, “although this was beneficial in that we participated in the same cultural immersion as the students and developed relationships with the students, there was a risk that we were too involved in the research outcomes” (p. 218).  This is an important issue for all action researchers of which to be aware when conducting research and I am reminded from recently reading Gould (1981) and Howard (2003).  Gould’s summary of Samuel Morton’s polygeny and craniometry studies is quite revealing in how easy it can be to make obvious errors in research when harboring such intense beliefs about what the outcomes should be.  Similarly, Howard makes an important point for student teachers that can be applied to action researchers as well: critical reflection of one’s own identity and biases is paramount before undertaking the activity in question.

New Ideas on the Importance of Re-Entry
Though there are some issues with how this study was conducted, the findings do seem logical and I would be interested to see these research questions continued to be studied.  In particular, I think the finding that those students who participated in an activity that made use of those experiences in the year that followed made more meaning from their short-term program than those students who did not is particularly important for the re-entry phase of education abroad programming.  As Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus explain, “The true test of any educational experience is the extent to which students integrate their new knowledge and understanding into their lives. As the results of this study show, “the extent to which students learn from a short-term study abroad experience may depend more on what those students do after they have returned home than on anything they did while abroad” (p. 223).  Too often, study abroad offices lack re-entry programming or coursework that could help alumni of short-term programs make meaning of their intensive experience.  Or, if something is offered, it is usually a welcome back pizza party with little academic structure designed to have students working through the reflective processes that would encourage transformative learning.  As the leader of our office’s re-entry team, however, I note, too, how difficult it is to get students to come to re-entry activities, be it a pizza party or otherwise.  Therefore, I think continuing with this line of research might be helpful  in order to to determine if an intervention, such as a required 1-credit re-entry course module, might be effective if introduced for all short-term participants.

There is More Work to be Done!
Aside from expanding the population included in this study so as to hopefully build more trust in the universal application of the findings, I think it will be important to examine the types of re-entry interventions that students participate in and what outcomes of transformative learning they lead to.  For the students in this study, three of the four students who claimed the short-term program in Prague had changed their lives went on to participate in additional international travel one year later, and the fourth student went on to complete an internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where he reflected on plans to travel to a developing country in the future.  By assessing the types of activities students participate in post short-term study abroad and the meaning these students make from their short-term study abroad experiences later on, perhaps we as educators can gain new insight as to the types of resources and opportunities we should be plugging our students into upon their return.  I think this opens up opportunity to provide focused advising and recruiting efforts to help these students find more intensive, long-term study abroad programs, internships, and graduate programs that will help them more fully integrate their new-found self-confidence lessons learned on their short-term programs.


Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of a man. (pp. 30-72). London: Norton & Company.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Institute of International Education. (2013). “Duration of U.S. Study Abroad, 2001/02-2011/12.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.

Know Thyself

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

For the readings this week, there was a common theme between a couple of the pieces that really resonated with me, and probably because I see direct correlations with my field of study, which is education abroad.  That theme is identity.  Not only do I see a relationship to my field, but I find the theme of identity applicable to our course’s guiding question on access, excellence and impact. Let me explain…

In Garcia and Ortiz’s 2013 piece, Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education, their argument is that it is impractical to hope to draw conclusions or prescribe solutions when dealing with a disparate group of individuals; you must acknowledge that every individual is comprised of multiple identities which colors their experiences and how they perceive the world.  As they explain, “A master category like race/ethnicity fails to account for within-group diversity based on people’s multiple social identities. Concomitantly, the education system’s failure to account for within-group differences renders these sub-groups invisible, and increases the risk that some students with special needs are overlooked and may not receive services to which they are entitled” (p.36).  By choosing to examine a subset through the lens of just a single, superficial identity, such as race, we as educators, fail to acknowledge that what works for one member of that racial group might not actually be what is best for another member of that same racial group who also identifies with another subset.

When I think about this principle in my field, one example might be concerning the dearth of African-American participation in education abroad.  When we make sweeping generalizations that the reason for why this population is under-represented in education abroad is because of economic deterrents, we fail to account for other factors that might be contributing to their decision to pursue this opportunity.  Perhaps they also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and have reservations about navigating another culture with this identity because of difficulties living with this identity at home. Or perhaps their parents never had the opportunity to study or travel abroad and so they do not even have the background from which to ask the right questions and start the research to take part in this opportunity.  The possibilities are as infinite as there are unique identities.

Perhaps more interesting to me, in terms of drawing comparisons to my field, was the 2003 article by Howard, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.  In my current position, I lead our Student Orientation and Re-entry Team (SORT). The SORT team is responsible for organizing our students’ pre-departure orientation meetings before they depart for their programs abroad.  As recently as this past year, I had a quintessential light-bulb moment when I realized that we were going about preparing students for their short-term programs the wrong way.  We had been focusing on introducing students to their host culture when really, one cannot begin to understand another culture before one understands their own culture, and more specifically, their own identity.  In a similar fashion to Howard’s argument that teacher’s need to engage in critical reflection to understand the particular biases that they bring into the classroom environment, so to do our students who are going abroad need to understand who they are as a person and an American and how that will influence their perceptions and understandings of a host culture.

Therefore, identity is perhaps one of the central foundations of problems related to access, equity, and impact because it is identity which raises the questions of who has access, is there equality across all involved, and what is the impact for individuals?  In terms of education, identity seems as though it may forever be the guiding light to which educational leaders must continually return in order to solve the issues related to these areas.


Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection.  Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.