Growth and Meaning through Study Abroad: Enhanced Perspectives with Mixed Methods


  • Tanja Seifen University of Mississippi
  • Yolanda Rodriguez University of Mississippi
  • Laura Johnson University of Mississippi


international education, meaning, student growth, mixed methods


International experiences are touted as enhancing cultural and global competencies in college graduates, however, findings are mixed depending on outcomes assessed and methods used. This study sought to examine students’ international experience by looking at purpose and meaning, and intercultural and civic skills. A total 123 students completed self-report measures and open-ended questions before and after studying abroad. Quantitative analysis of data indicated no statistically significant changes, except for a decrease in search for meaning. Qualitative data suggested an increase in personal growth and uncertainty about how to interpret the international experience, and a decrease in language gain and host culture knowledge. Findings indicate a gap between quantitative and qualitative assessment, suggesting that open-ended questions give students a better chance to reflect on their personal experiences. More research is needed in order to investigate meaning and growth through study abroad.

Author Biographies

Tanja Seifen, University of Mississippi

Department of Psychology

Doctoral student in clinical psychology

Yolanda Rodriguez, University of Mississippi

Department of Psychology

Doctoral student in clinical psychology

Laura Johnson, University of Mississippi

Department of Psychology

Clinical psychology

Associate professor


Anderson, P., Lawton, L., Rexeisen, R., & Hubbard, A. (2006). Short-term study abroad and intercultural sensitivity: A pilot study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30, 457-469.

APA Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists (2002, August). Retrieved from

Bikos, L, & Dykhouse, E. (2015). Re-entry friction: Exploring the potential to maximize gains from international immersion learning. Retrieved from

Caldwell, P., & Purtzer, A. (2014). Long-Term Learning in a Short-Term Study Abroad Program:“Are We Really Truly Helping the Community?”. Public Health Nursing, 32, 577-583.

Carlson, J., Burn, B., Useem, J., & Yachimowicz, D. (1990). Study abroad: The experience of American undergraduates. New York, NY England: Greenwood Press.

Chieffo, L., & Griffiths, L. (2004). Large-scale assessment of student attitudes after a short- term study abroad program. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 165–177.

Dewey, D., Bown, J., Baker, W., Martinsen, R., Gold, C., & Eggett, D. (2014). Language use in six study abroad programs: An exploratory analysis of possible predictors. Language Learning, 64, 36-71.

Dolby, N. (2004). Encountering an American self: Study abroad and national identity. Comparative Education Review, 48(2), 150–173.

Durrant, M., & Dorius, C. (2007). Study Abroad Survey Instruments: A Comparison of Survey Types and Experiences. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11, 33-53.

Engle. L., & Engle, J. (2003). Study abroad levels: Twoard a classification of program types. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 9, 1-20.

Engle. L., & Engle, J. (2004). Assessing language acquisition and intercultural sensitivity development in relation to study abroad program design. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 219-236.

Gullahorn, J., & Gullahorn, J. (1963). An extension of the U-curve hypothesis. Journal of Social Issues, 19, 33-47.

Hadis, B. F. (2005). Gauging the impact of study abroad: How to overcome the limitations of a single-cell design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(1), 3–19.

Harrison, K. (2006). The realtionship between international study tour effects and the personality variables of self-monitoring and core self-evaluations. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 13, 1-22.

Healy, L. M., Asamoah, Y., & Hokenstad, M. C. (eds) (2003). Models of International Collaboration in Social Work Education. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

Kenyon, G. M. (2000). Philosophical foundations of existential meaning. In G. T. Reker & K. Chamberlain (Eds.),

Exploring existential meaning: Optimizing human development across the life span (pp. 7–22). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kitsantas, A. (2004). Studying abroad: The role of college students’ goals on the development of cross-cultural skills and global understanding. College Student Journal, 38(3), 441–452. Retrieved April 6, 2005, from EbscoHost database.

Kortegast, C. A., & Boisfontaine, M.T. (2015). Beyond “It Was Good”: Students’ Post Study Abroad Parctices for Negotiating Meaning. Journal of College Student Development, 56, 812-828.

Lysgaard, S. (1955). Adjustment in a foreign society: Norwegian Fulbright grantees visiting the United States. International Social Science Bulletin, 7, 45-51.

Mapp, S., McFarland, P., & Newell, E. (2007). The effects of a short-termstudy abroad class on students’ cross-cultural awareness. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 13 (1), 39-51.

McCabe, L. T. (1994). The development of a global perspective during participation in Semester at Sea: A comparative global education program. Educational Review, 46(3), 275-286.

Medina-Lopez-Portillo, A. (2004). Intercultural learning assessment: The link between program duration and the development of intercultural sensitivity. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinar Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 179–200.

Mezirow, J. Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.

Moely, B., Mercer, S., Ilustre, V., Miron, D., & McFarland, M. (2002). Psychometric properties and correlates of the civic attitudes and skills questionnaire (CASQ): A measure of students’ attitudes related to service learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 8, 15-26.

Neuliep, J. W., & McCroskey, J. C. (1997). The development of intercultural and interethnic communication apprehension scales. Communication Research Reports. Vol. 14, 385-398.

Nyaupane, G.P., Teye, V., & Paris, S. (2008). Innocents abroad: Attitude change toward hosts. Annals of Tourism Research, 35, 650–67. Open doors report on international education exchange (2015, November 16). Retrieved from Data#.V7CjX2U03zI

Poole, D., & Davis, T. (2006). Concept mapping to measure outcomes in study abroad programs. Social Work Education, 25, 61-77.

Rahikainen, K., & Hakkarainen, K. (2013). Nordic experiences: Participants’ expectations and experiences of short-term study abroad programs. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 57, 467-487.

Schulenberg, S., Schnetzer, L., & Buchanan, E. (2011). The purpose in life test-short form: Development and psychometric support. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 861-876.

Schwarz, J., Domenech, D., Tonelli, M. & Hauck, K. (1999). Study abroad expands cultural view, life skills, and academic experience. Human Ecology, 27, 10–14.

Steger, M.F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80-93.

Tabi, M.M. & Mukherjee, S. (2003). Nursing in a global community: A study abroad program. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 14, 134-138.

Vande Berg, M., Connor-Linton, J., & Paige, R. M. (2004). The Georgetwon Consortium Project: Intervention for student learning abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 18, 1-75.

Van‘t Klooster, E., van Wijk, J, Go, F., & van Rekom, J. (2008). Educational travel: The overseas internship. Annals of Tourism Research, 35, 690–711.






Research Articles