The Effects of Studying Abroad on Learning

Author: Brander Sattler

From: East Meadow, NY, USA

Studying abroad is truly a thrilling experience. Hopping on a plane, going across borders, and experiencing a new place on this globe is definitely more thrilling than staying in one corner of the world throughout the school year. The benefits to studying abroad don’t just include experience and overall happiness; they extend to other areas such as learning and retention. How does studying abroad affect our learning and retention? What specific evidence do you have? Let’s answer those questions below.


Academic Performance

Through the journeys of studying abroad, students are more likely to graduate school or transfer from a community college to a 4-year institution. How can this be proven? Through a quantitative regression study of California community colleges, it has been discovered that study abroad programs improve almost every aspect of the students' education. For example, students that participated in a study abroad program are 8 percent more likely to have transferable English credits within 3 years and 19 percent more likely to have transferable math credits within 3 years than students who did not participate in study abroad programs. In addition, students who completed study abroad programs were more likely to have a transferable GPA than students who did not because the GPAs of students that participated in study abroad were on average 0.18 points greater than students that did not participate in these programs. All of these facts culminate into study abroad students transferring to four-year schools at a rate of 47 percent greater than students who did not study abroad. These statistics show that studying abroad improves academic achievement. Why does this occur? What is the psychology behind this? The answer: neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is how our brain is wired, and different stimuli change how our brain is wired. When you experience new sights, foods, sounds, and an overall change in environment, different synapses in your brain are sparked, revitalizing your brain. According to Adam Galinsky, professor at Columbia Business School, deep experiences in a foreign environment “increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought.” Experiencing new cultures allows our brains to grow in a unique, creative way. Furthermore, the multicultural experiences that come with traveling abroad improve the cognitive and creative abilities of the students. These refined abilities explain the greater academic success of students who study abroad as college courses involve extreme critical and out-of-the box thinking. Besides increased academic success, what other benefits does studying abroad have on students?


Language and Cultural Education Studying abroad allows students to explore different corners of the world and experience different cultures and languages first-hand. These experiences include living as a local in a foreign country, interacting with people that speak a different native language every day of the week, trying exotic foods that are almost unheard of in the United States, and participating in local festivals and holidays. Does this experience affect their education and learning in their language and culture studies? In order to answer this question, a study was carried out in the United States in which 61 study abroad programs (consisting of students from 190 American educational institutions) were examined in order to determine the level of intercultural learning and the foreign language oral proficiency of students enrolled in the study abroad program and compare them to students who were not enrolled in the study abroad program (control students). The study concluded that the oral proficiency of the students that participated in the study abroad program was greatly improved. On the contrary, the students that did not participate in the program actually got worse at oral proficiency in their foreign language classes. These experimentally determined statistics show that study abroad programs broader real world as well as the student enrolled in the program. As people from around the world are becoming more interconnected, the barriers that separate them are becoming more apparent. One of these biggest barriers is the language barrier. Since study abroad programs help to break this barrier, they allow for interconnection between the world’s people that will most likely foster great achievements and advancements. In addition to oral proficiency, the intercultural competence of the students that participated in the study abroad program increased greatly. These facts show that studying abroad not only increases your cognitive abilities, but it also increases your awareness of culture and the people that live around you. These skills are important for the real-world because in the new age of technology, the world is becoming more globalized. As a result of this globalization, intercultural skills are becoming increasingly more valuable in today’s work environment. Academic institutions on their own will provide you with the necessary academic information needed for life. However, the gap they often fail to fill is the need for knowledge of the outside world and intercultural skills. Study abroad programs fill this gap and benefit students in the long run.


Conclusion

As shown by psychological evidence and analysis of the changing world, studying abroad has great benefits on students at school and in their future lives. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt on study abroad programs, that does not stop you from learning about new cultures. Even with the pandemic holding you back, be open to learn about new cultures and broaden your horizon.

 

Author: Branden Sattler


Branden is a rising junior at East Meadow High School. He has a passion for psychology and wants to understand how different aspects of life affect a person’s emotional well-being.

 

Citations

  1. Anderson, C. L., Christian, J. J., Hindbjorgen, K., Jambor-Smith, C., Johnson, M., & Woolf, M. (2015). Career integration: Reviewing the impact of experience abroad on employment. Minneapolis, MN: CAPA International Education and University of Minnesota, Learning Abroad Center.

  2. California community college student Outcomes Abroad research project. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2021, from http://globaled.us/cccsoar/quantitative-regression-results.asp#top

  3. Crane, B. (2015, March 31). For a More Creative Brain, Travel. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/for-a-more-creative-brain-travel/388135/.

  4. Vande Berg, M., Connor-Linton, J., & Paige, R. M. (2009). The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for student learning abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 18(1), 1-75. doi:10.36366/frontiers.v18i1.251

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