Study Abroad: A High Impact Educational Practice

As I discussed in my last post, What is High Impact Learning?, this April, IU South Bend Bend’s International Programs Chair, Dr. Lisa Zwicker, intern Brigitta Szocs, and I presented our research on studying abroad at the 2014 Midwest Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Conference. This is my second post in a three-post series reflecting and elaborating on that research.

I ended my last blog with a question: is study abroad a high impact educational practice? Today I will briefly discuss why study abroad is a high impact practice by briefing looking at elements associated with high impact learning and how they correlate with study abroad. It is commonly accepted that high impact practices involve interaction, engagement, and personal reflection. According to Braskamp, Braskamp, and Merrill, (2009), “[E]ducation abroad has become an increasingly important educational program (experience) in global learning and development, intercultural competence, intercultural maturity, and intercultural sensitivity of students” (101). Furthermore, study abroad is interactive as students collaborate with peers, professors, and the people from their host country. Study abroad also encourages engagement as students are immersed in a new environment and culture. Study abroad requires some personal reflection as typical participants learn to evaluate elements of their own culture in an unbiased manner, allowing multicultural interactions in other settings to become more natural.

IU South Bend students at the Berlin

IU South Bend students at the Berlin Reichstag

According to George D. Kuh, when high impact education practices are implemented in a university, students perform better, respect cultural differences and diversity, graduate quicker and with higher GPA’s, and maybe most importantly, become better world citizens. At least in theory, all high impact practices accomplish this lofty goal. However, I contend that study abroad will accomplish this objective quicker than any of the other practices as it typically combines numerous high impact practices simultaneously. If it is accepted as often written, that most Americans have a limited worldview, study abroad programs allow students to experience diversity and internationalize their education while expanding student’s minds and helping them appreciate not only foreign culture, but also American culture and how it fits into the world.

Over the last couple of years, numerous studies have concluded that study abroad positively impacts engagement and even learning upon return to the States. Study abroad leads to more integrative, reflective, and personal exploration, allowing one to find oneself. Van Hoof and Verbeeten (2005) state that study abroad participants typically learn to evaluate elements of their own culture in an unbiased manner, allowing multicultural interactions in other settings to become more natural.1 Additionally, study abroad leads to increased social awareness, helping participants better understand themselves and their culture. Participants in study abroad programs typically have higher self-confidence, feel more mature, and understand their own values more clearly. Study Abroad leads to higher accumulative GPA, student participation, and retention. Furthermore, as Elizabeth Redden of Columbia University reports, minority participation significantly increases retention and graduation rates.2 All of these benefits are linked to both high impact practices and study abroad. Therefore, study abroad should be considered a high impact practice.

1 Van Hoof, H. B., & Verbeeten, M. J. (2005). Wine is for drinking, water is for washing: Student opinions about international exchange programs. Journal of Studies in International Education 9, 42-61

2 See the Glossari website [Georgia learning outcomes of students studying abroad research initiative] This study is also described in Elizabeth Redden, “Academic Outcomes of Study Abroad,” Inside Higher Ed (July 13, 2010)




One thought on “Study Abroad: A High Impact Educational Practice

  1. Pingback: Study Abroad: Holistic Learning | International Programs

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