Study Abroad: Holistic Learning

My last two posts, What is High Impact Learning? and Study Abroad: A High Impact Educational Practice, explored and elaborated on the research presented by International Programs Chair Dr. Lisa Zwicker, intern Brigitta Szocs, and me at the 2014 Midwest Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Conference this past April. This final post on the subject will explore how study abroad benefits students holistically. I will briefly demonstrate how study abroad as high impact education incorporates student engagement, which encompasses intentional strategies to develop intercultural relations. Holistic student development and engagement, as described by Braskamp, Braskamp, and Merrill (2009), includes cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal developmental objectives which can be used to explore how holistic learning relates to study abroad and high impact learning.

Study abroad fosters cognitive development such as cultural knowledge and global awareness. It accomplishes this through engagement and interaction, as students studying abroad are encouraged to 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. It is not unusual for students to become less engaged as their surroundings become increasing familiar, but study abroad participants must have higher engagement with their surroundings and people when in an unfamiliar place or culture. Study abroad programs allow students to experience diversity and internationalize their education, incorporating and integrating international perspectives, while expanding students’ minds and helping them appreciate not only foreign culture, but also American culture and how it fits into the world.

Mexico 2012

IU South Bend students in Mexico, 2012

Study abroad also promotes students’ intrapersonal development. Study abroad leads to more integrative and reflective personal exploration. It 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. Additionally, study abroad leads to more social awareness, allowing participants to understand themselves and their culture better. Participants in study abroad programs typically have higher self-confidence, as they learn to interact with people who are both similar and dissimilar as human beings with emotions and desires. These interactions make study abroad participants feel more mature as they learn to properly interact with a differing culture. This is what Van Hoof and Verbeeten (2005) mean when they 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 Because of these diverse interactions and growing global awareness, study abroad participants will also understand their own values more clearly.

Costa Rica 2012

IU South Bend students in Costa Rica, 2012

Finally, study abroad is interpersonal as most participants are positively impacted as they learn and create skills and behaviors. As already mentioned, numerous studies have concluded that study abroad positively impacts engagement and learning upon return. Study abroad leads to higher cumulative GPAs, student participation, and retention. Furthermore, as Elizabeth Redden 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.

As one can see, these three developmental objectives are clearly intertwined with student development. Consequently, like other high impact practices, study abroad develops the whole person and helps students become more engaged and successful. I would argue that study abroad may be the best high learning practice because of all the other benefits that I have mentioned in other blog posts, such as increased job marketability due to an internationalized education.

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)




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