Identity change in students who study abroad
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Over 240,000 American students studied abroad in the 2006 - 2007 academic year (Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, 2005). Despite the large number of students abroad and the breadth of the study-abroad literature (e.g., Dwyer 2004, Anderson, Lawton, Rexeisen, & Hubbard, 2006; Dewey, 2004; Milstein, 2005), there is relatively little work on the psychological ramifications of going abroad. Specifically, few studies investigate issues of identity change in students who study abroad. This dissertation was designed to provide an initial examination of these issues. Three theories of identity were applied to understand identity change in students abroad. Self-categorization theory (Oakes, Haslam, & Turner, 1994), which emphasizes the fluidity of identity and its dependence on social memberships, predicts that students will internalize the culture abroad and become very connected to it. Self-verification theory (Swann, 1997; Swann, Rentfrow, & Guinn, 2002) states that because people's personal identities give their lives coherence, meaning, and continuity, people are highly reluctant to change their personal identities. According to self-verification theory, students abroad will cling to their existing identities and remain connected with people from the country of origin. Identity negotiation theory (Swann & Bosson, in press; Swann, 1987) adopts a moderate position, suggesting that people retain their original identities but, under some conditions, modify them in response to exposure to the host culture. Students spending a semester abroad completed online questionnaires before they left the United States, and three times during the semester abroad. Students changed on several characteristics across the semester abroad. Students abroad changed more than a matched-control group spending the semester at the University of Texas at Austin. Personal characteristics, such as extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience, predicted degree of personal change, personal growth, and identification with the host country. Various social behaviors abroad, as well as living with a host family, were correlated with identity change. A model linking each theory with data about various choices of living arrangements, social behaviors, and identity outcomes is presented.