Students in a global village: the nexus of choice, expectation, and experience in study abroad

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Anderson, Beverly Diane

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Higher education today operates in a globalized environment. Within this setting, study abroad has been designated by the federal government as an educational tool to promote national security, U.S. leadership and active engagement in the international community. Roughly over 190,000 American students went abroad in 2003-2004. The 2005 Lincoln Commission report recommended that the U.S. send one million students abroad annually by 2017. This lofty goal will be difficult to obtain without having more comprehensive data on why and how students choose to study abroad. The purpose of this study was to explore undergraduate student decision-making, expectation of and experience in study abroad. Factors that influence decision-making as well as expectations and on-site experiences were examined. The researcher drew from students participating in the Commerce School of Business International Programs at Respected State University as the sample, using a college choice theoretical framework built on years of previous research on the tactics of college-bound students and the college student experience. The researcher utilized qualitative research methods relying on interviews of the participants. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and then coded. The data was member-checked and peer reviewed for validity. Surveys were employed to bolster interview data and to add reliability. The Anderson Model of Study Abroad Choice and Model of Study Abroad Student Expectations provide two frameworks for how students make decisions and what they expect when studying abroad. Critical factors for these models included: travel and location, educational attainment, aspirations, background, cultural exposure, personal growth, language development, financial variables, social environment, and institutional climate and characteristics. The study also revealed that study abroad experience can be explained using Terenzini and Reason's (2005) college experience model. The study contributes to the field of international education, academic affairs and student affairs by filling a large gap that exists in research on American students abroad. By examining the nexus between choice, expectation and experience in study abroad, the study provides rich data that can help to improve study abroad programming.