The objective of this dissertation is to determine the program effects of studying abroad for college students at a northeastern U.S. university including: the motivation for studying abroad, the relationships between participants’ characteristics and program effects, and the interrelationships among program effects. A series of investigations have been conducted to answer three research questions and six proposed hypotheses. The questions and hypotheses are based on the results of a pilot study and an intensive review of the previous literature. A total of 265 college students participated in this study and completed a web-based survey in 2005.
The dissertation is organized in a three-article format. The first study explores the motivations for studying abroad and concludes, via qualitative content analysis, that there are six main motivations for studying abroad: cultural learning, academic learning, foreign experience, personal development, pleasure, and social interactions. Moreover, this motivation study showed that the expectancy-valence theory is an alternative approach to interpret participants motivations for studying abroad and the findings exemplify and illustrate that students are motivated by the expected program benefits. However, this study did not testify the application of expectancy-valence theory in study abroad context.
The second study determines the program effects and examines the relationship between participants’ characteristics and program effects. Five program effects are extracted from the answers to a 24-item questionnaire including: language learning, cultural immersion, foreign connection, personal growth, and career development. The results suggest that gender and year-in-college are not significant predictors in terms of program effects. Also, the rest of the findings suggest that business and science majors have higher levels of foreign cultural learning than art majors. Also, the semester-based programs significantly contribute to increasing foreign connections because the homestay option is the most effective living arrangement for foreign language learning among all residency arrangements. Local friendships also contribute to foreign connection and cultural learning.
The third study examines six hypotheses with respect to the interrelationships among program effects. Two models were derived from previous literature and tested in these data. After statistical analyses, an intercultural connection model suggests that language learning is the antecedent for cultural immersion and cultural immersion is the antecedent for foreign connection. Cultural immersion fully mediates the relationship between language learning and foreign connection. In a personal progress model, foreign connection serves as an antecedent both for personal growth and career plans and personal growth also has positive relationship to career plans. Personal growth partially mediates the relationship between foreign interaction and career plans.
Taken together, all results suggest that studying abroad plays a crucial role in the “University of Travel” (Pearce & Foster, 2007), where the close relationship between travel and learning. College officials might consider developing more customized programs for specific target audiences than before, like language learning-oriented or foreign experience-oriented travel programs based on the findings from the second and third studies. From an academic perspective, this study might serve as the primary step in describing the program effects and comprehending how tourism and education cohere together in a travel context. Moreover, future research is needed to examine the program effects longitudinally and experimental-designed research would be an effective approach to identify the cause and effect relationships in terms of program effects.