Life-enhancing: An exploration of the long-term effects of study abroad
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This dissertation considered the long-term impact of participation in a semester study abroad program on subsequent life experiences. Previous research indicated an impact from study abroad on five general categories; (1) intellectual development, (2) expanded international perspectives, (3) personal development (Kauffmann et al., 1992), (4) family life, and (5) community involvement (Carlson et al., 1990). Using these categories as a framework, the guiding research questions for this study were: In what ways are former participants in a study abroad program impacted in the long-term term, and in what ways do they incorporate these impacts into the various areas of their lives? In order to minimize any potential confounding effects related to program type and location, this research interviewed eight former participants from the Buffalo State College Siena, Italy Program. Four males and four females currently living in the Buffalo, NY area were selected for in-person interviewing during the summer and early fall of 2007. The participants spent one semester in Siena during different years; the earliest went on the program in 1962 and the most recent in 1991. The research was conducted through a minimum of two in-depth phenomenological-based interviews with each of the participants. In addition to the five general categories of areas of influence, this study identified a long-term effect on two additional categories; (1) professional accomplishments, and (2) hobbies, interests, and activities. Additionally, fifteen themes of effects emerged from within the seven categories of the participants' lives. This research also recognized that the semester abroad was just one experience in the participants' lives and that there were other aspects of their lives which were potential influences; including their intrapersonal characteristics, interpersonal relationships, and intellectual experiences. The long-term effects of study abroad are a result of a complex interaction of pre- and post-program personal aspects. Thus, the findings of this research revealed that, due to these influences, there are varying degrees of effects of study abroad. Life-enhancing effects may occur when participants are exposed to new influences on existing interests. Likewise, life-changing effects may occur when participants are exposed to new learning or experiences. In either case, many of these effects are still life-long.