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Understanding How Program Factors Influence Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad: The Benefits of Mixed-Method Analysis

By Dane S. Claussen, Ph.D., MBA
Manager of University Relations
Athena Study Abroad

“Understanding How Program Factors Influence Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad: The Benefits of Mixed-Method Analysis,” by Andrea Paras, Michael Carignan, Ashley Brenner, Jane Hardy, Jodi Malmgren, and Melanie Rathburn, was published in the Spring 2019 issue of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. The authors, from six different universities, studied a sample of 81 students who participated in various short-term study abroad programs, of which 53 completed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) both before and after their study abroad programs. The researchers also performed a qualitative analysis of students’ writings about their experiences, to better study—as Darla Deardorff has called for—the process, rather than only the results, of students’ development in intercultural competence. The authors and students were from (with programs noted): Community College of Philadelphia (international fellowship, Tanzania), Elon University (history, Italy), Wabash College (global public health, Peru), Mount Royal University (biodiversity/conservation, Honduras), St. Olaf (healthcare, Peru), and University of Guelph (ethics of international experiential learning, India). The researchers were limited in drawing conclusions due to the impossibility of controlling for even most, let alone all, independent variables that might affect changes in IDI scores. One unexpected independent variable emerged late in their analysis: “intra-group dynamics have a surprising impact, sometimes positive and sometimes
negative.” Still, the article authors were able to draw two general conclusions, neither of which is new in study abroad research: IDI scores increase because of “significant pre-departure training that provides students with a toolkit of skills for responding to cultural differences” and “a major service-learning component, which seemed to provide more opportunities for meaningful intercultural experience, insights, and reflection.” In the future, such studies need to systematically compare mostly similar students, institutions, study abroad programs, pre-departure trainings, and service-learning work to isolate individual independent variables affecting intercultural learning processes and results; in other words, the six groups and their programs were too diverse (both among the groups and within the groups) to draw more conclusions.

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