Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

Beyond the Bubble: Study Abroad and the Psychosocial and Career Development of Undergraduates

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Education

First Advisor

Amy E. Wells Dolan

Second Advisor

Marc Showalter

Third Advisor

David A. Spruill

Abstract

Parents, as important constituents, along with accrediting bodies, are seeking to know more about how students are prepared “to work and ethically interact in an increasingly complex global community” (Rexeissen & Al-Khatib, 2009, p. 193). Exploration into the career developmental gains associated with study abroad is therefore of increasing importance. This study was driven by the following research question: What experiences and perspectives inform the psychosocial development [as defined by Chickering and Reisser (1993), including: developing competence, managing emotions, moving through autonomy toward interdependence, developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, and developing purpose] and career development (including career choice and professional identity) of students who study abroad? More specifically, this research addressed the following problems: (a) What personal and career transformation occurs (or is perceived to occur) through the participation in a study abroad experience, and (b) how does the participation in a study abroad program contribute to the development of career choices and life goals? Participants in this qualitative phenomenological study were senior year students who studied abroad while attending a 4-year public institution in the Southeastern United States. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 female and 17 male participants. After inductive analysis, five themes emerged, including: (a) It was just great expectations! (b) Beyond the “bubble," (c) Life is all about the people you meet, (d) I grew more than I can ever remember, and (e) I am more confident in my ability to be successful. Study abroad participation was found to inform the psychosocial and career development of the participants of this study. Psychosocial growth and development occurred along the first six vectors described by Chickering and Reisser (1993). It was found that the study abroad experience did inform the career decision-making of participants, though findings did not support gains in study abroad participants' professional identity. Furthermore, career development of participants in this study was found to be a multifaceted process supported by gains in development along previous vectors during and after study abroad participation. Based on the findings of this study, recommendations were made to inform future practice, research, and policy.

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