An Investigation into the Impact of Study Abroad on Intercultural Development

Tak HA
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong


It is often said that cross-cultural experiences would bring about positive development in students' intercultural competence and global outlook. Accordingly, a lot of higher education institutions are encouraging their students to spend some time to study in a different culture by creating for them opportunities to participate in exchange programs. A brief survey of the research literature on the experience of students studying abroad uncovered quite a few studies that provided empirical support for such claim (Dwyer 2004, Anderson and Lawton 2009, Sowa 2002, Hadis 2005).

This proposal reports the preliminary findings from an empirical study which examined the impact of overseas exchange programs on the development of students' intercultural competence. A total of 532 students were involved in the study, which used a pre-test and post-test design to assess the impact of the exchange experience and the effect of various factors (such as exchange destination, length of stay, accommodation, interaction with local students, motivation to study abroad) on students' cultural development. Intercultural competence was measured using the Intercultural Student Attitude Scale (Shaftel & Shaftel, 2010) and the Intercultural Sensitivity Scale (Chen & Starosta, 2000).

The study found some of the abovementioned factors to have significant effect on students' intercultural development after controlling for their pre-test score difference. For example, staying on campus seemed to benefit intercultural development. Students who were keen to develop their cross-cultural competence prior to going on exchange were also found to benefit more from the experience.

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