Study abroad heightens global engagement

The study surveyed more than 6,000 college graduates.

Hillary Kline

University of Minnesota researchers released study results Wednesday indicating that students who study abroad are much more likely to become globally engaged citizens afterwards. Gerald Fry , professor of International and Intercultural Education, and researcher to the study, emphasized the importance of having hard evidence to measure the impact of studying abroad long term.

For the study, researchers led by University professors Michael Paige and Fry, who are part of the University?s Study Abroad for Global Engagement project, electronically surveyed more than 6,000 graduates of 22 colleges who had studied overseas within a 50-year time span, according to a Powerpoint presentation created by researchers. "We're very excited about what we found," Paige said. "We are enthusiastic about the study and we are delighted, of course, that it was at the University of Minnesota, the home base of this work."

Of the people surveyed, Fry said more than half of them wanted to be interviewed because the experience had a "lasting and impacting effect." "They, themselves, saw that this was such an important experience," Fry said.

Participants of the study attributed their level of global engagement to their experiences studying abroad, he said. In the study, global engagement is defined as a combination of six characteristics: global leadership, global values, philanthropic donations, volunteerism and domestic and international civil engagement.
Fry said he and Paige started discussing the topic back in 2001. He said they were both very conscious that studying abroad had benefits for the individual who goes abroad in terms of their education and career.
"Then we were beginning to think more broadly about that; were there going to be benefits that go beyond the
individual?" he said. "What are the benefits to society in large if people study abroad?"

The study was also inspired by a book, "The Shape of the River," by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok, which looked at what happened to people who had benefited from affirmative action. Fry and Paige decided to look at the last 50 years and see what happened to people who studied abroad and how it might have an impact on their life and global engagement, he said.

"This is something that's important to the country and even beyond the country; these are people that get involved," he said. "That's pretty important."

Fry said he and Paige were curious to see if studying abroad had any impact on global engagement. Both researchers looked at what Fry calls the "four Ds:" Demographics, duration, destination and depth.
Fry said, in terms of this study and in relation to global engagement, the duration of time spent overseas did not make much difference. Fry said there has been a lot of research on study abroad and most of it focuses on what happens during the experience and the process, but this study differs.

"What is unusual about this study is that it looks at what its impact is over this long period of time, over 50 years," said Fry.

Fry said they looked at the occupational and educational impacts of study abroad, and said those appeared to be "very significant, but that wasn't so surprising." Fry said colleges and universities should think seriously about whether study abroad should be an integral part of liberal education.

"Carlson requires study abroad for all our students," Fry said. "Our study indicates that is probably a wise policy."

The Carlson School of Management announced in September that starting with the freshman class of 2008, all of its undergraduates must fulfill an "international experience" requirement before graduation.

© 2009 Minnesota Daily