State University Research Update
Office of Institutional Research and Planning
Portland State University Study Abroad Pre-Travel Survey Results
The purpose of this assessment was to assist the Office of International Affairs at Portland State University in developing ways to measure student learning in the Education Abroad program. The pilot survey consisted of a pre-test and post-test that targeted students participating in study abroad experiences during Fall Term 2004. Survey items covered topics such as students’ prior experiences with international travel and issues, expectations for and perceptions of their study abroad experience, and attitudes related to the goals of International Education at PSU. Survey data were collected online.
As of Fall 2004, only pre-test data had been collected. As a result, this report only reflects responses prior to the students' study abroad experience. Post-test surveys will be administered following students' return to campus.
Of 98 students surveyed, 41 responded (42% response rate). Most of the respondents (93%) had traveled outside the U.S. prior to their study abroad experience. Three-fourths (76%) of the respondents were female. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 44 years, with 54% between 19 and 24 years of age (M = 25.24). Twenty-nine (71%) students identified themselves as white/non-Hispanic. One student identified as Hispanic, one as Black/African American, one as Asian or Pacific Islander, two as Native American, and seven declined to respond. The majority (85%) of students were undergraduates, but three were post-baccalaureate and three were graduate students. Respondents' demographic information was similar to other PSU students who did not complete the survey.
In examining the survey results, demographic (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, and academic classification) differences were tested. Generally, only a few significant age differences were found and noted in the report.
Study abroad students were asked how often they had the opportunities to interact with others who have national, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds different from their own in classes, at work, at home, at social activities, in their neighborhood, and during community activities. Students responded on a 7-point scale (i.e., 1 = Never to 7 = Very Often) how often opportunities for such interactions arise. Most interactions occurred “At work” (67.5% indicated a 5 or higher), “In classes” (68.3% indicated a 5 or higher), or “In social activities” (65.8% indicated a 5 or higher) and were least likely to occur “At home” (68.2% indicated a 4 or lower), “In my neighborhood” (63.4% indicated a 4 or lower), or “In community activities” (56.2% indicated a 4 or lower). Students were also able to describe any additional situations that offer interactions with culturally, nationally, or ethnically different persons. The three most common situations identified were while traveling, being in church, and through volunteer work. Means are provided in Figure 1.
Knowledge Resources for Destination Country
Students indicated how much they felt they knew about the country they would be visiting. Students responded on a 7-point scale (1 = No Knowledge to 7 = A Lot of Knowledge). The most frequently cited sources were maps, or other geographic sources (46.4% indicated a 5 or higher) *, readings, assignments, lectures or discussions in class (46.4% indicated a 5 or higher), news articles or other media (44% indicated a 5 or higher), or personal experiences with relatives of other acquaintances (41.5% indicated a 5 or higher). Means are provided in Figure 2.
Study Abroad Experience Expectations
The next two survey questions asked students to reflect on the effects their study abroad would have on their global knowledge and attitudinal outcomes using a 7-point scale (1 = None to 7 = A Lot). First, students were asked how much they think that studying abroad would improve their understanding and knowledge of international concerns (M = 6.15)*. Nearly all (98%) felt they would gain at least some knowledge or understanding, and 55% expected to gain “a lot” of knowledge or understanding of international concerns. Second, students were asked how much studying abroad would change their attitudes about other cultures and societies (M = 5.17)*. Almost all ( 98%) felt they would gain at least some attitudinal change, with 27% expecting to change “a lot.”
Students also described in an open question format what they expected to gain from studying abroad. One of the most frequently cited gains was improving foreign language skills*. One student reported the expectation of developing “Proficiency in certain languages that I am studying.” Often coupled with language acquisition was that most felt study abroad would lend itself to self-enhancement, by way of submersion into other cultures. One student said: “ I want a different perspective on the world and just about life in general. I would like to meet new people and form new relationships and contacts. I would also like to grow as a person and find out more about myself. I also expect this experience to help me in the future when it comes to finding a job.” Another student reported that he or she wanted “a more international outlook, language skills, cultural awareness, different teaching approaches, foreign friends...”
In addition, students were also asked what Americans have to gain by spending time in other countries*. Many students offered thoughtful responses. The common theme across student responses was that Americans acquire a great deal of knowledge from multiple perspectives from visiting countries outside of the United States. For example, one student noted: “I think that most of all one gains a different perspective on the identity of the United States and the role that we play as a world power, not just politically but culturally as well. I think that if more Americans spent significant time living within different cultures, America would be a very different place.” Another student noted that Americans could “gain some understanding of some little part of the world outside the U.S. and to understand how others view the U.S., and why.”
The next two survey questions asked students to reflect on their values regarding other cultures and their own using a 7-point scale (1 = Strongly Disagree to 7 = Strongly Agree). First, students were asked whether knowledge of other cultures helps them understand their own culture (M = 6.39)*. Three fourths (76%) strongly agreed. Second, students indicated whether they thought people must be tolerant of beliefs and practice that are different from their own (M = 6.49)*. Over two thirds ( 68%) strongly agreed. In addition, there were two significant differences by age. Older participants agreed significantly more with “Knowledge of other cultures helps me understand my own culture” and “We must be tolerant of beliefs and practice that are different from our own” than younger students.
Students also reflected on what constitutes a global citizen*. One student reported that “b eing a global citizen means being aware of those in other countries as being people very similar to oneself. It's too easy to think of non-English speaking people as being lesser beings when they can't tell you how they feel or what they think.” Similarly, another student reported, “…it means to be aware of what is around you and who is around you. It means having respect for others and being tolerant. It is important to have an understanding of things that are different, or at least have an idea of how to adapt to different circumstances when different cultures mix.”
An additional examination of students’ views of themselves in a larger global context was tapped with the open-ended question, “do you think that decisions or actions you take at home, in your local context, have an impact on the world at large? If so, how?” Students' comments generally reflect agreement with this viewpoint*. One response to this was: “ Absolutely. The personal choices that we make, such as which president to vote for or which produce to buy has an especially large impact due to our nations status as the worlds’ only superpower. We hold a lot of power and a lot of privilege and we must keep an idea of social responsibility in mind at all times. Our nation is entwined with so many others, that it is important that we try to make those relationships positive rather than negative. We can do this by organizing locally to campaign toward solving global problems, and use our purchasing influence to support responsible businesses and protest irresponsible and destructive ones.” Another response was: ”Hugely. America has put the world in a very terrible mess. If we don't vote responsibly, millions of people could die indirectly. Even if we do vote "correctly"--our economy, our way of doing business is fundamentally exploitative and we are largely ignorant of that. The Cold War is an excellent example. Millions of people were killed or coerced into laboring for the first world--even if they were paid a little. Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Cambodia, Vietnam etc.--everything we do, everything we buy, nearly every decision we make, every day in America or in the rest of the free world can have grave consequences directly or indirectly for the rest of the world.”
Study of Foreign Languages
Of the 41 respondents, 18 (44%) identified having studied at least one foreign language, 22 (54%) identified having studied two to three foreign languages, and one individual reported having studied 4 or more*. Students also reported where they had studied these foreign languages. Students most frequently cited that they studied foreign languages in their high school and at a university (see Figure 3 for frequencies). Students identified travel and foreign language schools as additional ways of studying foreign languages. In addition to these foreign language survey items, students also reported how many college-level courses, if any, had they completed with the term ‘global’, ‘cross-cultural’, ‘multicultural’, ‘international’, ‘world region’ or a similar term in the title. 63% identified having been enrolled in 1 to 3 of such courses.
Financing Study Abroad
Next, student participants identified how they would finance their study abroad. Students frequently reported that personal finances and Federal/State financial aid would finance their study abroad. Figure 4 displays the frequencies of how study abroad will be financed for the respondents.
Primary Motivation to Study Abroad
At the end of the survey, students explained what they felt was the primary motivation for their study abroad. One of the most frequently cited motivations was to improve foreign language skills*. One student reported being motivated to “ learn about myself and improve my Spanish.” Often coupled with language acquisition was self-enhancement as a motivation for study abroad*. One student reported that he or she hoped study abroad would “ help me understand my own ethnicity and learn the language. To become more aware of my own culture to help me communicate better with my family. Also to engage myself in international communities for any future plans.”
Results from this pilot survey provide insights into students’ motivations for pursuing study abroad opportunities and their expected learning outcomes. The post-test (to be administered in Winter 2005) will be used to identify changes in student responses to similar items following their study abroad experiences. A final version of the instruments is planned for Fall 2005.
* Survey item related to PSU international learning goals.