Study abroad is a complex and dynamic topic, with many interesting implications on society as the world becomes more globalized. Study abroad programs vary based on many structural factors such as length of stay, location, quality of institutions and language immersion. Student experiences associated with such programs are influenced by these structural factors as well as personal factors including the student’s personality and goals for the trip. This study examines students’ perceptions of the impact of their experiences studying abroad. The research questions included: How do students perceive the personal impact of their study abroad experience? What factors shape these perceptions? What motivates students to study abroad? And what are the students’ anticipated short and long-term impacts of study abroad? We used narrative inquiry methodology to obtain in-depth personal profiles detailing the perceptions of five undergraduate students at Penn State regarding their experience and how to make meaning of it. The study specifically focuses on what motivates students to participate in study abroad, how students perceive the personal impacts of their international experience, what factors shape these perceptions and the short and long-term impacts of this perception. The results of the study showed that all the interviewed students expressed intrinsic and extrinsic factors which they believe motivated them to study abroad. Each student also shared at least one goal they strived towards during their study abroad. Students’ perceived expectations of their study abroad experiences were extremely varied and influenced the outcomes of their trip. Every student shared at least one short-term effect and believed that their experience abroad is impacting their life and will continue to do so in the future. This research highlights important themes for future analysis of the impacts of studying abroad.
Keywords: study abroad, self-perception, student learning, meaning making