Theses Doctoral

Global and Personal: Exploring study abroad participants' communication of their experiences in an online global education program

Lam, Sophie

The number of American undergraduate students participating in study abroad programs is increasing annually. Educators, questioning the quality and impact of students’ learning and their inability to articulate experiences while abroad, have looked to improve intercultural communication. Reflection is frequently recommended as a pedagogical tool to help students examine and connect their experiences to larger ideas of culture, society, and globalization. However, there are few examples in research literature of study abroad students’ written reflection to different audiences and in digital contexts.
This study explored how undergraduate students wrote about their study abroad experiences in a digitally mediated, pedagogical context with young American audiences from underserved backgrounds. It inquired how pedagogically-oriented curriculum did or did not support students’ intercultural learning and processes of reflection. Through document analysis and a qualitative survey of 30 students, and interviews with seven key informants, the study analyzed the products and processes of reflection and writing.
The study found that the undergraduate sojourners represented themselves as travelers who had overcome institutional and socioeconomic barriers in order to pursue their academic and personal goals. Participants wrote about warmth, belonging, and their experiences of receptivity by local people and expressed openness and motivation to write for an authentic audience. A minority of the students wrote from a self-interrogative, implicative perspective where they considered ideas of privilege and critically examined cultural norms. Similarly, a small number questioned the content of the curriculum and tone of their writing, perhaps because of the curricular constraints and presentation of the positive benefits of learning through travel. Overall, the structure of the curriculum facilitated students’ communication as thoughtful citizens not just of their local communities, but also of the world, as they considered their audiences, their position as American travelers, and their relationships with local people. The study supports structured and free-form writing to authentic audiences as a tool for cultivating reflection, exploring identity, and making global and local connections in study abroad contexts. It urges educators to reflect on the goals and conditions for cultivating openness to locals and distant audiences and critical awareness of one’s cultural and social identity.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Vasudevan, Lalitha M.
Gaudelli, William
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 23, 2018