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Students Rave About the Rewards of Study Abroad

PRAGUE—Asian-Pacific students who participated in study-abroad programs gave a strong endorsement of the benefits, building support for governments and universities to spend more money on such student-exchange programs.

Ninety-nine percent of the students said that the experience broadened their perspective on life; 97 percent said that it helped make them the person that they are today.  Also, 84 percent said that it helped their academic performance and 71 percent believed the experience has already helped or will help them progress in their careers.

The study may be of value to international offices that sometimes struggle to prove, beyond the anecdotal comments of their students, that their work has value.  “From time to time, we have to fight with senior management to get support,” said Gordon W.H. Cheung, associate vice president at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a former president of the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education.  The Chinese University of Hong Kong was one of the institutions that participated in the survey.

While the study, conducted in the spring of 2014 and reported here at the annual meeting of the European Association for International Education, was limited to one region, it may encourage similar surveys in other parts of the world.  The survey was a collaborative effort of the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education and i-graduate, a company best known for its measurements of the “student experience.”

The 1,761 students and recent graduates who responded to the survey in the spring of 2014 were from seven universities in six locations: Japan, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. Most of the students spent a substantial period of time at the foreign institution they visited: 31 percent spent ten or more months, 11 percent spent seven to nine months, 50 percent spent four to six months and 8 percent spent zero to three months. Eighty-eight percent of the survey participants were undergraduates and they visited 50 different countries.

The students were asked if they would actively recommend or actively discourage their peers from studying in the country that they went to. The United Kingdom appeared to be the country where students had the best study-abroad experience.  Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they would actively recommend the United Kingdom; 71 percent would do the same for Germany; 64 percent for the United States; 59 percent for Japan, 56 percent for Australia and 54 percent for China.  (Thirty percent of those students who went to the United States studied in California.)

The survey found there were areas in the study-abroad experience where there is room for improvement, said Cheung and others who participated in the session. It seemed that the students’ home institutions could offer more support and that  the experience seemed to have less influence on the students’ careers than expected. It may be, Cheung said, that students need to spend more time in the host country for the experience to affect their work or that study abroad may impact their careers in later stages, since only recent graduates were surveyed.

The longer that students go abroad the more likely they are to use the experience to advance their careers, said Saski Jensen, a senior researcher with i-graduate. Some earlier studies have hinted that short-term study abroad may serve simply to reinforce students’ stereotypes of their destination country. Still, some university international offices advocate for short-term visits as an entry point that will encourage students to return for  a longer time.

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