Kenneth Levine’s and Michelle Garland’s study “Summer Study-Abroad Program as Experiential Learning: Examining Similarities and Differences in International Communication” investigates the effect of study-abroad programs on intercultural communication competence. To see the effect, they gave 110 students studying abroad pre- and post-program questionnaires. To determine the effects of study abroad on cultural sensitivity, the questionnaire asked “What are the role prescriptions of a North American?” and “What are the role prescriptions of a French person?” To determine the effects of study abroad on understanding of cultural differences, it asked “What is the biggest difference between the communication style of a North American and that of a French person?” and “What is the biggest difference between the organization communication style of a North American and that of a French person?” As many in the field of international education would anticipate, the answers to these questions and how they changed pre- and post-study abroad “…suggest that there is more understanding of the differences between cultures after spending the month studying in Europe” and that “there appears to be more understanding of both their own and the French culture as a direct result of participating in the study abroad program.” The results of the questions on cultural difference showed an increase in cultural sensitivity as a result of the study abroad experience.
Studies like this one are of utmost importance to the field of international education. According to Jane Knight, "Internationalization is a process of integrating an international, intercultural, and global dimension into the goals, functions, and delivery of higher education." This study shows that short term study abroad programs increase intercultural understanding and sensitivity, allowing administrators to be more certain that integrating this international dimension into their delivery of education will help effectively achieve their goals. Being able to show hard statistics in this manner also makes it easier to argue for funding for these programs, and for a place in the curriculum.
One part of Levine's and Garland's conclusion stuck out to me: "If “intercultural communication is not a natural human quality” (Olson & Kroeger, 2001, p. 124), there needs to be a desire to learn. Oftentimes, the desire is a byproduct of the study-abroad experience rather than the impetus to participate, but regardless, the outcome is the same." I think this raises a chicken and egg question- do students need to have an inherent "desire to learn" to gain intercultural communication skills via study abroad? I think this is an area where additional research is needed.
Knight, Jane. "Five myths about internationalization." International Higher Education 62.1 (2011): 14-15.
Levine, K. J., & Garland, M. E. (2015). Summer Study-Abroad Program as Experiential Learning: Examining Similarities and Differences in International Communication. Journal of International Students, 5(2).