Developing intercultural competence through study abroad programs
Given the challenge faced by higher education institutions in developing academic programs that prepare students to work in a globalized world, universities have fostered a series of initiatives to internationalize their curricula. Among these initiatives, a study-abroad program, which plays a prominent role, is usually described as a life-changing experience. There is, however, a need for further quantitative evidence of the learning outcomes of these kinds of intercultural activities. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of studying abroad on developing intercultural competence among undergraduate students, and how variables such as student's personality and the degree of intercultural contacts during their study-abroad program, influence the development of intercultural competence. Using a pre-post design, 324 undergraduate students from four different Colombian universities and from one university in the United States participating in a one semester study-abroad program were surveyed twice (October 2010 and July 2011). The results indicate that studying abroad generated a statistically significant positive effect on intercultural competence. This relationship was confirmed by the degree of the effect size with the study abroad group and the control group as well as the degree of within-subjects effect size for the study abroad group alone (pre vs. post). Furthermore, the results from hierarchical linear regression did not yield any evidence that supports the moderating effects of the personality factors of extraversion and openness to experience on the relation between study abroad and intercultural competence. However, some interesting findings show the main effect of these two personality factors on intercultural competence. Finally, the results confirm that students' intercultural competence is positively related to their level of intercultural contacts developed while studying abroad.