A new study shows that studying abroad has positive effects not only on a student’s academic and career success, but also on their personal development.
Researchers at the Friedrich Schiller University at Jena, Germany, found that studying abroad — known as “sojourning” in Germany — helps students develop emotional stability and openness. It also helps them cope with new experiences, according to the researchers.
“To find one’s way in a foreign country is an important life experience,” said Professor Franz Neyer, who conducted the study with psychologist Dr. Julia Zimmermann.
To answer the question as to whether a stay abroad can influence the personality development of students, the researchers conducted an online study that followed more than 1,000 students from about 200 German universities over the course of an academic year.
Included in the study were students who were planning to go abroad, as well as a control group of students who stayed in Germany during the same time. All students completed three online questionnaires, the first one shortly before the beginning of the term, the second five months later, and the third eight months later.
The questionnaires included measures of the “Big Five” personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability — which are considered to constitute the basic dimensions of human personality.
“Those students who are about to study abroad are — even before they leave — more open-minded, conscientious and extravert than their fellow students who stay at home,” said Zimmermann.
“Those who spent some time abroad profit in their personality development, for instance, in terms of growing openness and emotional stability. Their development regarding these characteristics clearly differed from the control group, even when initial personality differences were taken into account.”
According to the researchers, the higher numbers of international contacts helps explain the differences in personality development.
“People who integrate successfully into a different culture may find it easier to cope with new situations and master challenges,” said Zimmermann.
She noted that it “is not imperative” to go abroad to gain these experiences. “But those who hit the road clearly benefit from the sojourning experience,” she concluded.