Does Studying Abroad Make You Smarter?

study abroad

I am a firm believer that there has been a paradigm shift regarding the study abroad programs at American universities. I am a caller at Lion Line which is the calling center for Penn State where students, like myself, reach out to alumni and try to get them to give back to the university. Whenever I call people that graduated as early as the 1970’s and ask them whether or not they studied abroad, a lot of them say “no.” For me, that is surprising because I feel like a lot of students now-a-days go out of their way to travel overseas for school at some point during their undergrad education. Personally, I would like to go to Italy during my junior year. However, the alumni that I call that graduated in the 1970’s or earlier often say that studying abroad wasn’t as big of a deal, or as common as it is for students now. In fact, according to the Institute of International Education, “overseas studies by U.S. students is up 8.5% and has increased four-fold over the past 20 years.” Statistics like these, and comments from alumni have forced me to speculate what the benefits are for studying abroad. Does it make us smarter? I did some research, and decided to share my finding with all of you. So, let’s find out!

My null hypothesis: Studying abroad does not make you smarter

My alternative hypothesis: Studying abroad does make you smarter

According to the GLOSSARI project where 20,000 students from the University of Georgia were tracked for ten years, “those who participated in study abroad programs performed better in school after returning to their American universities.” During this project researchers compared the grade point averages of the study abroad students before they went overseas and their grade point averages once they returned. In addition, researchers compared the graduation rate of study abroad students to those who stay at their university for all four years. In the end, the students who studied abroad increased from a 3.24 GPA to a 3.30 GPA. Not to mention that 49.6 percent of the students that studied abroad, graduated in four years while 42.1% of the students in the control group that remained at their universities graduated in four years.

Moreover, William Maddux conducted a study called “Expanding Opportunities by Opening Your Mind.”  which consisted of tracking students over a “highly international ten-month master of business administration program.” Maddox even kept in mind and controlled personality and demographic variables. However, in the end, he came to the conclusion that people who have experience with different cultures are more open minded and innovative.

Clearly, the GLOSSARI project and Maddox’s study have produced results that are consistent with my alternative hypothesis. As a result, I am able to reject my null hypothesis. However, while the findings are consistent with my alternative hypothesis, I cannot full accept it, especially because these experiments were not double-blind, they were observational. Observational experiments do not rule out chance and confounding variables. Due to that fact, students knew that their studies were being tracked while they were studying abroad which could have motivated them to work harder in their studies to help prove the hypothesis. Another confounding variable could be the types of classes the participants took at their American universities versus the classes they took while they were overseas. It is a possibility that students engaged in easier classes, thus elevating their GPA while they were studying abroad. Last, but not least, the GLOSSARI project and Maddox’s study are only two experiments. There is a lot more research that can go into this topic to see whether or not study abroad programs affect the intelligence of students. When these experiments occur, researchers should be sure to control important personality and demographic differences like Maddox did. However, they should also keep in mind what classes the students are taking, and what kind of country they are traveling too. For instance, a students who goes to Spain would have to learn a different language opposed to a student who travels to the United Kingdom where the inhabitants speak English.

Hope you found this interesting! Never Stop Exploring! 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Does Studying Abroad Make You Smarter?

  1. Hung Chieh Wang

    I am an international student. And I think studying abroad is a really good experience. And in some way, I think it will improve the grade in the long run. As an international students, it was not easy to study in another language, and I would spend more time to understand the homework and materials. I think is the unfamiliar environment encourage international to study harder to catch up with others. I also think study aboard is a great chance to learn different culture and become more independent.

  2. Sydney Starr Moskowitz

    As someone who is very interested studying abroad, this is a very interesting post. Many of my friends have studied abroad in places such as Europe, Australia, Israel, and even Hawaii. I liked how you focused a lot on your null-hypothesis and alternative-hypothesis. You have great back up information which you used to refute your null-hypothesis. I think you should check this article out! it has some great information
    about studying abroad.

  3. Jennifer Lee Wales

    I really enjoyed this article because I think studying abroad is such an amazing idea and definitely plan on doing it one day. Personally, I wouldn’t study abroad just to become smarter, I think it’s so much more than that. This article explains 25 amazing reasons study study abroad. No matter where one choses to go, it opens up your world and gives new experiences, different than those available at Penn State.

  4. Millie Rachel Dweck

    Your article is cool because its such a prevalent topic that most of us can relate to. My personal view point on this, disregarding the research, is that going abroad cannot hurt you. Besides financially, opening yourself up to the world and living life in a new culture can only teach you more and be good for you. When you go abroad you are opening yourself up to new foods, people, and basically just a different way of living. I think going abroad can teach you way more not only about yourself but about the world than sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook can.

  5. Haley Amanda Toadvine

    I found this article very interesting and well done! After reading your article I was inspired to do some extra research. I found a study that showed that in addition to higher grades and graduation rates, students who studied abroad also experienced increases in self discipline. Students observed in the study seemed to gain a greater appreciation for detail learn and overall concept learning instead of just memorizing information. I hypothesize this could be because students are now in a different country, exposed to different culture and language and as a result need to submerse themselves in the new culture in order to learn it. This type of learning then could be transferred over to the classroom causing students to have an overall increase in learning technique and self discipline within the classroom.

  6. Bailee Nicole Koncar

    Hi Angelique!
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I studied abroad my junior year of high school so I completely agree that studying abroad does have a positive effect on students. As you mentioned, it is hard to say whether or not we become smarter because many people could have chosen easier courses or only became motivated to work hard once they found out that they were going to be studied. Observational studies do have the potential to have many confounding variables which makes it difficult to arrive at any real conclusion. However, I do believe that people do change after their experience. They become more open-minded to the world around them as they see experience new cultures and sights. They learn more about another language too. It has been proven that studying another language has many positive cognitive effects on the brain, and this may cause a person to become more intelligent. Also, the courses in Europe tend to be more difficult than those in the United States so this exposure is good for students. When they return, the work may seem a lot easier compared to what they were studying abroad.

  7. Brooke Kaiden

    I did find this very interesting because I am someone who really want to go abroad and study second semester of my junior year. Although it is going to be hard to leave Happy Valley, I personally think that going abroad is an amazing experience. I think that studying abroad makes people more street smarter rather than book smart. I think that most students take easy classes because they want to spend their time traveling to friends to country from country, because that is really the point of going abroad. Every time that I traveled to a different country I learned interesting things, things that I would never learn out of a textbook. I learned historical facts and cool interesting facts and I was apart of the culture rather than just reading about it from the textbook. I think it makes the student more aware of safe travel, which is a very helpful skill. It helps people make friends in different countries. It helps the students learn a language that they might have never taken before. I think that it is important for someone to travel abroad because they are getting an amazing experience. My older sister went abroad and I think that she came back more street smart, and I can’t wait until I go abroad.

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