The benefits of study-abroad programmes have long been cited, so I was surprised to discover the results of a recent study, which found that students that spent time studying abroad were no more likely to have a feeling of “shared international community” compared with those who had enrolled on a programme but had not yet departed.
In fact, according to the survey of 571 US study-abroad students, those who had already been overseas said that they felt they had significantly fewer values in common with the people in their host country.
However, despite seeming to challenge the theory that overseas study helps improve international relations, the research from Calvert Jones, assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, provides a reassuring conclusion.
Professor Jones argues that while students returning from studying abroad are more “nationalistic”, they are also more tolerant and less prone to viewing other countries as threatening. She says that this means theorists of international community “would be right about the main effect, but wrong about the mechanism”.
“As predicted, growing cross-border contact may indeed encourage peace-promoting norms and a sense of community, just not through the generation of a shared identity. Rather, for Americans at least, it may do so by cultivating an enlightened form of nationalism,” she says.
If study abroad can help students feel proud of their home countries and universities while also increasing their levels of tolerance and global understanding, it can only be a good thing.