Short-term study abroad ‘better for building teamwork skills’

US survey finds development of curiosity, leadership and work ethic unaffected by length of international experience

October 2, 2017
Chaplin on holiday
Source: Getty
Valuable experience: studying abroad results in positive gains in 14 of the 15 skills measured in the survey

Students who go abroad as part of their degree for a short period of time develop better teamwork skills than those who go overseas for a year, while other areas of development are unaffected by the duration of international study, according to a survey of alumni.

A survey of 4,565 US university alumni, conducted by the Institute of International Education, found that 76 per cent of respondents who went abroad for eight weeks or less said they developed teamwork skills somewhat or to a significant degree, compared with 69 per cent respondents who went overseas for a year.

In fact, the development of teamwork skills correlates “significantly negatively” with a longer period of study abroad, according to the survey.

Overall, 30 per cent of respondents said their experience had a “significant” impact on their development of teamwork skills.

Meanwhile, in three areas – curiosity, leadership and work ethic – perceptions of skill development were unaffected by the length of the study abroad programme.

The research, Gaining an Employment Edge, asked alumni who had studied abroad between 1990 and 2017 whether their overseas experience contributed to their development of 15 soft and hard skills. The skills list was compiled based on several previous studies on the competencies most desired by employers.

The development of teamwork skills was the only attribute that was benefited by a shorter period of studying abroad.

Overall, the research found that studying abroad results in positive gains in 14 of the 15 skills; the only area that was not developed or improved through study abroad was technical or software skills.

A longer period of studying abroad had a “significantly positive effect” on the development of 11 of the 15 skills surveyed, including language skills, self-awareness, intercultural skills and confidence.

The research follows a 2015 study, conducted for the British Council and the UK Higher Education International Unit, which found that UK-domiciled undergraduates who went abroad for a short period of time believed they gained similarly significant benefits to those who travelled overseas for a year.

Christine Farrugia, deputy head of research at the IIE and co-author of the study, said shorter-term study abroad programmes were more positively correlated with the development of teamwork skills because such experiences “tend to be more structured and experiential in nature”.

“Students are engaging in real-world learning experiences and with groups of other students, so they…really provide the opportunity for students to develop teamwork skills,” she said.

“This is in contrast with longer-term or medium-term programmes that tend to be more classroom-based and [in which] the learning is more independent.”

She added that the research shows that it is important for universities to provide a “variety” of study abroad opportunities.

“In the field there is often a debate between the value of short-term versus long-term study abroad. Really what this study finds is that there are distinct values to each kind of experience,” she said.

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