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Undergraduate Student Mobility from the United States: Factors for Understanding Study Abroad to China

Courtney R Collins, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Globalization is influencing postsecondary education around the world. There is an imbalance between the number of inbound international students to the United States (U.S.) and U.S. student outbound mobility globally. Both the U.S. and Chinese governments have taken an interest in increasing educational exchange and have invested in initiatives and partnerships to bring greater numbers of U.S. students to China for study abroad (U.S. Department of State, 2016). Traditional theoretical frameworks which examine international student mobility are difficult to apply to U.S. internationally mobile student populations. U.S. study abroad participants do not conform to the more commonly used, traditional concepts of international students. As such, these U.S. internationally mobile students need their own framework that would offer insight into their decision-making processes, motivations, and international study abroad experiences. To develop a framework that more accurately portrays the U.S. student study abroad experience, constructivist grounded theory was applied to a collaboration with Project Pengyou and their U.S. student members who have studied abroad to China in the last three years. The constructivist grounded theory approach that was used for this research allowed for the narratives of participants to be examined using theoretical sampling and diagramming (Charmaz, 2014). These methods showed that students were motivated by both internal and external influences for studying abroad to China. The internal motivations include the aspiration to increase language fluency, an inclination to travel internationally, fulfillment of their academic major requirements, and for some a desire to learn more about Chinese culture based on interest or heritage. The external influences identified were language or academic faculty encouragement, peer experiences from studying abroad in China, funding availability for study abroad to China, and institutional credit transferability. Beyond the internal motivations and external influences, U.S. study abroad participants choosing to go to China were also navigating the information collection process on their own, having to sort through misinformation and bias about their study abroad locations.This study offers an emergent theoretical framework which describes the internal and external decision-making factors for students who choose to study abroad to China. These findings also contribute to the scholarship that examines foreign language acquisition and comprehensive internationalization efforts of U.S. post-secondary institutions. The findings of foreign language acquisition in this study differ from prior research's lack of focus on language immersion and how students perceived outcomes of their experience studying abroad to China. In conclusion, this research offers recommendations for practice and future research, such as additional examination of the program offerings of not-commonly taught languages such as Mandarin in the U.S., the role of study abroad offices, including supporting ethnically diverse populations who study abroad.

Subject Area

Multicultural Education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Collins, Courtney R, "Undergraduate Student Mobility from the United States: Factors for Understanding Study Abroad to China" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13861418.