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Comprehending the Lasting Influence of Study Abroad on Ethnic Identity in Heritage Scholars: A Constructivist Grounded Theory

Jennifer N Rutt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Internationalization of higher education has become a priority and expectation for many United States (U.S.) universities and colleges as a way to address the developments of globalization and prepare their students for participation in the globalized world and workforce. A key strategy for this internationalization has been pushing students to participate in study abroad programs that provide first-hand international and global perspectives outside of the classroom. With the numbers of students participating in study abroad programming continuing to increase over the past two decades, including increases in the numbers of racially and ethnically minoritized students participating, there has been a rise in heritage scholars studying abroad in countries connected to their ancestry. Scholarship examining heritage scholar experiences has been rare and largely under-researched. Additionally, student development scholarship and theories have been rarely applied to international education experiences. Thus, the development of a new framework was necessary. Using a qualitative constructivist grounded theory methodological approach, I collected data on the experiences and perspectives of SIT Study Abroad alumni who studied abroad in a country/culture connected to their heritage 5-15 years post their sojourn experience(s). The emergent theoretical model resulting from this study offers insights on contributing elements and factors to perceived changes to, and lasting influences of, studying abroad on ethnic identity development. These included background factors (including demographics), input factors such as motivations and the strength of the program’s heritage connection, as well as activity factors such as language immersion, acceptance by the home culture, program duration, and the presence of other heritage students. The model depicts how the different elements have stronger or weaker influences on perceived ethnic identity change by study abroad alumni. The findings from this study demonstrate the need to address heritage scholars in the pre-departure process; to provide specific training for study abroad professionals in-country; to enhance recruitment, retention, and engagement of underrepresented students for study abroad; and to require reflective and analytic opportunities, as well as provide resources and support, for students to process through their experiences, emotions, and potential struggles.

Subject Area

Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Rutt, Jennifer N, "Comprehending the Lasting Influence of Study Abroad on Ethnic Identity in Heritage Scholars: A Constructivist Grounded Theory" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI27832954.