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Study Abroad Makes You Happy

Your personality is positively impacted by studying abroad, according to a new study.

Elizabeth Hoyt

July 11, 2013

Study Abroad Makes You Happy
According to a new student, students that spend a semester or more studying abroad impacts a student’s personality traits in a positive way. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was conducted by researchers at Germany’s Friedrich Schiller University Jena. The project dubbed “Personality Development of Sojourners” (PEDES) is currently the most comprehensive study about the effects of study abroad on a student’s personality.

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“We posed the question whether a stay abroad can influence the personality development of sojourning students,” said Dr. Julia Zimmermann, the study’s lead author. More than 1,000 students were surveyed online – the group containing both students that participated in study abroad programs and those who did not over the course of an academic year. The sample group began with students planning to study abroad and those planning to remain home.

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All students completed a three part questionnaire. The first was given shortly before the beginning of the semester, and the second was given five months after and the third was given eight months into the academic year. The researchers, Dr. Julia Zimmermann and Professor Dr. Franz Neyer, measured students’ “Big Five” personality traits, which include agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion and openness. The “Big Five” are considered to be the traits that constitute the basic dimensions of the human personality. “Those who spend some time abroad profit in their personality development, for instance in terms of growing openness and emotional stability,” said Dr. Zimmermann.

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Significant differences were found between the two student groups, even taking into consideration higher than average levels of natural personality traits post-study abroad such as extraversion, open-mindedness and conscientiousness. “Their development regarding these characteristics clearly differed from the control group even when initial personality differences were taken into account,” said Dr. Zimmermann. But what explains the differences in personalities? The researchers attribute the differences, in part, to higher numbers of international contacts. “People who integrate successfully into a different culture may find it easier to cope with new situations and master challenges,” said Dr. Zimmermann. “However, it is not imperative to go abroad to gain these experiences,” Dr. Zimmermann continued. “But those who hit the road clearly benefit from the sojourning experience.” The ultimate findings of the study, as concluded by researchers, suggest that study abroad programs are beneficial for students and worthwhile to continue the programs in the future.

Have you experienced any of the positive effects of study abroad first hand?

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