Psychologists proof positive 'side effects' of studying abroad

July 3, 2013
Mobile at university -- Fit for life
Psychologist Dr. Julia Zimmermann from Jena University conducted the most comprehensive study about the effects of student sojourning. Credit: Jan-Peter Kasper/FSU

Spain, France and Great Britain – these are the favourite countries of young Germans who study abroad under the ERASMUS programme. More and more German students consider one or two terms at a university abroad an essential part of their CVs. As a consequence, the number of students who spent some time at a foreign university has more than doubled over the last few years and it is estimated that about a quarter of all German students have gained some form of international experiences.

And that is worth it – not only in terms of university and . Sojourning in a foreign country also has positive effects on the students' personal development. That is what psychologists of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) could prove in the context of the project 'PEDES – Personality Development of Sojourners' which is up to now the most comprehensive study about the effects of student sojourning. Dr. Julia Zimmermann and Professor Dr. Franz Neyer present their research results in the magazine Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"To find one's way in a foreign country is an important ," states Professor Neyer. "Such experiences have influence on the personality development of ." "Therefore we posed the question whether a stay abroad can influence the personality development of sojourning students," Julia Zimmermann says. To answer this question, the psychologist conducted an online-study that followed a sample of more than 1,000 students from about 200 German universities over the course of an academic year.

The sample included both students who were planning to go abroad as well as a of students who stayed in Germany during that time period. All students completed three online questionnaire, the first one shortly before the beginning of the term – either abroad or in Germany –, the second and third one five and eight months later, respectively. Amongst others, the questionnaires included measures of the Big Five personality traits, i.e., Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability that are considered to constitute the basic dimensions of human personality.

The result: "Those students who are about to study abroad are – even before they leave – more open-minded, conscientious and extravert than their fellow who stay at home," says Julia Zimmermann. Moreover, the Jena psychologists assessed the personality changes the experience sojourning abroad brings about: "Those who spent some time abroad profit in their personality development, for instance in terms of growing openness and emotional stability. Their development regarding these characteristics clearly differed from the control group even when initial personality differences were taken into account," says the psychologist, who herself studied in France with the European ERASMUS-programme during her time at university.

The researchers identified the much higher numbers of international contacts as a mechanism to explain these differences in personality development. "People who integrate successfully into a different culture may find it easier to cope with new situations and master challenges," assumes Dr. Zimmermann. "However, it is not imperative to go abroad to gain these experiences. But those who hit the road clearly benefit from the sojourning experience," Zimmermann resumes. According to the Jena researchers their findings suggest that the generous support of student sojourns abroad is worth to be continued in the future.

Explore further: Conscientious people are more likely to have higher GPAs

More information: Julia Zimmermann, Franz J. Neyer: Do We Become a Different Person When Hitting the Road? Personality Development of Sojourners, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2013, DOI: 10.1037/a0033019

Related Stories

Conscientious people are more likely to have higher GPAs

March 19, 2013
Conscientious people are more likely to have higher grade point averages, according to new research from psychologists at Rice University.

Where entrepreneurship is at home

May 31, 2013
Entrepreneurship plays an important role for the prosperity of today's modern societies. Those who want to found a company under their own steam and who want to make it an economic success, need more than a good idea and ...

Study links personality changes to changes in social well-being

December 19, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers report that changes in social well-being are closely tied to one's personality, with positive changes in one corresponding to similar changes in the other. Their study reveals potential new ...

Are you a happy shopper? Research website helps you find out

January 26, 2012
Psychologists have found that buying life experiences makes people happier than buying possessions, but who spends more of their spare cash on experiences? New findings published this week in the Journal of Positive Psychology ...

Recommended for you

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

Wonder why those happy memories fade? You're programmed that way

July 19, 2017
We'll always have Paris." Or will we?

A child's spoken vocabulary helps them when it comes to reading new words for the first time

July 19, 2017
Children find it easier to spell a word when they've already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University has found. The findings ...

Individualistic practices and values increasing around the world

July 18, 2017
Individualism is thought to be on the rise in Western countries, but new research suggests that increasing individualism may actually be a global phenomenon. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.