Essay: Emotional maturity in students studying abroad

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  • Published on: January 14, 2019
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This research paper investigated if there is a difference in emotional maturity among students studying abroad and students studying in their traditional campus setting. Therefore, a total of 41 undergraduate students either studying abroad(14) or studying on traditional campus setting(27) have participated by filling out an online questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of 19 questions exploring the dependent variable, namely emotional maturity and the independent variable, which makes a distinction between international or traditional student. The mean of the dependent variable was calculated for each group respectively and then compared to each other.

The findings indicate that the group means of emotional maturity are approximately the same in both students studying abroad and students studying in the traditional campus setting, even though a higher score for international students was expected. Thus, a direct link between growth in emotional maturity and studying abroad cannot be made.

Keywords: Study abroad, Maturity

Studying abroad in an unfamiliar and new social environment increasingly gained popularity among students in the last decade. With 3.3 Million students studying outside their home country, this is a phenomenon capable of growth within each year (Bhandari and Chow, 2011). It is predicted that the number of students studying abroad will rise up to 7.2 million in the year 2025 (Kehm, 2005). Students tend to report the experience of studying abroad as life-changing, which can be the result of personal growth and changed worldviews.

The potential intercultural influences of a semester abroad have been studied extensively in the literature. Flaherty, Wright, and McMillen (2009) for instance found out that studying abroad increased, intercultural proficiency (ability to work in a culturally diverse setting), openness to cultural diversity and global mindedness. The sample consisted of 167 students of a U.S state University. Half of the students attended the required junior-year courses which were taught by home- country instructors on campus, while the other half of students completed the same course on a university in Belgium where they got taught by host-country instructors. Similar results can be seen in the study of Black and Duhon (2006), in which their administered a cultural awareness instrument to about 200 students at the beginning of a summer study abroad program and again at the end. What they found was enhanced cultural awareness and personal development in areas such as self- confidence and independence.

These findings can be explained by overcoming the challenge of adaptation to a new cultural environment and people, as well as the ability to overcome tensions created by the attempt to do so, especially in the initial phase of the exchange (Gu, Schweisfurth and Day, 2009).The study of Gu et al. investigated the transitional experiences of students studying abroad regarding their cultural adaptation and their maturation and human development in an unfamiliar social, cultural and educational environment. The research question was explored with help of questionnaires and a series of individual interviews asking about the experience of the 15 month period of exchange. The study involved students from different countries and disciplines. What was found is that the nature and process of personal change and development over time is influenced by the above mentioned transitional experiences.

According to Ward and Kennedy (1993), this tension or stress which are a result of the attempt to adapt to a different cultural environment can cause two different psychological reactions. Firstly it can lead to psychological adjustment which is characterised by a coping mechanism, seeking to reach psychological well-being and secondly it can lead to sociocultural adaption, which is characterised by a change in social skills. In other words, the first transition can be described as the student’s maturation, whereas the second transition can be described as the student’s improved intercultural awareness. Therefore, research by Gu et al. (2009) and Ward and Kennedy(1993) shows that despite the intercultural challenges which need to be tackled by international students, most of the students manage to change and adapt to the new environment on an academic and social level. Accordingly, this process of change and adaption leads unavoidably to an identity change within the student, which in turn is interwoven with growth in maturity and intercultural knowledge.

Considering the above-mentioned literature, links have been made between studying abroad and identity change. Following, research showed that identity change consists of two major components, namely growth in maturity and intercultural knowledge. Nevertheless, no research has yet been done investigating a direct link between studying abroad and maturity (Flaherty et al., 2009). This is regarded as a problem because maturity is like above mentioned (Ward & Kennedy, 1993) a crucial component of the transitional process students go through during a studying abroad program. With regard to the personal change described by previous research, maturity needs to be investigated with a greater focus.

In order to understand the process of change in the individual to a greater extent, it is crucial to understand the term maturity in more depth. Maturity is defined as the quality or state of being mature (Merriam Webster, 2018). As maturity can be divided into several subcategories with regard to this research the focus is put on emotional maturity. Emotional maturity is defined to be characterised by inhabiting a constructive attitude towards oneself and others, to be flexible and capable to adapt, healthy egotism and competitiveness, emotional stability and being self- reliant (L. Saul, 1947). A study by Sharma (2012) investigated the process of adaption and emotional maturity to college among female students by comparing first and third-year students. The results indicate that the first year students were less emotionally mature and struggled a lot to fulfill the changing demands of the new environment. The third-year students, in contrast, were mostly well adjusted to the college environment and showed higher levels of emotional maturity. In sum, it can be said that emotional maturity is a crucial component predicting the level of adaptability to a new social environment.

The aim of this study is to increase knowledge about the link between studying abroad and the experienced maturity to improve the education program at universities and gain more insight into the benefits of internationalisation. Like above mentioned can studying abroad be seen as a trigger for identity change, which in turn is interwoven with emotional maturity. Therefore, the research question is: Is there a difference in emotional maturity among students studying abroad and students studying in their traditional campus setting?

It is hypothesised that students studying abroad have higher emotional maturity than students remaining in the traditional campus setting, due to the fact that studying abroad is associated with identity change, and therefore, enhances maturity (Gu et al., 2009; Ward & Kennedy, 1993).

To investigate this, an online-questionnaire measuring maturity was administered to students either studying abroad or in the traditional campus setting. The questionnaire constitutes the quantitative dependent variable, while the independent variable constitutes whether the student is studying abroad or in the traditional campus setting. The scores on the 19 items will be added up to a total score, resembling the level of maturity. Afterward, a t-test will determine if there is a difference between the two groups. It is predicted that students abroad score higher on the scale of emotional maturity than students remaining in the traditional campus setting.

Method

Participants

In thi
s study, 41 undergraduate international and non-international students took part. Of the sample, 14 were international students, of which 6 were male, and 27 were students who study in their home country, of which 5 were male. In total, 11 participants were male and 30 were female. Furthermore, six different nationalities were represented, namely Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland, Iran, and Portugal. The average age was 21.02 years with a standard deviation of 1.98. The group of international students had the average age of 21.57 years with a standard deviation of 1.94, whereas the group of non-international students had the average age of 20.74 years with a standard deviation of 2.57. All participants were included in the study. No participant was paid for the participation and no one withdrew from the study.

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