Essay: Emotional maturity in students studying abroad

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  • Emotional maturity in students studying abroad
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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.

Material

A questionnaire was used to measure the psychological construct of emotional maturity among undergraduate students. The questionnaire included a total of 19 questions from which four asked for demographic data in the beginning. The remaining 15 questions concerned the two variables. One questions related to the qualitative independent variable (Study abroad/ Study in the native country). 14 questions measured the quantitative dependent variable (emotional maturity).

The independent variable was qualitative, and the question related to it was closed-ended, giving two answer possibilities, namely ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. If the provided answer was ‘Yes’ the person was added to the group of students studying abroad, whereas if the provided answer was ‘No’ the person was added to the group of people studying in their country of origin.

The dependent variable was quantitative and measured with 14 questions, like “I am ready to admit that I made a mistake when I realise that”, the ‘emotional maturity’ of the participants. The questions were closed-ended, providing a statement and the opportunity to choose how strongly someone agreed or disagreed on a five-point scale. The questions four and six where mirrored questions.

Procedure

The participants for the questionnaire were recruited online, via social media platforms, during a period of four days. An information letter explaining the participant that the topic of the study was feelings of students and an informed consent form was provided at the beginning of the questionnaire. The questionnaires were filled in online, this took approximately 5 minutes, depending on the single participant. At any point in time, the subject was able to stop the questionnaire without consequences. A debriefing was provided at the end of the survey, explaining that the variables measured were emotional maturity and international student (yes/no), with the opportunity to contact the researcher for further questions.

Data analysis

After completing the collection of data, a data matrix was conducted to analyze the participants´ responses. At first, the demographic data was viewed and registered to gather knowledge about the participants´ gender, age, nationality and the country they are studying in. At second, the responses concerning the dependent variable were filled in. The present study was a between-subject design with the one qualitative variable “studying abroad” with its levels studying abroad and studying not abroad and one quantitative variable “emotional maturity” ranging from one to five. The scale is mirrored meaning that a low score indicates high levels of emotional maturity and vice versa. Each participant indicated on a five-point Likert-scale (1=totally disagree, 2=disagree, 3= Neither disagree or agree, 4=agree, 5=totally disagree) to what extent they agree with statements like: “I tend to blame others for my errors and mistakes.” or “I become envious or jealous when other people have successes.” to measure the independent variable. As there was one question about the quantitative independent variable “studying abroad”, the score could immediately be taken for the final score of this variable, in contrast to the qualitative dependent variable “emotional maturity”. For the dependent variable, the mean of the subscores of all 14 items was taken into account to obtain the final score on this variable. The mean score for each group was calculated and compared to each other in order to see if there is a difference between the groups.

Results

A mean score of 2.41 was found in the group of students studying abroad with a standard deviation of 0.18 on emotional maturity. The students not studying abroad had a mean score of 2.49 with a standard deviation of 0.39. This means that there is approximately no difference between the relationship of students studying abroad and emotional maturity, and the relationship of students studying not abroad and emotional maturity.

Discussion

The present study investigated if there is a difference in emotional maturity among students studying abroad and students studying in their traditional campus setting. It was expected that students studying abroad will score higher on emotional maturity compared to students studying in the traditional campus setting which were expected to score lower on emotional maturity. The hypothesis could not be confirmed. The results revealed no difference between the means of the groups which results in them being approximately the same. In relation to previous research, the findings of this study contradict the general assumption of growth in maturity in the result of studying abroad. Research by Gu et al. (2009), suggests that personal change and development is influenced by the challenge of adaption to a new cultural environment as well as the ability to overcome tensions created by this process. Even though, identity change is interwoven with maturity (Gu et al.,2009; Ward & Kennedy, 1993) this study could not show an increased maturity in students studying abroad compared to the students in the traditional campus setting. A possible explanation could be that the period of emerging adulthood is, in general, a challenging one. According to Arnett (2000), emerging adulthood is a phase of life which is characterised by change and identity exploration. This exploration process challenges the individual on many different levels and is often described as a full and intense time of life. Therefore, it might be the case, that the comparison group of students staying in their traditional campus setting experienced similar stressors which can lead to identity change and thus growth in maturity at the same level as students studying abroad. This is in line with research done by Sharma (2012) which found that especially low levels of emotional maturity are found in freshman students, which contributes to their struggle of adapting to the new social and academic environment. Third-year students, in turn, happen to show a higher level of emotional maturity, which thus relates to an advanced stage of emotional maturity. The conclusion of the present study does not support the findings of previous research. A limitation of the study is that further knowledge needs to be gained from the development of maturity across ages. The present study included undergraduate students ranging from 18 to 25 years of age, without considering that for instance, an older student might be further in the development of maturity as a younger student. This might have affected the outcomes, in a way that the approximately same outcomes between the groups with regard to the dependent variable was rather due to age and the associated high or low level of maturity. Further research could examine maturity restricted to fixed age parameters in order to eliminate possible confusions with regard to the outcomes. In case of the methodological conduction of the study, some remarks can be made. The sample was dominated by female participants which may have an effect on the generalisability of the results towar
ds the overall population. Another remark can be made in form of the control of the age and study year of the observed population which as well like mentioned above could have had an effect on the findings of the present study. In a contribution to the previous literature, this observational study is important as it shows the complexity of personal maturity as a concept, especially as several factories need to be regarded for its measurement, like age and environmental factors. The study was conducted in order to link a boost of growth in maturity directly to studying abroad. Despite, that the study did not find a difference in maturity by comparing students studying abroad and students studying on their traditional campus, it challenges the effectivity of study abroad programs with regard to their intended goal of enabling students an experience to higher their level of maturity. The intended goal of increasing knowledge about the link between studying abroad and the development of maturity to improve the education program at universities and gain more insight into the benefits of internationalisation is therefore fulfilled.

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