Changing Minds: The Impact of Study Abroad Components on Students’ Changes in Their Religious Faith
This study used Gardner’s (2006) framework of mind change to explore how alumni of the Latin American Studies Program (LASP) perceived specific study abroad components to influence changes in their religious faith. LASP alumni completed an anonymous, qualitative survey that invited them to indicate whether studying abroad influenced a change in their religious faith, describe this change and its consequent actions, and identify the study abroad components that most influenced this change. The survey generated 430 responses, which represent 24% of LASP’s alumni population. Results indicated that 89% of respondents perceived that studying abroad influenced a change in their religious faith. Respondents’ descriptions of this change revealed four themes—increased awareness of culture’s influence on religious faith, new embrace of doubt, more inclusive religious faith, and greater emphasis on social justice. Respondents’ descriptions of the actions that emerged from these changes illustrated five themes—justice-centered vocation, creating sustainable economies, transforming communities, family decisions, and personal development. Consistent with Gardner’s framework of mind change, respondents identified a blend of components that influenced their changes in religious faith. In respondents’ views, formal learning experiences (lectures, readings, assignments) that were brought to life by reflective engagement of the Latin American context (relationships with host families, study trips, discussion groups) drove their changes in religious faith. The results encourage educational leaders to prioritize study abroad models that achieve integration between formal learning experiences and direct engagement of the host context. The findings also indicate a need for more research on how specific study abroad components relate to student learning.
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