Changing Minds: The Impact of Study Abroad Components on Students’ Changes in Their Religious Faith

  • Trevor Poag
  • Jill Sperandio
Keywords: Changes in religious faith, Study abroad, Education abroad


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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Author Biographies

Trevor Poag

Trevor is a practitioner of community-centered study abroad programming in Latin America. During his 13-year tenure at the Latin American Studies Program, Trevor served in diverse field-based leadership and academic posts. His practice and research interests include the relationship between intercultural learning and spiritual development, the influence of students’ use of communication technologies on intercultural learning, and the perspectives of study abroad’s host communities on student learning. Trevor can be reached at

Jill Sperandio

Jill serves as Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Lehigh University. Her primary research interest is focused on gender issues in educational leadership in both developed and developing countries. Jill is currently exploring aspects of women’s motivation and journey to become educational leaders, together with their access to leadership training and the role that mentoring plays in this training, in Uganda, Bangladesh and urban school districts in Philadelphia. Secondary research interests include the development of international and global citizenship programs, international school leadership, and the historical development of education for girls in developed and developing countries. Jill can be contacted at


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How to Cite
Poag, T., & Sperandio, J. (2015). Changing Minds: The Impact of Study Abroad Components on Students’ Changes in Their Religious Faith. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26(1), 144-166.
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