The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence: Results from a longitudinal quasi-experimental study

  • Sybille Heinzmann University of Teacher Education Lucerne
  • Roland Künzle University of Teacher Education Lucerne
  • Nicole Schallhart University of Teacher Education St. Gallen
  • Marianne Müller University of Teacher Education Lucerne
Keywords: Study abroad, Intercultural competence, Longitudinal study, Education abroad


This study analyses the impact of short-term study abroad experiences on upper secondary school students’ intercultural competence by means of an experimental design including an intervention and a control group who are studied longitudinally by means of a pre-test, post-test and delayed post-test. In recent years there has been an increasing effort to evaluate the success of study abroad programs not only in terms of number of participants, but in terms of academic, intercultural and linguistic development. Nevertheless, few studies have employed the experimental designs needed to gauge the impact of study abroad programs and even fewer have included a delayed posttest which may shed light on the sustainability of identified effects. The present study includes a broad range of study abroad programs which differ in terms of certain key characteristics, such as duration, type of accommodation or target language. In this way, it is possible to analyse the effect of different parameters on the student’s intercultural development and, ultimately, to identify key factors for successful programs.

The paper starts by discussing different models of intercultural competence before outlining the model used in this study. This is followed by a presentation of the participants and the key characteristics of their individual study abroad programs. Analyses of covariance are used to examine the intercultural competence of the students in the control group and the intervention group at the time of the post-test and the delayed posttest and to identify key factors that contribute to the explanation of their intercultural competence. The findings indicate that short-term study abroad experiences have a positive influence on young people’s intercultural competence both short-term and longer-term. The most crucial factors for the explanation of the participants’ intercultural competence are their starting conditions, the duration of their stay, the amount of interaction with representatives of the target culture, and the regular use of the target language. The paper finishes with a discussion of implications for program design and of the limitations of the study.


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How to Cite
Heinzmann, S., Künzle, R., Schallhart, N., & Müller, M. (2015). The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence: Results from a longitudinal quasi-experimental study. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26(1), 187-208.
Research Articles