The Awe in Awesome in Education Abroad

Keywords: Study abroad, Education abroad, Awe, Learning, Meaning-making


Few have examined how students perceive or make sense of their formal educational travel experiences, resulting in a dearth of knowledge about perceived educational value of experiences. To rectify this situation, this study addressed how students make meaning during their education abroad (EA) experience. Employing a constructivist grounded theory approach, students were found to process their experiences through four meaning-making structures labeled, “Seeking Novelty,” “Actually Being,” “Securing/Blending,” and “Living in a State of Awe,” all of which contributed to experiencing awe during their EA experience. The authors propose the Education Abroad Meaning-Making Framework, which can be used to understand students’ experiences while on EA and to serve as a theoretical foundation upon which further research on EA can be conducted. They also discuss implications of the Framework for pre- and post-experience advising, program, and curriculum development.

Abstract in French

Peu d’études ont examinées comment les étudiants perçoivent et donnent du sens aux  expériences formelles durant leurs voyages éducatifs, résultant en un manque de connaissance quant à la valeur perçue de ces expériences. Afin de rectifier cette situation, cette étude décrit comment les étudiants donnent du sens à leurs expériences durant leurs voyages éducatifs (VE). Utilisant une approche théorique constructiviste, il est apparu que les étudiants traitent leurs expériences à travers quatre structures donneuses de sens appelées « Chercher la nouveauté », « Être vraiment », « Confort/Immersion », et « Vivre émerveillé », qui ont toutes contribuées à leur émerveillement durant leurs VE. Les auteurs proposent le Cadre de Voyage Éducatif Donneur de Sens, qui peut être utilisé pour comprendre les expériences des étudiants pendant leur VE et servant de fondement théorique sur lequel baser de futures recherches sur les VE. Ils discutent aussi des implications de ce Cadre pour le développement de l’encadrement, du programme et du curriculum avant et après les VE.


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Author Biographies

Kristin L. Thomas, The Pennsylvania State University

Dr. Kristin Thomas is an Assistant Professor in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) at Penn State University, USA. Kristin connects theory and practice in the classroom by applying years of experience as a practitioner in curricular and co-curricular program development (domestic and international) with her research on student development, learning, and sense-making during travel and recreational experiences. She is also the RPTM Faculty Coordinator for the Meeting and Events Management Certificate.

Deborah Kerstetter, The Pennsylvania State University

Dr. Deborah Kerstetter, Professor Emerita of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at The Pennsylvania State University, USA, has maintained two primary lines of research:  tourist decision-making behavior and tourism impact, primarily from a sustainability perspective. Her research, much of it conducted with her students, has been revealed through more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, multiple book chapters, and over 150 academic presentations.


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How to Cite
Thomas, K. L., & Kerstetter, D. (2020). The Awe in Awesome in Education Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 32(2), 94-119.