Increasing Intercultural Competence in Undergraduate Education: Study Abroad is a Viable Way, but Not the Only Way

  • Virginia B. (Ginger) Wickline Georgia Southern University
  • Allie M. Shea Institute of World Politics
  • Cheryl D. Young Miami University
  • Deborah Wiese Miami University
Keywords: intercultural competence, higher education, university, study abroad


Undergraduate students (N = 1,261) at a Midwest, public doctoral institution completed intercultural competence (ICC) measures before/after study abroad or an on-campus global course (G-Course). We hypothesized that students in study abroad versus on-campus global courses would differ in ICC both before/after their global experience. We predicted that students would increase in ICC after study abroad or a G-course (compared to their own pre-scores). We hypothesized that students who did not intend to study abroad would be lower in ICC than those who intended to study abroad, who would be lower than study abroad students. Lastly, we predicted that students who engaged more often in globally related extracurricular and co-curricular activities would report higher ICC. The data fully or partially supported each hypothesis: highlighting myriad factors impacting university students’ ICC scores both at home and abroad and revealing important differences between students who choose to study abroad and those who do not. Study abroad does appear to change some but not all aspects of ICC. A student self-selection bias might make ICC changes more difficult to document after study abroad programs. Moreover, on-campus activities are also related to ICC development for university students. When institutions of higher education are seeking to help develop ICC in their students, study abroad is not the only effective approach and should therefore be considered one important campus internationalization tool among many.

Abstract in French  

Les étudiants de premier cycle (N = 1261) dans un établissement doctoral public du Midwest ont suivi des mesures de compétence interculturelle (ICC) avant / après leurs études à l'étranger ou un cours global sur le campus (cours G). Nous avons émis l'hypothèse que les étudiants en études à l'étranger par rapport aux cours mondiaux sur le campus différeraient en ICC avant / après leur expérience globale. Nous avons prédit que les étudiants augmenteraient en ICC après des études à l'étranger ou un cours G (par rapport à leurs propres pré-scores). Nous avons émis l'hypothèse que les étudiants qui n'avaient pas l'intention d'étudier à l'étranger seraient plus bas en ICC que ceux qui avaient l'intention d'étudier à l'étranger, qui seraient inférieurs aux étudiants à l'étranger. Enfin, nous avons prédit que les étudiants qui s'engageaient plus souvent dans des activités parascolaires et parascolaires liées à l'échelle mondiale auraient un ICC plus élevé. Les données étayaient totalement ou partiellement chaque hypothèse: mettant en évidence une myriade de facteurs ayant un impact sur les scores ICC des étudiants universitaires tant au pays qu'à l'étranger et révélant des différences importantes entre les étudiants qui choisissent d'étudier à l'étranger et ceux qui ne le font pas. Les études à l'étranger semblent changer certains aspects de la CPI, mais pas tous. Un biais d'auto-sélection des étudiants peut rendre les changements ICC plus difficiles à documenter après des études à l'étranger. De plus, les activités sur le campus sont également liées au développement de l'ICC pour les étudiants universitaires. Lorsque les établissements d'enseignement supérieur cherchent à contribuer au développement de l'ICC chez leurs étudiants, étudier à l'étranger n'est pas la seule approche efficace et devrait donc être considéré comme un outil d'internationalisation de campus important parmi tant d'autres.


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Author Biographies

Virginia B. (Ginger) Wickline, Georgia Southern University

Virginia B. (Ginger) Wickline, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Georgia Southern University. She has over 20 years of experience studying cultural adjustment and intercultural competence of U.S. domestic college students, study abroad students, and international students. She has co-led study abroad programs in Scotland, England, and Japan.

Allie M. Shea, Institute of World Politics

Allie M. Shea, BA (International Studies and Psychology) has presented research on cultural adjustment/intercultural competence at national conferences and to Congressional delegates on Capitol Hill. Currently, she is an Institute of World Politics graduate student and also works for the Office of Administration for the Executive Office of the President.

Cheryl D. Young, Miami University

Cheryl D. Young, PhD, is Assistant Provost for Global Initiatives at Miami University. Young’s educational background is in English Literature, Women’s Studies, and Educational Leadership, Curriculum, and Culture. Her current research projects are based in the currere framework method and curiosity as an intercultural competence cultivated in sojourn experience.

Deborah Wiese, Miami University

Deborah Wiese, PhD, is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Psychology Department at Miami University. Wiese’s research focuses on the development of cultural competence, exploring pedagogical strategies and other factors that increase cultural competence in students. Her research also addresses psychological well-being, social support, and cultural immersion in international relocation.



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How to Cite
Wickline, V. B. (Ginger), Shea, A. M., Young, C. D., & Wiese, D. (2020). Increasing Intercultural Competence in Undergraduate Education: Study Abroad is a Viable Way, but Not the Only Way. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 32(3), 126-155.
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