Study Abroad and Student Decision Making in Times of COVID: A Mixed Methods Study


  • Gorka Basterretxea Santiso Georgetown University
  • Cristina Sanz Georgetown University



Pandemic, study abroad, factors in decision-making, virtual, immersive


The impacts of Covid-19 on Study abroad (SA) are deep and widespread and potentially affect the factors that guide US undergraduate students’ choices as they relate to SA. To investigate them, the present study relies on the MSA (Motivation to SA questionnaire: Anderson & Lawton, 2015) and adds two new groups of factors: language learning and health. To observe changes in the relative weight of factors before and during the pandemic, responses to two different versions of the MSA from 83 students who had participated in SA prior to the pandemic were compared. Results from statistical analyses show stability in the ranking of importance of factors pre- and during pandemic, except for health-related factors, which come second after world enlightenment. In addition, interviews show that while students view immersive SA as a significant experience for its contribution to their personal and intellectual development, they do not consider virtual SA a real SA experience.

Abstract in Spanish

Los impactos del Covid-19 en los programas de estudio en el extranjero son amplios y profundos y potencialmente afectan los factores que guían la decisión de los estudiantes de grado en EE.UU. a la hora de estudiar en otro país. Para poder investigarlo, el presente estudio utiliza el MSA (el cuestionario Motivation to Study Abroad: Anderson & Lawton, 2015) y añade dos nuevos grupos de factores: aprendizaje de lenguas y salud. Para observar cambios en la importancia relativa de los factores antes y durante la pandemia, se han comparado las respuestas a dos diferentes versiones del MSA de 83 estudiantes que estudiaron en el extranjero antes de la pandemia. Los resultados de los análisis estadísticos muestran estabilidad en el orden de importancia de los factores antes y durante la pandemia, con la excepción de los factores relacionados con la salud, que se encuentran en segundo lugar después de los factores relacionados con la formación global. Además, las entrevistas sugieren que mientras que los estudiantes consideran la inmersión en el extranjero como una experiencia importante para su desarrollo personal e intelectual, no consideran los programas virtuales como una experiencia real de aprendizaje en el extranjero.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Gorka Basterretxea Santiso, Georgetown University

Gorka Basterretxea Santiso, MA, MS, is a doctoral candidate in Spanish sociolinguistics at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he serves as Graduate Teaching Associate, Assistant Director for Intermediate Spanish, and Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Georgetown@Barcelona Summer Program. He was also co-chair for the annual graduate conference GRAPHSY 2021 at Georgetown University.

Cristina Sanz, Georgetown University

Cristina Sanz, PhD, is Professor of Spanish & Linguistics at Georgetown University, where she directs the Georgetown@Barcelona Summer Program; her term as a chair just ended. She is co-editing a volume on methods in study abroad research for John Benjamins and has co-edited the Routledge Handbook of Study Abroad Research and Practice. She received the President’s Award for Distinguished Scholars-Teachers (2019) and the AAUSC Innovation in Language Program Direction Award for Inclusion and Social Justice (2020).


Albert, A., & Csizér, K. (Forthcoming). Individual variables in study abroad contexts: Concepts and measurements. In C., Pérez-Vidal & C. Sanz (Eds.), Methods in Study Abroad Research: Past, Present and Future. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Allen, H. W. (2010). Language-learning motivation during short-term study abroad: An activity theory perspective. Foreign Language Annals, 43, 27-49. DOI:

Altbach, P., & de Wit, H. (2020, April 4). Post pandemic outlook for HE is bleakest for the poorest. University World News, The Global Window on Higher Education.

Amoah, P., & Mok, K. H. (2020, December 7). The Covid-19 pandemic and internationalization of higher education: International students’ knowledge, experiences and wellbeing. Emerald Publishing.

Anderson, P. H., Hubbard, A., Lawton, L. (2015). Student Motivation to Study Abroad and Their Intercultural Development. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26(1), 39-52. DOI:

Anderson, P. H., & Lawton, L. (2015). The MSA: An Instrument for Measuring Motivation to Study Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26(1), 52-67. DOI:

Austin, L., & Shen, L. (2016). Factors influencing Chinese students’ decisions to study in the United States. Journal of International Students, 6(3), 722-732. DOI:

Bandyopadhyay, S., & Bandyopadhyay, K. (2015). Factors Influencing Student Participation in College Study Abroad Programs. Journal of International Education Research, 11(2), 87-94. DOI:

Bilecen, B. (2020). Commentary: COVID-19 Pandemic and Higher Education: International Mobility and Students’ Social Protection. International Migration, 58(4), 263-266. DOI:

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. DOI:

Cebolla-Boado, H., Hu, Y., & Soysal, Y. N. (2018). Why study abroad? Sorting of Chinese students across British universities. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(3), 365-380. DOI:

Chao, C. N., Hegarty, N., Angelidis, J., & Lu, V. F. (2017). Chinese students’ motivations for studying in the United States. Journal of International Students, 7(2), 257-269. DOI:

De Jong, P., Schnusenberg, O., & Goel, L. (2010). Marketing Study Abroad Programs Effectively: What do American Business Students Think? Journal of International Education in Business, 3(1/2), 34-52. DOI:

DeKeyser, R. M. (2014). Research on language development during study abroad: Methodological considerations and future perspectives. In C. Pérez-Vidal (Ed.), Language acquisition in study abroad and formal instruction contexts (pp. 313-327). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. DOI:

Dennis, M. J. (2020). COVID-19 will accelerate the decline in international student enrollment. Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners, 22, 1-7. DOI:

Dietrich, A. J. (2020). Charting a Path Forward for Education Abroad Research. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 32(2), 1-11. DOI:

Eder, J., Smith, W. W., & Pitts, R. E. (2010). Exploring factors influencing student study abroad decision choice. Journal of Teaching in Travel and Tourism, 10(3), 232-250. DOI:

Fischer, K. (2020, May 22). To Keep International Students During the Pandemic, Colleges Get Creative. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fischer, K. (2021a, April 1). The Year Without Study Abroad. Covid-19 could lead to lasting change in international learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Fischer, K. (2021b). Today’s Global Campus: Strategies for reviving international enrollments and study abroad. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Flaherty, G. T., & Nasir, N. (2020). Reiseangst: travel anxiety and psychological resilience during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of travel medicine, 1-2. DOI:

Gidick, K. (2021, July 30). College students weigh risks and rewards of studying abroad in pandemic era. The Washington Post.

Goldstein, S. B., & Kim, R. I. (2006). Predictors of U.S. College Students’ Participation in Study Abroad Programs: A Longitudinal Study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30(4), 507-521. DOI:

Helms, R. M. (2020, March 4). Can internationalization survive coronavirus? You need to see my data. Higher Education Today.

IIE, Institute of International Education. (2020). Internationalizing the Campus at Home.

Leask, B., & Green, W. (2020, May 2). Is the pandemic a watershed for internationalization? University World News, The Global Window on Higher Education.

Li, M., Olson, J. E., & Frieze, I. H. (2013). Students’ Study Abroad Plans: The Influence of Motivational and Personality Factors. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 23, 73-89. DOI:

Mercado, S. (2020, June 11). International student mobility and the impact of the pandemic. BizEd: AACSB International.

Mok, K. H. (2020, July 4). Will Chinese students want to study abroad post-COVID-19? University World News, The Global Window on Higher Education.

Mok, K. H., Xiong, W., Ke, G., & Cheung, J. O. W. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on International Higher Education and Student Mobility: Student Perspectives from Mainland China and Hong Kong. International Journal of Educational Research, 105, 1-11. DOI:

Nyaupane, G. P., Paris, C. M., & Teye, V. (2011). Study abroad motivations, destination selection and pre-trip attitude formation. International Journal of Tourism Research, 13(3), 205-217. DOI:

Oliveira, D. B., & Soares, A. M. (2016). Studying abroad: Developing a model for the decision process of international students. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 38(2), 126-139. DOI:

Oswald, F. L., & Plonsky, L. (2010). Meta-analysis in second language research: Choices and challenges. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 85-110. DOI:

Ożańska-Ponikwia, K., & Carlet, A. (2021). Should I stay or should I go? Factors that influence one’s decision to participate in a student mobility programme. In M. Howard (Ed.), Study Abroad and the Second Language Learner: Expectations, Experiences and Development (pp. 33-48). Bloomsbuty Collections. DOI:

Pedersen, E. R., Fitzke, R. E., Bouskill, K. E., & Sedano, A. (2021). A Qualitative Look at the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on American College Students Studying Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 33(3), 70-100. DOI:

QS. (2020). How Covid-19 is impacting prospective international students across the globe.

Salisbury, M. H., Umbrach, P. D., Paulsen, M. B., & Pascarella, E. T. (2009). Going Global: Understanding the Choice Process of the Intent to Study Abroad. Research in Higher Education, 50(1), 119-143. DOI:

Shively, R. L. (2018). Language socialization during study abroad: Researching social interaction outside the classroom. In S. Coffey & U. Wingate (Eds.), New directions for research in foreign language education (pp. 97-112). New York: Routledge. DOI:

Stroud, A. H. (2010). Who Plans (Not) to Study Abroad? An Examination of U.S. Student Intent. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 491-507. DOI:




How to Cite

Basterretxea Santiso, G., & Sanz, C. (2022). Study Abroad and Student Decision Making in Times of COVID: A Mixed Methods Study. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 34(1), 45–60.



Learning from COVID-19