Student Identity Sense-Making and the Study Abroad Experience


  • Brittany M. W. Grieb University of San Diego



identity development, international experiences, meaning-making, pre-departure, sensemaking, student advising, study abroad


Student experiences have long been discussed within the field of international education. Most studies focus on the overwhelming positive benefits students may have before, during, and after the study abroad experience. Not surprisingly, the percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad continues to increase. While there are certainly benefits to studying abroad, few studies have emerged that highlight the negative effects of study abroad. This study focuses on the potential adversity the study abroad experience may have on students, specifically in terms of identity-sense making prior to, during, and after their study abroad programs. This paper argues that by focusing on adversity with the study abroad experience, institutions can better prepare students for both the negative and positive outcomes of international education. The results of this study suggest that, with more resources that engage in identity sense-making, students will have the tools to mitigate negative international experiences.



Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Brittany M. W. Grieb, University of San Diego

Brittany M. W. Grieb is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. Her research interests include identity development, leadership, and intersectional sensemaking.


Berg, M. V., Paige, R. M., & Lou, K. H. (Eds.). (2012). Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they’re not, and what we can do about it. Stylus Publishing.

Berry, J.W. (1990). Psychology of acculturation: Understanding individuals moving between cultures. In R. W. Brislin (Ed.), Applied cross-cultural psychology (pp.232-253). Sage. DOI:

Bogdan, Robert., and Biklen, Sari Knopp. (2007). Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theories and Methods. Pearson A & B.

Borland, K.W. (1999). Supporting students in four stages of the study abroad experience. Review Journal of Philosophy and Social Science, 24, 1&2, 83-98.

Carpenter, S. D., Kaufman, H., & Torp, M. (2019). Integrating Worlds: How Off-campus Study Can Transform Undergraduate Education. Stylus Publishing.

Chamove, A. S., & Soeterik, S. M. (2006). Grief in returning sojourners. Journal of Social Sciences, 13, 215-220. DOI:

Charmaz, K. (2017). Special invited paper: Continuities, contradictions, and critical inquiry in grounded theory. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16(1), 1-8. DOI:

Christofi, V., & Thompson, C. L. (2007). You cannot go home again: A phenomenological investigation of returning to the sojourn country after studying abroad. Journal of Counseling & Development, 85, 53-63. DOI:

Cox, J. B. (2004). The role of communication, technology, and cultural identity in repatriation adjustment. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 28, 201-219. DOI:

Cummings, W. (2001). Current challenges of international education. ERIC Digest. Retrieved August 13, 2023, from…

Curtis, T., & Ledgerwood, J. R. (2018). Students’ motivations, perceived benefits and constraints towards study abroad and other international education opportunities. Journal of International Education in Business, 11(1), 63-78. DOI:

Diversity Abroad. (n.d.). About diversity abroad. Diversity Abroad.

Dolby, N. (2004). Encountering an American self: Study abroad and national identity. Comparative Education Review, 48(2), 150-173. DOI:

The Forum on Education Abroad. (n.d.). Who we are. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Furukawa, T. (1997). Sojourner readjustment: Mental health of international students after one year’s foreign sojourn and its psychosocial correlates. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 185, 263-268. DOI:

Gaw, K. F. (2000). Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 83-104. DOI:

Gullahorn, J. T., & Gullahorn, J.E. (1963). An extension of the U-curve hypothesis. Journal of Social Issues, 19, 33-47. DOI:

Graves,T.D. (1967). Psychological acculturation in a triethnic community. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 23, 337-350. DOI:

Hadis, B. F. (2005). Gauging the impact of study abroad: How to overcome the limitations of a single-cell design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 30, 3-19. DOI:

Holmes, P., Bavieri, L., & Ganassin, S. (2015). Developing intercultural understanding for study abroad: students’ and teachers’ perspectives on pre-departure intercultural learning. Intercultural Education, 26(1), 16-30. DOI:

Institute of International Education. (2021). “Leading Institutions by Study Abroad Total, 2018/19-2019/20”. Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange. Retrieved from:

Juhasz, A.M., & Walker, A.M. (1987). The impact of study abroad on university students’ perceptions of self. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED341916).

Kaufmann, N.L., Martin, J.N., Weaver, H.D, & Weaver, J. (1992). Students abroad: Strangers at home: Education for a global society. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, Inc.

Lee, J., & Negrelli, K. (2018). Cultural identification, acculturation, and academic experience abroad: A case of a joint faculty-led short-term study abroad program. Journal of International Students, 8(2), 1152-1072. DOI:

Merriam, S. B. & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation, 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (n.d.). About Nafsa. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Ogden, A. C., Ho, H. Z., Lam, Y. W., Bell, A. D., Bhatt, R., Hodges, L., ... & Rubin, D. (2023). The Impact of Education Abroad Participation on College Student Success Among First-Generation Students. The Journal of Higher Education, 1-28. DOI:

Paras, A., Carignan, M., Brenner, A., Hardy, J., Malmgren, J., & Rathburn, M. (2019). Understanding how program factors influence intercultural learning in study abroad: The benefits of mixed-method analysis. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 31(1), 22-45. DOI:

Pedrelli, P., Nyer, M., Yeung, A., Zulauf, C., & Wilens, T. (2015). College students: mental health problems and treatment considerations. Academic Psychiatry, 39(5), 503-511. DOI:

Raschio, R. A. (1987). College students’ perceptions of reverse culture shock and reentry adjustments. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28, 156-162.

Rabinowitz, F.E. (1994). The impact of an interpersonal encounter-group class for North American college students studying abroad. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 19, 38-42. DOI:

Rogers, J., & Ward, C. (1993). Expectation-experience discrepancies and psychological adjustment during cross-cultural reentry. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 17, 185-196. DOI:

Sahin, N. H. (1990). Re-entry and the academic and psychological problems of the second generation. Psychology and Developing Societies, 2, 165-182. DOI:

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). A terror management theory of social behavior: The psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 91-159). San Diego, CA: Academic. DOI:

Sowa, P. A. (2002). How valuable are student exchange programs. New Directions for Higher Education, 117, 63-70. DOI:

Sussman, N. M. (2000). The dynamic nature of cultural identity throughout cultural transitions: Why home is not so sweet. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 4(4), 355–373. DOI:

Tarchi, C., Surian, A., & Daiute, C. (2019). Assessing study abroad students’ intercultural sensitivity with narratives. European journal of psychology of education, 34, 873-894. DOI:

Wielkiewicz, R. M., & Turkowski, L. W. (2010). Reentry issues upon returning from study abroad programs. Journal of College Student Development, 51(6), 649-664. DOI:

University of San Diego. (2021). Race/Ethnicity of Fall 2020 Students: Federal Reports. Retrieved from:




How to Cite

Grieb, B. (2023). Student Identity Sense-Making and the Study Abroad Experience . Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 35(3), 76–96.