Steps Towards Decolonizing Study Abroad: Host Communities’ Perceptions of Change, Benefits, and Harms from Study Abroad


  • Heather Haeger University of Arizona
  • John E. Banks California State University, Monterey Bay
  • Roman Christiaens University of Arizona
  • Lily Amador University of Arizona



Central America, community impact, cultural change, decolonizing approaches, intercultural exchange, study abroad, sustainability, symbiosis


Educational travel, and in particular study abroad programs, are generally beneficial to students, but less is known about impacts on the communities in which they are located. This study explores such impacts for a small rural community in Costa Rica that has hosted dozens of ecotourism and study abroad programs. Sixteen interviews were conducted in the community to explore the social and cultural rewards and costs of these programs, including cultural changes such as increases in community members speaking English, availability of drugs and alcohol, appreciation of nature, and adoption of sustainable living practices. We analyze these impacts by examining common programmatic assumptions about study abroad and borrowing biological constructs of symbiosis to diagram the potential trade-offs and costs for the local community – as the basis for developing more mutualistic, decolonized programs in the future.


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Author Biographies

Heather Haeger, University of Arizona

Heather Haeger is the Research Director of the STEM Learning Center and Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the University of Arizona. Dr. Haeger’s research is focused on equity in educational practices and barriers to full participation in STEM education. Her research is used to inform programmatic interventions aimed at engaging students that have been traditionally marginalized in higher education and creating more inclusive and culturally responsive STEM learning environments. She is the PI on the NSF funded Research on Educational Equity & Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship program at the University of Arizona.

John E. Banks, California State University, Monterey Bay

John E. Banks is the Director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center at California State University, Monterey Bay. Dr. Banks is director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center at California State University, Monterey Bay. He earned an MS in applied mathematics at the University of Southern California and a PhD in zoology at the University of Washington, Seattle. For 16 years, he was faculty at the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington, where he was professor of environmental science and served as director of international programs and director of undergraduate education.

Roman Christiaens, University of Arizona

Roman Christiaens, Graduate Assistant, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona. Roman Christiaens is a doctoral student in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. Their research interests focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in higher education by utilizing frameworks around critical whiteness and transfeminism. Roman received their M.Ed. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Vermont and their B.A. in English with a focus in Creative Writing from Seattle University.

Lily Amador, University of Arizona

Lily Amador, Graduate Assistant, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona. Lily Amador is a graduate student at the University of Arizona studying Higher Education. Lily’s research assesses undergraduate research (UR) opportunities and the benefits associated with UR. She researched undergraduate experiences in distance learning and how to transition to equitable learning during COVID-19. As a Ronald E. McNair scholar, she has researched high school students enrolled in new ethnic studies courses in Northern California.


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How to Cite

Haeger, H., Banks, J. E., Christiaens, R., & Amador, L. . (2024). Steps Towards Decolonizing Study Abroad: Host Communities’ Perceptions of Change, Benefits, and Harms from Study Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 36(1), 81–102.



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