Study abroad and off-campus domestic study are popular pursuits at Elon and at many other colleges and universities. And with good reason: The immersion in a novel culture can provide a tipping point that can help with both learning and personal development for students (CIEE 2006). But study abroad and off-campus domestic study don’t happen in a vacuum – rather they are part of a complex tapestry of experiences that compose a college education.

Last month, we convened a think tank of some of the experts about these global experiences to discuss what we need to know to have the highest impact from off-campus experiences. It was a luminous group including

After a day of lively discussion, the gap we felt was most important to address is the integration of study abroad and off-campus domestic study with the rest of the university experience. Important questions in study abroad such as student decision-making processes (CIEE, 2006) benefit from a holistic investigation of the study abroad or domestic off-campus study experience as a part of the larger university one. Generally, “Learning is the sum total of experiences, and outcomes result not from a single event, but the collective totality of those activities,” as a report from discussions at a CIEE conference reminds us. Factors before, during, after and long after study abroad and off-campus domestic study experiences affect student learning.

These factors are related to

  • The learners: A learner’s prior experiences with other cultures, language, etc. can affect how he or she responds to study abroad and off-campus domestic study. So can the path the learner takes through the university.
  • The educators: Educators bring their own set of knowledge, skills and attitudes into a study abroad and off-campus domestic study experience that can affect both experiences and outcomes for learners.
  • Curricular and programmatic factors: The role of study abroad and off-campus domestic study in both the general curriculum and the major can impact learning, as can the type of experience that is offered.

These questions fit well with the Center for Engaged Learning’s commitment to multi-institutional research projects. Because institutions integrate study abroad and off-campus domestic study in different ways, multi-institutional projects allow for comparisons that are difficult to make at a single school. Therefore the Center’s next multi-institutional research seminar will focus on “Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience: Higher-impact Study Abroad and Off-Campus Domestic Study,” with research questions centered around the factors listed above.

The call for applications will be available in early October.

CIEE (2006) Our view: A research agenda for study abroad. Available at

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturgis Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University.  She has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of region and media, and on new technologies and the news. Amanda routinely teaches study abroad courses and has published on methods of reflection in service-learning abroad.

How to cite this post:

Sturgill, Amanda. 2014, September 23. Study Abroad and Off-campus Domestic Study: Part of a Complex Tapestry. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from