Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Intragroup Conflict during Study Abroad

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Intragroup Conflict during Study Abroad

Article excerpt

Increasing numbers of students, often from an early age, are crossing cross borders to study. In 2011 there were more than 4.3 million internationally mobile students (OECD, 2013) studying abroad in programs of varying length. Short-term study abroad programs may last for a few days or weeks up to a year and often have specific purposes such as second language development or cultural immersion. Student exchange or short-term study abroad programs involve academic study for a semester or two. Students on longer-term study abroad programs may spend years studying undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.

Studying abroad presents opportunities to develop self-confidence, build self-esteem (Milstein, 2005), expand second language ability and develop intercultural interaction competencies (Kinginger, 2009). It can also increase student knowledge of a new culture and help develop new cross-cultural understandings (Pitts, 2009). Study abroad provides countless opportunities to develop as a person -to enhance identity development (Benson, Barkhuizen, Bodycott & Bell, 2013)

Study abroad can also be challenging. Students need to cope with the stresses of living away from home and adapting to new academic and social environments. How a student responds to these challenges can have an affect on their psychological well-being and academic self-efficacy (Mak & Kim, 2011). For support, study abroad students' seek support from people from the same culture or co-national groups (Kinginger, 2010).

A student traveling abroad as part of a co-national group has built in personal, social and academic support (Bodycott & Crew, 2000). For students traveling alone, support can be found in co-national student groups and societies which are common on higher education campuses. As well as a support role, these groups often organize activities to promote their cultural way of life and traditions in the local community. They also provide a place where people can share common interests about the culture^creating opportunities for all students to develop cross-cultural understanding. However, what happens when intragroup conflict occurs within a co-national group?

This article examines the effects of intra-group conflict in a small co-national group of students taking part in a short-term study abroad program. The following sections examine the literature on identity development, identity and co-national group conflict. A case study of three student's experience is presented and discussed. Recommendations are made on how to better prepare students for the challenges of short-term study abroad and potential intragroup conflict.

Literature Review

Identity and Identity Change during Study Abroad

Developing a sense of who we are and our social fit ^ our identity- is a part of a person's being (Kelly, 1995). Two broad classifications of identity have been identified: personal and social. "Personal identity" refers to the thoughts, feelings and views a person has about themselves ^I am clever, trustworthy and unbiased. "Social identity" refers to how we see ourselves socially -the roles we play, the groups we belong to, our membership in organizations and vocations. There are different types of social identity, for example, ethnic identity ^includes the cultural qualities we share with others (Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

Personal and social identities represent a view of our beliefs and values. These can influence behavior, expectations and opinions (Swann & Bosson, 2008). They help us to interpret new life experiences and can control how open we are to new information. Identities are constantly being challenged and refined through social engagement and personal reflection. If a new experience challenges our beliefs and values, then opportunities are created for our identity and the underlying constructs to change.

Study abroad provides students with countless opportunities to develop and cultivate their personal and social identities. …

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