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Your Most Valuable College Semester

Over the past several years, three independent research initiatives have been conducted or are in progress to measure the value and learning outcomes associated with the Semester at Sea global comparative program, which traces its roots to 1963. These studies include the Global Perspective Inventory (GPI), Study Abroad for Global Engagement (SAGE) research project, and Semester at Sea Evaluative Research: The Alumni Survey. A few of the recent findings are summarized below.

The Global Perspective Inventory (GPI)

The Global Perspective Inventory is a quantitative scale developed by educators Larry Braskamp, David Braskamp, Kelly Carter Merrill, and Mark Engberg to measure how college students’ global perspectives evolve when exposed to international study abroad experiences. Semester at Sea is one of 76 universities and study abroad providers that use the GPI (see a list of participating institutions on the GPI website).

The GPI features a 64-item survey that is administered prior to an international study abroad experience (pretest) and after being exposed to cultures that differ from the students’ (posttest). The instrument is comprised of three subscales that assess change across cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal dimensions. The cognitive dimension addresses the question “How do I know?” and reflects increased complexity in thinking (i.e. moving from absolute certainty to a relativist perspective). The intrapersonal dimension addresses the question “Who am I?” and reflects the process of becoming more aware of one’s personal identity and values. The interpersonal dimension addresses the question “How do I relate to others?” and reflects an individual’s ability to accept and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Participants enrolled in Semester at Sea during the Summer 2009, Fall 2009, and Spring 2010 voyages were asked to complete the GPI online while aboard the ship. The GPI was administered to participants prior to reaching the first country of the respective voyage and then again after departing from the final country of the voyage.

Scores on the GPI generally increased from pre to posttest on almost every sub scale across all voyages. Significant differences, as defined by a .10 mean difference or more between pretest and posttest results on the subscales, are listed below. The largest gains were as follows (in order):

Figure 1: Changes after semester of study abroad by GPI scale

Source: AIEA Annual Conference 2011, Larry Braskamp

  • Cognitive knowledge: Participants reported an increased understanding and awareness of various cultures, their impact on our global society and an increased proficiency in languages. This was significant for all three voyages yielding the highest gains of all assessed dimensions.
  • Intrapersonal identity: Participants reported an increased awareness regarding their unique identity, purpose in life, and meaningful philosophy of life. This was significant for two of the three voyages, with the last voyage coming very close to significance.
  • Participants reported an increase in viewing themselves as global citizens. This was significant for two of the three voyages.
  • Participants reported an increase in overall wellbeing. This was significant for two of the three voyages.
  • Intrapersonal affect: Participants reported increased respect and acceptance of cultural perspectives that were different from their own as well as a higher degree of emotional confidence when processing encounters with other cultures. This was significant for two of the three voyages.

The SAGE Research Project

Initiated in 2006, the Beyond Immediate Impact: Study Abroad for Global Engagement (SAGE) research project seeks to examine the long-term personal, professional, and global engagement outcomes associated with study abroad experiences that occur during the college years. Global engagement, as conceptualized by SAGE, is the contributions a person makes to the common good by means of civic engagement, knowledge production, social entrepreneurship, and philanthropy.

SAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and developed by co-principal investigators Gerald W. Fry and R. Michael Paige. The report draws on 6,000 study abroad participants from 22 U.S. colleges, universities, and education abroad providers nationwide, including the Semester at Sea program.

The final project report has not yet been released but preliminary findings presented at the 2008 annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educators indicate that Semester at Sea participants were strongly impacted by their education abroad experience.

Preliminary Findings

Semester at Sea Evaluative Research: The Alumni Survey

This independent research project was conducted by social scientist Robert C. Weigl, Ph.D., director of the Franklin Center in Alexandria, Va. with Carol Baker, Ph.D., former director of the Office of Measurement and Evaluation at the University of Pittsburgh. The 2009 report summarizes findings from an online survey of 342 Semester at Sea alumni who sailed between 1980 and 2008.

Survey Results:

  • 55% report the program had a “huge” impact on their lives, 36% say the program had a great deal of impact. Total yield results 90% very substantially influenced.
  • 85% report the program had a great deal more impact on their lives than any semester on their home campus; add 12% who report “somewhat more” impact at sea than at home, and a total 97% report Semester at Sea as their most important college semester.
  • 73% report the Semester at Sea influence on their lives has not diminished with time; 38% report that the impact has continued to grow over time since their voyage. Thus, nearly 40% of alumni experienced a program “sleeper effect.”
  • 42% report they have been sojourners overseas—spending extended time living and studying in other countries.
  • 22% report they work or have worked outside the United States.
  • 39 % report they have traveled to revisit and learn more about countries they visited on their SAS voyage.