There has been a growing trend of participation in study abroad (SA) programs among U.S. college students. Roughly 10 percent of all U.S. undergraduates spend at least one semester in a foreign country during their college career. The increasing popularity of SA programs has received much scholarly attention. Researchers have found that SA participants became more proficient in a foreign language, grew more culturally competent, and shifted their personal outlooks as a result of their semesters overseas. Less research has documented the SA experiences of students at elite institutions in higher education. To address this gap, this study examines whether and how Hamilton College students transform after international sojourns. By conducting 15 semi-structured interviews, I identify five major changes that Hamilton students undergo after studying abroad: (1) improvements in academic achievement (2) shifts in priorities, (3) cultural learning, (4) self-discovery, and (5) development of career trajectories. However, two moderating factors alter the effects of SA experiences: (1) program destination and (2) prior international experience. Participants who went to developing countries were more likely to experience significant transformation compared to those who went to developed countries, and those who had prior global experiences were less likely to experience a dramatic change throughout the SA journey compared to those who studied abroad for the first time. Study results serve as a guideline for U.S. higher education institutions to better understand the ways in which students change from their SA experiences and to make adjustments to school policies regarding SA programs.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Matthew Grace

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.