The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

As part of our data collection for the NAFSA poster fair on International Education research, we looked into the rankings of the programs and each category. We determined things like average ratings, and even the correlation each category had on the overall rating a student would give their study abroad program.

The chart above shows the average student rating broken down into categories, Safety, Home Advising, Budget, Health, Culture Food, Housing, Program Administration, Academics, and their Overall rating.

Safety & Health: when we ask students about their experience, we focus the questions on certain aspects of their time abroad. Everyone should feel safe, and let’s be serious, this is Mom and Dad’s number one priority. This rating reflects how safe the student felt in the city they were in as well as their housing, it also asks the students about the availability of health services. For the most part, the students felt safe and healthy, but this didn’t have much affect on how they felt about the programs overall.

Home advising: is reflective of how much the student felt their home institution prepared them for their time abroad. Host Administration: asks about how well the on-site administration and faculty supported the students adjustments and needs while abroad. Some advisors may be the hand-holding type, others may be more of the push ’em out of the nest and see if they can fly type. Either way, the student should meet them half way and there should always be a support system in place. The students’ experience with their home advisors didn’t affect their overall rating, but the onsite admin was a factor in their overall satisfaction.

Budget: cost of living abroad. Many students find this to be the most difficult part of going abroad. If you’re used to working while you’re at school, make sure you find a program that allows for part-time local work. I highly recommend doing some research to the town you’ll be staying in to find out how much money you need to budget to afford the lifestyle you want while living abroad. Remember, cities, especially in Europe and Australia, will be more expensive than the rural towns. This said, college kids are used to being broke and getting by, making this the least correlated with Overall rating. Being broke doesn’t get in the way of a college student having a great time!

Culture: this category wants to know about how much local interaction the students have. We find that students who have relationships with locals often try to give this a 6 out of 5, we’ve defaulted these ratings to our maximum 5 out of 5. This is the non-academic side of the program, how much do they feel they’ve gotten to know the place? Culture is the most highly correlated with Overall rating. This encompasses why they students are abroad and didn’t stay home, for something different.

Food: you’d think food would be a big part of wether someone enjoyed living abroad. For some, it may even be the number one reason, who would want to gorge themselves on pasta in Italy and eat pan au chocolate everyday in France? But Food satisfaction was the third lowest category correlated to Overall rating. Oh wait, that’s right, these are college students, they are used to eating easymac and ordering dominos at 3am, they don’t care about the quality of food!

Housing: Some students live in dorms, some in home-stays and other’s in apartments. It can potentially be the worst or best part of your time abroad. Make your decision wisely so that you’ll have the right amount of comfort and challenge in your housing abroad. Living with a host family will increase your local language and cultural skills, but if you’ll be miserable the whole time, it might not be worth it for you. Whatever your housing is, it’s important to diversify your experiences from where you’re sleeping.

Academics: We were all quite proud of our students when the results came back that the academic rating was second highest correlated with the overall program rating. They do care! The quality of their academics really affected what a student thought about they quality of their study abroad program.

Overall: Consistently, the overall rating given to a program is higher than each category rating for that program. This just goes to show there are so many intangibles in living and studying abroad that add to your experience. This is why we can’t always articulate what made a program and experience great, but we know it was.