Ms. Aya Iwamoto
Keio University
Tokyo, Japan.

Learning from Study Abroad Experience: Case of University Students Who Participated in an Exchange Program during High School


This study focuses on the Japanese individual’s experience of a 10-month long exchange program during high school, and aims to explain how they learn longitudinally from that experience. 25 university students were interviewed and the data was analyzed qualitatively.

Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
Keio University / Shinshu University

Learning from Study Abroad Experience: Case of University Students Who Participated in an Exchange Program during High School


Study abroad programs are being promoted as a part of Japanese national policy for human resource development. It is expected that students who study abroad learn something positive from it, and apply those “lessons” later in their lives. However, it has not yet been sufficiently clarified how studying abroad brings positive effects to the future of an individual, and that of the nation. More than a few international educators and researchers in the field of international education agree that learning from study abroad experience doesn’t happen automatically, and are trying to figure out how each targeted competence, such as intercultural competence or language fluency, can be acquired during studying abroad. However, for a country’s human resource development policy, it is more important to specify what kind of “events” during studying abroad has a positive impact on the future of an individual, and that of the nation, as well as the process in which those “events” bring an individual useful “lessons”, so that the government can efficiently invest its financial resources: in an effective study abroad program that includes such “events” and process. The importance of this perspective in choosing or designing effective study abroad programs become especially clear when we consider that we are in an complex era where “Education abroad options have also become more diverse (…) and motivated by a wider range of goals”(Jackson, 2012, p.449).

The aim of this research is to explain from what kind of “events” and through which process Japanese students learn from their study abroad experiences. The word “learning” here is defined widely as “a relatively permanent change in cognition, behavior and affect that occurs as a result of experience (Nakahara, 2010, p.8). The impact of that learning on their future will be discussed in an upcoming paper.

This research focuses on the Japanese individual’s experience of a 10-month-long exchange program during high school. The system of 10-month-long exchange programs is one of the typical forms of studying abroad for high school students in most countries. About 1000 students from Japanese high schools participate in such programs every year1. The reason for choosing high school students’ experience for this research, instead of that of university students, is following: In spite of being pointed out in an earlier study that studying abroad experience impacts high school students more than university students, and can go as far as to change personalities in the case of the former (Yokota, 1997, p.16), the difference between experiences of high school students studying abroad and those of university students is often ignored. In the Japanese academic field of studying abroad, university students are the target of observation in far more occasions than high school students. In view of the recent trend in Japan about studying abroad at a lower age, e.g. the numerical goal set by the government to send abroad 60,0002 high school students yearly by 2020, more research on experience of high school students is urgently needed.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with 25 Japanese university students who had participated in an exchange program during high school. Countries they had stayed as an exchange student are various, including those in North America, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Applying the framework of leadership development by McCall (1988) and McCall et al. (1988), each interviewee offered 3-6 examples of a set of “events” and “lessons” that they had experienced during their study abroad, and now as university students find significant in their lives. The “events” and “lessons” they mentioned were then organized into common themes. In order to illustrate this process, the interview data was also analyzed in accordance to the Modified Grounded Theory Approach (M-GTA), which was developed by Kinoshita (1999) and considered to be appropriate for clarifying a process. In the presentation the results will be reported and examined in comparison to related studies.

1 The number was estimated by the author, referring to Japan Association of International Educational Exchange Organizations for High School Students (2011) and Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (2014).

2 The number is considered to include shorter stays.

Works Cited

Japan Association of International Educational Exchange Organizations for High School Students. (2011). A Handbook of Exchange Programs for High School Students 2011: Intercultural Experience Learning [Koko-sei Kokan-Ryugaku Program Yoran 2011: Ibunka-Taiken-Gakushu]. Tokyo: Japan Association of International Educational Exchange Organizations for High School Students [Ko-Ryu-Ren].

Jackson, J. (2012). Education Abroad. In: J. Jackson (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Intercultural Communication (pp.449-463). Oxon: Routledge.

Kinoshita, Y. (1999). Grounded Theory Approach: Regeneration of Qualitative Empirical Research. Tokyo: Kobundo.

McCall, M. W., Jr. (1988). Developing Executives through Work Experiences. Human Resource Planning, Vol.11(1), 1-11.

McCall, M. W., Jr., Lombardo, M. M., & Morrison, A. M. (1988). The Lessons of Experience. New York: Free Press.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. (2014). The State of International Relations in High Schools 2013 [Heisei-25nendo Kotogakko-to ni okeru Kokusai-Koryu-to no Jokyo ni tsuite]. Retrieved September 24, 2015 from

Nakahara, J. (2010). Learning in the Workplace [Syokuba Gakushu-Ron]. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

Yokota, M. (1997). The Impact of Study Abroad during Adolescence: Experience of Japanese High School Students and University Students [Seinen-ki ni okeru Ryugaku no Impact: Nippon-jin Koko-sei to Daigaku-sei no Ryugaku-Taiken]. Culture and Psyche: Japanese Journal of Transcultural Psychiatry [Bunka to Kokoro: Tabunka-kan Seisin Igaku Kenkyu], 2(1), 12-16.