The Impact of Study Abroad on Language Learners' Understanding of the Concept of Citizenship: Some Preliminary Considerations


  • Jennifer Bruen Dublin City University


study abroad, citizenship, language learning, language teaching


The notion often associated with study abroad that it will deepen students’ understanding of

citizenship and expand it beyond national borders remains contested. While the Erasmus

website (European Commission, 2012a) claims that study abroad and the experiences

associated with it ‘give students a better sense of what it means to be a European citizen’ there

is little research that documents how students themselves actually conceive of the term

citizenship in practice (Streitwieser and Light, 2010, 1) or how a period of study abroad might

transform such conceptualizations. In order to contribute to this debate, this paper analyses

reflective pieces by undergraduate students on the nature of citizenship written before (n=16)

and after (n=8) a year of study abroad as part of an Erasmus exchange programme. It presents

an initial attempt to derive a typology of understandings for the term citizen from this data and

to assess the impact of study abroad on these understandings. The findings of this pilot study

suggest that before students engage with study abroad, they have a tendency to articulate a

relatively straightforward understanding of the concept of citizenship with a strong focus on the

notion of ‘belonging’ to a country. In contrast, those in the post year abroad group recognise

that the concept of citizenship is “difficult to define”, complex and composed of a number of

elements. In addition, both obligations and responsibilities increase in importance and become

more significant than rights for the post-year abroad group. Implications for a more in-depth

study and for further research, in general, as well as for the preparation of students for study

abroad are considered.






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