S. Nguyen

SP Jain School of Global Management (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
In the last ten years females have consistently outnumbered males in study abroad enrollment in the US. In fact, statistics have managed to reflect relatively uniform numbers with male adult and higher education learners staying moderately under 35%, and female participation nearly doubling this percentage at 65% (Institute of International Education [IIE], 2010). Research accounting for gender disparities in the last 10 years has failed to fully understand the issue, and further, has not solved the problem (Lincoln, 2005).

Although educators, legislators and institutions have long recognized study abroad’s ability to “help students develop practical skills that complement classroom learning, improve problem solving, analytical skills, tolerance for ambiguity, and cross-cultural competence,” the challenge to achieve equitable participation through evaluations of motivation persists (National Association For Study Abroad [NAFSA], 2003, p. 17). Applying considerations from trends in study abroad participation reveals a highly complex set of cognitive, behavioral, academic and social considerations (Vygotzky, 1962) when making the decision to engage in an international learning opportunity. The researchers were interested in the motivations and perceptions students have prior to the sojourn, a determination of the “reasons why” learners choose to engage in study abroad, as well as their preconceived perceptions regarding their interpretations of the study abroad experience (Smith-Sebasto, 2009, p. 34). Of particular interest are the roles that popular culture and entertainment media play in forming these perceptions and the differing impact for both male and female motives. Through a critical media lens, we view adult learners as “consumers of entertainment media, which serve(s) as a medium for knowledge construction about their own and others’ identities” (Tisdell and Thompson, 2007, p. 652). Thus, questions guiding this research are, three-fold:
1. How do males vs. females perceive study abroad?
2. What differentiates motives for male vs. female learners in study abroad participation?
3. In what ways are learners impacted by messages in popular culture with respect to motivations and perceptions of study abroad?

This study offers a comparison of perceptions and motivations in male/female participants enrolled in a summer study abroad course at a south-central university in the US. A discussion of popular culture influences impacting learners’ motivations to study abroad, messages within social contexts/entertainment media, and general issues related to study abroad participation are offered. Constant comparative analysis (Glasser, 1965) was employed to evaluate/interpret interview data. Findings yield an interdependent relationship of participants’ perceptions and motivations to study abroad with respect to media influences of adventure for males and more romanticized notions of international experiences for females. Implications/new understandings from this research bare impact on new approaches to marketing, recruitment, issues of access, and course design regarding study abroad participation.