October 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB8
Does Study Abroad Make a Difference? An Impact Assessment of the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program
The Texas Agricultural Extension Service 4-H program asked an undergraduate research team from the Eisenhower Leadership Program at Texas A&M University to assess the impact of participation in the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program. The team surveyed all former IFYE participants from Texas, their family members, and friends. The findings indicate those surveyed were more sensitive to other cultures, more interested in global events, and more involved in community activities because of the exchange program. Participants described the exchange as a life-changing event. Participants also cited barriers to participation that can be overcome by seeking corporate support and by more effective promotion.
As the world becomes a more global community, the need for American youth to study abroad becomes more important than in previous time periods. A recent NAFSA bulleting states that "international and cross-cultural awareness and understanding on the part of U.S. citizens will be crucial to effective U.S. leadership, competitiveness, prosperity, and national security in the next century" (NAFSA, 2000).
International experience is especially critical as American companies cater to world markets. While addressing business and professional executives at Union College's Graduate Management Institute, Robert Nardelli, head of GE Power Systems in Schenectady, suggested that students, prior to seeking positions with General Electric and other multinational corporations, spend time working overseas‹even as an intern (Wiles, 1996). Nardelli goes on to say that while learning other languages is important, understanding how different cultures conduct business gives job applicants an upper hand.
The 4-H program's goal is to prepare youth to make an impact in their world, as indicated by the 4-H Motto and Pledge, ¾To Make the Best Better. I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health for better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world¾ (4-H Club Officer Handbook, 1999).
One 4-H program in particular that stresses international involvement is the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE). This program promotes and encourages understanding among the different cultures of the world by means of first-hand cultural involvement. IFYE was first organized in 1948 when 17 U.S. delegates went to Europe and six European delegates traveled to the United States. Since then, the IFYE program has affected thousands of youth from across the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the South Pacific. It offers 4-H youth an invaluable learning experience by allowing them to live and work with host families worldwide.
The IFYE program aims to elevate global and cultural awareness, encourage independent study interests, and improve language skills among its participants. An IFYE delegate to the Philippines succinctly sums up the purpose of the IFYE program, "Travelers see mountains, museums and human masses, and mimic a country's culture. IFYEs pass through front doors of homes to live as sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. Thus the culture engulfs them" (IFYE Homepage, 1997).
Students derive many benefits from studying abroad. Sumka (1999) reported that students improve their language skills and gain new cultural perspectives. They reported also that studying abroad helped them make career and life decisions and improve problem-solving skills. As opposed to tourists, study abroad participants have the time and opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with members of the host culture and to learn more about their culture.
Etling, Kalangi, and Waites (1990) examined a cultural exchange program between 4-H clubs in Arizona and 4-C clubs in Durango, Mexico. They discovered that contacts between Arizona and Durango promoted understanding among the people of the two neighboring countries that are strongly influenced by each other and increasingly interdependent. In this Arizona-Durango exchange, stereotyped impressions were changed. Second language abilities improved as personal friendships were established and cultural awareness was enhanced.
Many students, however, do not take advantage of study abroad. In a 1993 study, Etling and others found that the greatest barriers to participation in international programming were:
- Expense, especially for trips out of the country;
- Lack of a clearly defined project;
- Agents' resistance to international activities;
- Problems with state program leadership, such as inadequate communication and impossible deadlines;
- Limited opportunities for adults who might otherwise provide support; and
- Program management, including scheduling, evaluation, and complicated procedures (Etling, Reaman & El Sawi, 1993).
Purpose and Objectives of the Study
No formal evaluation to determine the impact of the IFYE program on participants has been conducted. In the spring of 2000, the Eisenhower Leadership Program was asked by the 4-H program of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service to determine the effects of participation in the International 4-H Youth Exchange on participants, their families, and community, and to identify barriers that prevent greater participation in the IFYE program.
The Eisenhower Leadership Program (ELP) is administered by the Center for Public Leadership Studies in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Its two-fold purpose is: (1) to develop students' leadership skills and abilities, and (2) to foster in students a desire to use their leadership abilities to address the different problems that communities and society face (Welch, 2000). The ELP brings together 80 undergraduate students from the colleges of Agriculture and Life Science, Engineering, Business, and Liberal Arts to teach them leadership skills in a hands-on manner.
Students are divided into teams of seven to eight students, with representation from each of the four participating colleges. Directors from the Eisenhower Program solicit clients from the non-profit sector who present the student teams with a problem facing their organization. The student research teams serve as a consulting group to solve the problem and present a report to their client by the end of the fourteen-week semester. A team of undergraduate student researchers from the ELP was assigned to conduct the study under the guidance of an Eisenhower faculty member.
The objectives of the study were to:
- Determine changes in attitude towards other cultures and the level of global awareness of IFYE participants.
- Determine changes in attitude towards other cultures and the level of global awareness of the families of IFYE participants and their community.
- Identify barriers that discourage participation in the IFYE program.
Four populations were sampled for this study. IYFE alumni and alumni references (persons close to and identified by the IFYE alumni) were surveyed to determine the effects of participating in the IFYE program on participants, their families, and community. A list of 108 Texas IFYE alumni was provided to the research team. Surveys were mailed to this entire population. Twenty-eight surveys (26%) were returned following the first mailing, and five surveys were returned as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service. Dillman's procedure for improving the return rate of mail surveys was not used due to the short period of time available for completing the research project (Dillman, 2000).
Each IFYE alumni identified two persons who were close to them before and after the exchange. These references were also surveyed to determine if they were influenced by the IFYE alumni's experience, and if they noticed a change in the alumni after completion of the exchange. References were identified as friends, parents, siblings, or extended relatives. Sixteen references returned surveys.
The third population consisted of County Extension Agents employed by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. A total of 60 County Extension Agents (CEAs) comprised that sample. Five agents were randomly chosen from each of the 12 Extension districts in Texas in an effort to identify barriers to participation in the IFYE program.
In addition, IFYE program directors from selected states were surveyed to determine the level of participation in the IFYE program in their state and the methods used to promote the IFYE program.
Evaluation of the IFYE participants and their references was conducted using a post-then-pre-test design. Rockwell and Kohn (1989) suggest that when assessing self-reported behavior changes, the traditional pre-test-then-post-test design may fail to demonstrate changes in behavior or knowledge. Participants in educational programs may have limited knowledge at the beginning of a program that prevents them from accurately assessing their baseline knowledge. Asking the post-test question first, then asking participants how they perceived their knowledge level prior to the instruction, eliminates this bias.
The instrument contained questions to determine why respondents participated in the IFYE program, to identify any barriers to their participation, and to identify any self-perceived changes in their attitudes towards other cultures and global events. Respondents were also given the opportunity to provide their own comments regarding their exchange experience.
Of the 28 respondents, 44% had participated in IFYE within the last 10 years. Twenty percent participated between 10 and 20 years ago, while the remaining 36% were participants more than 20 years ago.
IFYE participants were asked to rate themselves on how their participation in the foreign exchange had affected them and their family and community. Participants were asked three questions related to how participation in the IFYE program had affected them. They were first to rate their perceptions on how they felt about their interest and sensitivity to other cultures and global events following their participation. They were then asked to reflect on their feelings about global events and other cultures prior to participating in the IFYE exchange. T-tests revealed a statistically significant change in participants' self-perceptions regarding their sensitivity towards other cultures and their interests in community and global events. The means and standard deviations for each statement are listed in Table 1.
T-Test Results for Impact of IFYE Program on Texas Participants, 2000 (N=28)
IFYE alumni references were also asked to evaluate the attitudes and behaviors of the IFYE participants both before and after their participation in the international exchange. T-tests (Table 2) indicated that the alumni references perceived a statistically significant difference in the participants' sensitivity to other cultures, their interest in global events, and their involvement in community activities following the IFYE participants' return home.
Changes in Texas IFYE Alumni Attitude and Behavior as Perceived by Alumni References, 2000
Students were also asked their level of agreement on the four statements listed in Table 3. The participants as a group were somewhat undecided about whether IFYE influenced their career choice, but agreed that IFYE is a worthwhile program and continues to have an impact in their lives. The respondents agreed that they still see the effects of the IFYE program in their lives today.
Mean Responses of Texas IFYE Participants on Selected Value Statements, 2000 (N=28)
IFYE participants were asked if they perceived that their family, friends, and community were more aware of global events following their exchange trip. They perceived that the global awareness of their family, friends, and community was greater following their exchange.
This observation is further supported by the self-perceptions of the alumni references. Alumni references also believed that the participants' family, friends, and community were more globally aware following the participants' exchange. In addition, the alumni also felt that they were more sensitive to other cultures, more aware of global events, and more involved in community activities following the IFYE participants' exchange trip. Mean scores and t-test results for the five statements are provided in Table 4.
Changes in Family, Friends, and Community Attitudes and Behavior as Perceived by Texas IFYE Alumni and Alumni References, 2000
When asked if there were any barriers to their participation in the IFYE program, 12 (43%) participants cited financial reasons. Exchange trips can cost from $2,500 to $3,200, depending upon the country to be visited (IFYE Homepage, 1997). Lack of family or community support and the inability to obtain school credit were also mentioned (8 and 4%, respectively). Fourteen (50%) respondents replied that they encountered no barriers to their participation.
In addition, 72% of County Extension Agents (CEAs) surveyed also cited financial reasons, while 39% cited lack of local support as barriers to participation. A prevailing comment cited the difficulty in finding sponsorship in small communities. An additional barrier to greater participation in the program could be lack of awareness. Seventeen percent of the CEAs responding had no knowledge of the IFYE program. Of those agents who had heard of the IFYE program, 27% do not promote the program at all, while 60% promote it only "moderately," primarily through the county 4-H newsletter. Only one CEA reported promoting the program through more than one method.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Participating in the IFYE program made a positive impact on participants. IFYE participants believed that their participation in the IFYE program made a positive impact on their lives. They perceived that they were more sensitive to other cultures, more aware of global events, and more involved in community activities than prior to their participation. Participants described their experience as "life changing" and "a growth experience." Persons close to the IFYE participant also believed that the participant was changed by their participation in the foreign exchange program.
In addition, IFYE participants affected others around them. They believed that their family, friends, and community are more aware of global events as a result of their participation. Surveys of persons who are close to the respondents validate these findings as well. Alumni references agreed that not only did the IFYE program affect the participant, but that they were also more aware of global events and more sensitive to other cultures as a result of having contact with the IFYE participant.
Barriers to participation fell into two categories: financial and lack of knowledge about the program. Both County Extension Agents and IFYE participants identified the cost of the IFYE program as a barrier to participation for many youth. The IFYE Homepage suggests that 4-H members seek local support in raising the necessary funds to participate in an exchange. CEAs and IFYE participants cite as a secondary barrier lack of family and community support, further exacerbating the financial barrier.
Both of these barriers can be overcome by seeking corporate support for the IFYE program. Corporations would benefit from this investment by having a pool of potential employees with a greater understanding of other cultures.
Many teens may simply not know about the International 4-H Youth Exchange program due to the poor efforts to promote the program by County Extension Agents. Many Extension Agents were also unaware of the IFYE program. State 4-H programs can make greater efforts to educate County Extension Agents by including presentations about the IFYE program during new employee conferences or other professional development opportunities. State produced promotional videos featuring local IFYE participants would be an effective marketing tool for CEAs. These videos could be used for county and club programs. In addition to the national IFYE Web site, state-level Web sites could also be effective by highlighting the experiences of recent IFYE participants.
Other ideas used to market the IFYE program by states with large IFYE participation included an intercultural camp held each summer, a day program called "Holidays Around the World," and a booth at their university's International Week. Word-of-mouth communication is also an essential marketing tool. IFYE Alumni Association members could be better utilized to educate more youth about the IFYE program and its benefits through direct contacts with 4-H members.
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