Master of Arts in Higher Education (MAHE) Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Christopher Viers

Second Advisor

Scott Gaier

Third Advisor

Scott Moeschberger


Higher education focuses significant attention on internationalization in an effort to prepare graduates for the global marketplace. As a result, institutions engage more students in study abroad programs and expand international student enrollment. However, scholarship has yet to consider the essential role returned study abroad students may play in meeting the friendship needs of international students. The present research aimed to determine if study abroad experiences have any impact on friendships between study abroad participants and international students who study on the domestic campus. The study maintained the goal of identifying key factors that either enhance or constrain intercultural relationships between study abroad participants and international students. The study also uncovered experiences that facilitate authentic friendships between domestic and international students at a medium-sized, faith-based, college in the U.S. Midwest. The researcher interviewed returned study abroad student focus groups, international student focus groups, and key administrators using a qualitative phenomenological approach. Focus group participants also responded to a brief survey. Four basic themes emerged: exercising intercultural competencies; empathy toward internationals; friendships between study abroad students and international student; and institutional contributions. A key finding of the study also revealed that institutions do not teach study abroad students to utilize their study abroad experience in fostering empathetic friendships with international students upon returning to campus. Instead, study abroad debriefing sessions typically focus on helping domestic students “get back to normal” or dealing with reverse culture shock. International students reported that study abroad participants demonstrated growth in intercultural competencies but still struggled to move beyond shallow friendships with internationals on campus. Findings suggest the need to incorporate notions of how the experience can more effectively contribute to building friendships with international students.