South Pacific Study Abroad Program’s Impact on Students’ Major and Career Choice

Rachel Bomser

Authors:  Rachel Bomser, Dr. Heather Gibson, Hongping Zhang

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Heather Gibson

College:  College of Health and Human Performance


Study abroad programs have become increasingly popular (IIE, 2019). Study abroad provides students with multiple tangible benefits, both professionally and personally (Kronholz e.t, 2016). Since 2007, the University of Florida has hosted summer field-based, sustainability-focused study abroad programs in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of these study abroad programs on environmental attitudes, change of major, and subsequent career choice. Program alumni (2007-2019) completed an online questionnaire. N= 94 responded to a 16 item pro-environmental scale (never true=1, always true=7), impact on major (yes=1, no=2), career (yes=1, no=2), and open-ended questions. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, ANOVA, and content analysis. There was no significant difference among program location and environmental attitude (F=2.360; df=2, 91; p >.05). Mean scores for environmental attitudes were: Australia (M=5.34), New Zealand (M=4.84), and Fiji (M=5.42). Five of 94 respondents changed majors, and 39/93 reported study abroad influenced their career choice. Content analysis revealed participation influenced: n=14 to pursue a sustainability- focused career, n=8 to work in “a helping-profession”, n=6 to pursue ecotourism, and n=4 to study environmental law. Program participation seems to be influential for some in future career choice, but not major change. 

Poster Pitch

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24 Responses
  1. Daphne Bricker

    Hi Rachel! This is a very interesting project! Did you see any difference in response between genders?

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Hi Daphne! We didn’t track responses by gender, as we focused on the participant population as a whole. However, we recognized that the response rate tended to correlate with the program participation: more females participated in the study abroad programs than males and responded to the survey. Thanks for your question!

  2. Hongping Zhang

    Well done, Rachel! It’s really interesting to think about career development and environmental education from a social learning perspective. This gives me some new insights!

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Thank you so much! It has been a pleasure working with you on this project! I agree, it was interesting to examine social learning theory in this context, as study abroad is typically not directly associated with this theory. However, the Florida Downunder study abroad programs are definitely learning experiences, which, as we found, have impacted participants’ career choice. Thanks for your comment!

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Thank you so much Dr. Gibson! It has been a wonderful learning experience working with you on this research project. I am so glad you are my faculty mentor!

  3. Leah Barnes

    Hi! Unique presentation! As a first-year hoping to study abroad in the future, I am curious what effect the study abroad program will have on me, especially since I am uncertain regarding career choice. Do you think the type of classes a student takes (like a STEM major student taking environmental courses) would have a different effect than, say, a STEM major taking STEM courses?

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Hi Leah! We have found that many of the STEM majors who participated in the Florida Downunder programs have either changed their majors or followed a more environmentally-driven career. For instance, upon returning to UF, one student changed from Engineering to Plant Molecular Biology. I believe this could be because of the hands-on nature of the sustainability curriculum on this program. I would love to learn more about the differences between study abroad programs like the Florida Downunder program and more traditional, university-based programs. Thanks for your question!

  4. Gina De Sanctis

    Hi Rachel!

    I enjoyed reading your presentation. I have always been curious as to the impact of study abroad programs.

    Great job!

  5. Courtney Weis

    Hi, Rachel! This is a great way to think about studying abroad. I like that you examined the life-long impacts of the program. Do you think the results would look different depending on if the participants have traveled outside the US before studying abroad?

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Hi Courtney! That would be an excellent follow-up study to conduct. While I would have to do more research to come to an informed conclusion, I think that the type of education and hands-on experience that the Florida Downunder programs offer is unique, even to participants that have travelled outside of the US before. Thanks for your question!

  6. Emily Helfrich

    Hi Rachel, great job with your presentation. Your poster was really informative, and I loved the visual elements you included!

  7. Bryn Tolchinsky

    Hi Rachel, this was a very insightful project and I am glad you took the time to delve deeper into the impact of study abroad programs on students’ professional development and career choices. Often times, we just see students posting pictures of the many sights they got to see abroad, but there is not much discussion on the academic takeaways. Thank you for your hard work!

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Hi Bryn! I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation. I agree, it was refreshing to validate the professional and academic benefits that study abroad offers to participants, in addition to the superficial ones we often see on social media. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Nedi Ferekides

    Hey Rachel! Very interesting study! I was wondering if you saw any trends amongst the individuals who did decide to change their career? Were they of a particular major?

    1. Rachel Bomser

      Hi Nedi! There were only five participants who changed their majors after the study abroad program, and each of their original majors were from different disciplines. However, the newly chosen majors after program participation were related to the program curriculum. For example, one individual added Sustainability Studies as a second major, while another individual switched to Tourism & Recreation. Thank you for your question!

        1. Rachel Bomser

          Thank you Dr. Stepchenkova! This was a very enlightening experience and I am glad I got to participate in the University Scholars Program!