Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB4

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In Search of Global Perspectives


Michael H. Stitsworth
Assistant Professor
Department of 4-H Youth
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

    Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

An urgent need exists to educate citizens in this country to global understandings and responsibilities. We live in a country where one out of six manufacturing jobs depends directly on foreign trade, four out of five new manufacturing jobs result from foreign commerce, and one out of every three acres of farm land produces products for export.

Since 1948, 4-H members have been traveling abroad as participants in 4-H exchange programs. Many optimistic claims about the effects of such travel on personal development have been made, including increases in independence, tolerance, and a greater openness or receptivity to other people.

In 1984-85, a 4-H International Program Task Force appointed by ECOP reviewed the condition of the 4-H international program. The task force concluded that the 4-H international program is characterized by excellence, but found little documentation. In the past, the benefits attributed to participation in international exchanges were explained and defended primarily by means of anecdotal evidence.

A recently completed research project indicates that 4-H international exchanges do make a difference. The project was a careful attempt to document personality changes in 4-H members who traveled to Japan in 1986 for one-month homestays as part of the 4-H/Labo Exchange. Participating in the study were 154 exchange participants from 17 states and 112 control group members who were nominated by the exchange group, but didn't travel abroad.

The California Psychological Inventory (CPI) was administered to both groups before the exchange, at its conclusion, and four months later. A pre-exchange questionnaire collected demographic information from both groups.

The pretest and posttest CPI scores for the two groups were examined statistically to detect any significant differences. It was found that the overseas group increased in flexibility and independence and became less conventional compared to the group that remained at home.

Statistics were also used to determine if the personalities of exchange participants in certain demographic subgroups changed differently. Exchange participants who were the first member of their family to travel abroad and those who personally paid a high percentage of their trip expenses experienced the most personality change. Overseas travelers who'd studied a foreign language for one or two semesters experienced no significant changes; travelers who hadn't previously studied a language and those who had studied a language for three or four semesters changed significantly.

This study, along with other recent findings, documents that exchange participants show greater personal growth than similar youth who don't have the opportunity to travel abroad. Experiences abroad present unfamiliar challenges that require individuals to develop and assimilate new behavioral responses. These new responses help youth grow. Thus, immersion in a foreign culture provides a touchstone against which returned travelers can view their own society and the values that shape their lives.

The international mission statement for Extension proposes that its international functions should include development of strong international awareness by 4-H members, as well as by other clientele and Extension staff. By continuing to support opportunities for international interchange, Extension can play a pivotal role in helping prepare the minds and hearts of young people, not only for living in their own communities, but also for the challenges of global citizenship.