Four Years on the Road to Cosmopolitan Lives
: Student Development Through the Extended International Education Experience

  • Andrew Starcher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


The purpose of this research was to explore how students developed over a four-year international higher education experience, the first longitudinal study of student development through undergraduate careers completed entirely abroad. One hundred six students representing forty-three different countries at an American international liberal arts college in Switzerland participated in this grounded theory study, which incorporated an additional 186 anonymous survey respondents. The study addressed the processes and outcomes of such an education. The work utilized data produced through a number of different formats, including student peer-to-peer interviews, reflective student writing, participant observation, and open survey questions.The research showed that this experience prepared students for seven related cosmopolitan futures, ranging from global activist to glocal elite. In addition to classifying typologies, the study explained how students utilized three separate learning arenas to structure their experience: the intercultural bubble, the larger world of travel, and local communities. Students autonomously employed distinct methods within these learning arenas, using cyclical processes involving agency, constant comparison, risk-taking, and reflection. Students developed both intercultural competencies and worldliness. Key aspects of intercultural competencies included adaptability, open-mindedness, and perspective-taking. Worldliness instead comprised independence, travel savvy, and self-assuredness. Findings suggest that, regardless of a student’s original cosmopolitical orientation, the net effect of the extended international higher education experience was to expand students’ orientations and modes of acting and perceiving toward greater global understanding and appreciation, including aspects of ethical cosmopolitanism. The experience was transformative, albeit in an incremental fashion, building upon students’ previous lives. The research proposed a more evidence-based definition of cosmopolitan education than previous conceptualizations, one that encompasses tensions in discourses around internationalization and globalization.This thesis contributes to the literatures on the internationalization of higher education, international education, education for global citizenship, higher education policy, cosmopolitanism in practice, and the sociology of globalization. The thesis concludes with recommendations for international education researchers, practitioners, and campus leaders.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMary Hayden (Supervisor)


  • cosmopolitanism
  • education abroad
  • intercultural competencies
  • intercultural education
  • international education
  • internationalization of higher education

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