The Reflective Discourse of Pell Grant Students About Their Study Abroad Experience

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Feinstein School of Education and Human Development

Department (Manual Entry)

Education Doctoral Program


As American higher education proceeds with the internationalization process of the undergraduate curriculum, college and university campuses continue to advocate for higher levels of study abroad participation among the student population. Originating from a tradition that perceived involvement as a luxury for a select few, these experiences are now commonly viewed as a means for the general student body to develop the knowledge and the 21st century skills required to fully engage the global context in which we live. Despite the continued expansion in the number of students participating, the general profile of participants has remained stubbornly similar, with individuals of “lower” socioeconomic standing and social class origins consistently identified as being underrepresented in these programs.

This investigation aims to better understand this low-income segment of the student population by researching the experience of Pell Grant recipients who did study abroad to determine what factors supported their decision to proceed with participation. The study also seeks to better understand these students’ experience while abroad and upon reentry into their domestic social networks. Employing Seidman’s (2006) structure for in-depth, phenomenological interviewing as a guide, a three-interview series was used to explore the experience of 17 students at a public flagship university in the northeast region of the U.S. Theoretical concepts of social and cultural capital developed by Pierre Bourdieu are utilized to frame the study and to analyze the constructed discourse, as well as to foreground issues of social class and status.

The analysis revealed two groups of low-income participants roughly distinguished by parents’ educational levels and associated social and cultural capital of their families. By examining the discourse of these study abroad alumni, the objective is to produce knowledge that can be used to gain a more robust understanding of these participants to better inform international educators how to encourage and support participation, to expand these opportunities to this population, and to gain deeper insight into how to effectively support them throughout the study abroad process. Recommendations for international educators and further research are suggested.