Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.5, 679-683
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 679
More than a Vacation: Short-Term Study Abroad as a Critically
Reflective, Transformative Learning Experience
Lane Perry1, Lee Stoner2, Michael Tarrant3
1Educational Studies and Human Development, Universi ty of Canterbury, Chris tc hu rch, New Zealand
2School of Sport and Exercise, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
3Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Ath e ns, USA
Received June 22nd, 2012; revised July 20th, 2012; acc e p ted August 5th, 2012
Over the past decade there have been increasing calls to develop the capacity of United States students to
think and act globally (Stearns, 2009). One method of encouraging the civic of global citizenship is t hr ough
study abroad (Tarrant, 2010). However, the educational value and legitimacy of study abroad, in particu-
lar short-term programs, has been questioned (Tarrant & Lyons, 2012). This review and commentary will
endeavor to support short-term study abroad as a creative, engaging, and effective educative practice.
Building on a proposed theoretical framework grounding investigations focused on study abroad and
global citizenship (Tarrant, 2010), a review of literature will examine Dewey’s (1933, 1938) conceptuali-
zation of educative experiences as necessary and valuable components for a learner, and Mezirow’s (1991)
transformative learning theory (TLT) in connection with the fundamental role that critical reflection serves in
both established perspectives of learning. Of particular concern is establishing the alignment between
studies abroad, the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of TLT, and the perspective development
of learners in connection with global citizenship. By intentionally connecting Dewey and Mezirow’s con-
ceptualizations of learning with Tarrant’s conceptual framework for studies abroad, a call for further re-
search focusing on the experiences and perspectives of students within short-term study abroad environ-
ments can be made.
Keywords: Educative Experiences; Transformative Learning; Critical Reflection; Higher Education
Over the past decade there have been increasing calls to de-
velop the capacity of United States students to think and act
globally (Stearns, 2009). One method of encouraging the civic
of global citizenship is through study abroad (Tarrant, 2010).
Growth has gone from ~75,000 students in 1990 to ~270,000
today. Of this total, the fastest growing area has been short-term
programs of two months or less. Currently, 57% of all US stu-
dents abroad engage in short-term programs, in part because
they can be taken during the summer, often include a study tour,
and do not impact on a students’ academic schedule of classes
during the regular Fall and Spring semesters. (Institute of In-
ternational Education, 2011). However, the educational value
and legitimacy of study abroad, in particular short-term pro-
grams, has been questioned (Tarrant & Lyons, 2012). The aim
of this short commentary is to note that while further research is
still required, for short-term study abroad to be fully identified
as a catalyst for developing a global citizenry, we recognize that
when academic content and pedagogical delivery are considered
the support and case for short-term study abroad to be identified
as a creative, engaging, and effective educative practice bec ome s
clearer. It is our assumption that this can best be accomplished
by viewing short-term study abroad as a source of transforma-
tive learning through concrete, real-world experiences and criti-
cal reflection. This is particularly relevant when overcoming
the “just do it” analogy that sometimes influences the ideology
underpinning study abroad programs (Tarrant & Lyons, 2012).
Analytical Framework
Building on a proposed theoretical framework grounding in-
vestigations focused on study abroad and global citizenship, a
review of literature will examine Dewey’s (1933, 1938) con-
ceptualization of educative experiences as necessary and valu-
able components for a learner, and Mezirow’s (1991) transfor-
mative learning theory (TLT) in connection with the fundamental
role that critical reflection serves in both established perspec-
tives of learning. Once the connection between Dewey’s educa-
tive experiences and Mezirow’s TLT is clarified by the role of
critical reflection, the relevance of these underpinnings to Tar-
rant’s (2010) conceptual framework for studies abroad in nur-
turing global citizenship will be explored. Of particular concern
is establishing the alignment between studies abroad, the phi-
losophical and theoretical underpinnings of TLT, and the per-
spective development of learners in connection with global
Dewey on Educative Experiences and Critical
In Experience and Education Dewey (1938) identified the
principles of continuity and interaction. With the principle of
continuity, he sought to reference the past, present, and future
experiences of a learner as a means to the educative process,
and not only as ends. He also identified the importance of the
transaction or situation that takes place among individuals and
their environment, with the principle of interaction. This per-
spective is best summed up as follows: “just as no man lives or
dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself” (Dewey,
1938: p. 27). The previous experiences, situations, and interac-
tions of learners today will continually resound in their present
constructions of knowledge and future reconstructions, deci-
sions, and actions based on that knowledge. Recognizing this,
Dewey (1938: p. 25) specifically stated, “that amid all uncer-
tainties there is one permanent frame of reference: namely, the
organic connection between educ ation and personal experienc e.”
A learner’s personal experiences are but one side of the coin.
Those experiences, in connection with the other side—formal-
ized education, can provide the environment and opportunity to
develop the skills to critically analyze and reflect upon the big-
ger questions that can arise from within experiential education
methodologies (e.g., service-learning, short-term study abroad,
inquiry, place, or problem-based learning).
By building upon Dewey’s (1933) suggestion that projects,
which can be formal, teacher-facilitated experiences that are
focused on real world problems, were the answer for producing
knowledge and learning from a given experience, the following
four criteria of an educative experience or project have been
1) Must generate interest;
2) Must be worthwhile intrinsically;
3) Must present problems that awaken new curiosity and cre-
ate a demand for information;
4) Must cover a considerable time span and be capable of
fostering development over time.
More specifically, Dewey believed that if a project or ex-
perience is truly educative, it can be very useful in presenting
typical problems to be solved by personal reflection and ex-
perimentation and by acquiring definite bodies of knowledge
leading later to more specialized scientific knowledge” (Dewey,
1933: pp. 290-291). Per haps the “typical problems to be solved”
are found within atypical, different, or disorienting experiences
had by learners. An example of an interesting environment where
these types of “problems” may be evident is when learners are
traveling and learning about different cultures, while becoming
aware of perspectives other than those offered by their family,
schooling, religion, workforce experiences, or their mainstream
media. Additionally, it has been noted that Dewey recommends
relating schooling and learning to life—real life/real experi-
ences. Through experimentation, personal reflection, and the
acquisition of definite bodies of knowledge, an educative pro-
ject could lead to a more specialized scientific knowledge;
thereby supporting and connecting curricular objectives with
critical reflection and experiences that bring into question
learners’ typical or preprogrammed reactions to new and un-
usual environments or information. Moreover, projects or ex-
periences that meet those four criteria become truly educative
when they are linked by the “principles of continuity and inter-
action, the process of problematization and inquiry, and the
phases of reflective thought” (Giles & Eyler, 1994: p. 80).
The concept of constructing knowledge or basing future de-
cisions and actions on that knowledge is hinged on the expecta-
tion that learners who have educative experiences will also be
given the opportunity to critically reflect on those experiences.
Supporting this expectation, Peterson (2002) determined that
while experience may be one of the best teachers, it is never as
valuable as when combined with and subjected to the critical
analysis, reflection, and interpretation of a learner. According
to Kember, Leung, Jones, Loke, McKay, Sinclair, Tse, Webb,
Wong, and Yeung (2000), Dewey is typically considered to be
the originator of the idea of reflective thinking in connection
with educative experiences. Furthermore, Kember et al. (2000)
demonstrate the roots of Dewey in the theoretical underpin-
nings of their Questionnaire for Reflective Thinking (QRT).
Dewey’s work is of particular relevance to the development of
two of the four scales that represent reflective thinking. Those
scales are Reflection and Critical Reflection. These two scales
are measured through participant responses to eight specific i t e m s .
These items are based on participants’ perceptions of their abil-
ity to actively question, carefully consider, challenge firmly h eld
beliefs or ideas, implement processes that change their typical
way of doing things, and to consider alternative ways of han-
dling situations. All of these particular abilities (survey items)
are related to Dewey’s interpretation of reflection and measured
by the QRT (Kember et al., 2000).
For example, Dewey (1933) considered reflection to be, “ac-
tive, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or sup-
posed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that sup-
port it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (p. 9). He
continued by identifying two certain sub-processes that are in-
volved in all reflections. Dewey (1933) claims there must be a
state of perplexity or hesitation that serves as the catalyst lead-
ing to active exploration or attempting to identify more infor-
mation in order to confirm or contradict a learner’s current or
suggested belief. This particular assertion of Dewey will be
further explored in context of Mezirow’s disorientating dilem-
mas in the following section. In fact, without some acquaint-
ance (read: past experience and prior knowledge) of a situation,
there is nothing upon which to draw in order to clarify it
(Dewey, 1910) and subsequently the urge to think and clarify
the situation becomes unsuccessful.
This particular observation clearly presents the connection
between past experiences and prior knowledge with reflection
and meaning making. It is this process that can lead to learning.
According to Moore (2005) learning is understood as “altering
frames of reference through critical reflection of both habits of
mind and points of view” (p. 82). Kolb (1984) identified learn-
ing as “the creation of knowledge and meaning [and] occurs
through the active extension and grounding of ideas and expe ri-
ences in the external world and through intern al reflection about
the attributes of these experiences and ideas” (1984: p. 53). The
connection between experience and reflection is seemingly
essential to learning. Past experiences carry with them a source
for which to draw upon in future situations. This postulation is
directly referring to the principles of continuity and interaction
(Dewey, 1938). Furthermore, Dewey (1933) is aware that ex-
perience alone will not fully determine how we think. How we
think is based on the process by which we test and assess a
current situation based on previous experience within similar
environments, our beliefs that have been shaped up to that exact
moment, the knowledge we have access to and can apply, and
the state of perplexity leading to critical reflection of the new
experience. The sort of educative experiences that Dewey ref-
erenced are related to life, based on problems to be solved that
awakened curiosity, of interest and intrinsically valuable to the
learner, and brought with them a level of perplexity, doubt, or
what Mezirow (1991) referred to as disorientating dilemmas.
Mezirow on Transformative Learning Theory and
Critical Reflection
The concept of constructed knowledge based on experience
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
and critical reflection upon experiences directly relates to Mezi-
row’s (1991) transformative learning theory (TLT). Learning,
in and of itself, is understood as adjusting frames of reference
through critical reflection (Moore, 2005). Expanding this fur-
ther, the concept of TLT is summarized by Smith and McK it ric k
(2010) as a learning process that is concerned with “get[ing]
beyond” traditional or normative class purposes of knowledge
attainment by embracing the perspective that learning can be
more transformative when pursued in more “meaningful ways”
(p. 50). While knowledge attainment may be transformative in
its own right (Mezirow, 1991), it is when knowledge attainment
is combined with active, hands-on experiential learning, that
more “meaningful ways” may be uncovered.
The basis of TLT is founded on experiential activities or thought
provoking scenarios and the opportunity for new perspectives
to be developed through what Mezirow (1991) refers to as dis-
orienting dilemmas. In this tenet, which serves as the departure
point for TLT, resides Mezirow’s assumption that learning can
foster change or perspective transformation in the learner’s self.
From his 1975 inductive, qualitative study of 83 women from
12 specialized re-entry programs who were re-enrolling into
university (1991: p. 168), Mezirow lists the following steps that
can ultimately lead to a learner’s transformation:
1) A disorienting dilemma;
2) Self-examination with feelings of guilt or shame;
3) A critical assessment of epistemic, sociocultural, or psy-
chic assumptions;
4) Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of trans-
formation are shared and that others have negotiated a similar
5) Exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and
6) Planning of a course of action;
7) Acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing one ’s
8) Provisional trying of new roles;
9) Building of competence and self-confidence in new roles
and relationships;
10) A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions
dictated by one’s new perspective (Mezirow, 1991: pp. 168-169).
Addressing these phases originally discovered by Mezirow
(1975, 1991), Taylor (1998 and 2007) confirmed the essential-
ity of “critical reflection, a disorienting dilemma as a catalyst
for change, and many of the phases of the transformative proc-
ess” (2007: p. 174). Of particular interest in Taylor’s meta-
analysis is Lange’s (2004) study where she refers to disorien-
tating dilemmas as “pedagogical entry points” (p. 183). These
pedagogical entry points represent students’ purposive engage-
ment in their dilemmas, which may lead to a transformative
experience. At these onramps leading to the freeway of learning,
pedagogy can help students navigate their process of growth
and transformation.
Beyond the previously listed phases, TLT can make use of
pedagogies that align themselves with educative experiences
and thought provoking scenarios. Mezirow (1991) explains that
through the use of eye-opening discussions, books, or challeng-
ing experiences, it is pedagogically possible to foster an oppor-
tunity and environment conducive for students’ perspective trans-
formation. A process of perspective transformation can lead to
a student becoming,
critically aware of how and why their assumptions have
come to constrain the way they perceive, understand, and
feel about their world; changing these structures of habit-
ual expectation will make possible a more inclusive, dis-
criminating, and integrative perspective; and, finally, mak-
ing choices or otherwise acting upon these new under-
standings (Mezirow, 1991: p. 167).
Through the process which leads to a transformation of per-
spective, TLT focuses on the advancement and tuning of beliefs,
attitudes, and emotional reactions based on the impact personal
experiences have on individuals (Mezirow, 1991). Essentially,
teaching practices that invoke a challenging problem to be solved
in a way that may not align with the students’ usual process of
doing, thinking, or seeing, or experiences that are outside of
their comfort zone (Perry, 2011), can bring about an opportu-
nity for transformative learning. The process these students go
through in adapting their actions, broadening their knowledge,
and critically examining their perspectives can be influenced by
experientially based pedagogy that focuses on critical reflection,
and can lead to a transformative learning environment.
Fundamentally, TLT is concerned with not only the experi-
ence a learner has, but how they interpret and explain what
happens. In turn this determines their “actions, their hopes, their
contentment and emotional well-being, and their performance”
(Mezirow, 1991: p. xiii). Furthermore, the how by which learn-
ers navigate the meaning and perspective making process is
critical to how and what they learn, and subsequently should
influence the way tea chers facil ita te learni ng environment s. A ga in ,
this supports the postulation of Peterson (2002) that while ex-
perience may be one of the best teachers, it is never as valuable
as when combined with and subjected to the critical analysis,
reflection, and interpretation of a learner. Therefore, alignment
with these perspectives from Mezirow and Dewey, in accor-
dance with their illumination of critical reflection’s value as an
integral component in the experiential and transformative learn-
ing process, serves as a source for shifts in students’ worldview.
A conceptual framework that clearly addresses Peterson’s (2002)
connection between experience and a learner’s critical reflec-
tion and interpretation is addressed in Tarrant (2010).
A Conceptual Framework for Studies Abroad to
Nurture Global Citizenship
Imperative to understanding learning is recognizing how learn-
ers’ beliefs, values, and experiences influence how meanings
and perspectives are constructed. This particular point seems to
be a primary concern of experiential educationalists. Whether
using Dewey’s (1933) educative experiences or project’s crite-
ria as a way of demonstrating learning or following Mezirow’s
(1991) ten phases of TLT, it is how learners use their own per-
spectives about the world, or field of study being pursued, to
shape their subsequent understandings and actions through criti-
cal reflection. A particular conceptual framework that explored
the role of studies abroad in nurturing global citizenship dem-
onstrates the connection between learning and how beliefs and
values can shape learning and behavior. Tarrant’s (2010) con-
ceptual framework maintains that students, “by engaging in an
experientially structured study abroad program, a new world-
view, predicated on a change in environmentally oriented val-
ues, norms, and behaviors, is nurtured and promoted” (p. 447).
The promot ion and nurturing of the shift s in students’ worldv ie ws
seems to be rooted in the transformative nature of the experi-
ences had while studying abroad and the critical reflection proc-
ess that is concomitant to these types of student experiences.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 681
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
This fundamental process of analyzing, considering, reconsid-
ering, and questioning experiences within context of students’
experiences and personal perceptions is essential to the devel-
opment of a “new worldview” that Tarrant (2010) references in
his conceptual framework (see Figure 1).
The outcomes of study abroad experiences, particularly those
that are short-term in design, student’s previous experiences wit h
the course material, the destination, and travel in general can
have an influence on the potential shift in a student’s worldview.
McKeown (2009) recognized the profound change in students’
values when experiencing a new social environment that called
into question their internal beliefs (see Tarrant, 2010) and re-
ferred to this as the first-time effect. This phenomenon has also
been recognized in other learning environments where experi-
entially based pedagogy (service-learning, problem-based learn-
ing) has been utilized (Perry, 2011; Perry, O’Steen, & Cammock,
in press). Valuable to the student experience and the likelihood
of a shift in worldview are the following: faculty-student en-
gagement, experiential learning opportunities, dialogue and group
discussions focused on students’ experiences, and reflection
assignments connected to experiences and readings.
In Tarrant’s (2010) conceptualization of a framework for ex-
ploring the role of studies abroad education and global citizen-
ship development, he posited a frame based on Stern’s (2000)
Values-Beliefs-Norm theory (VBN). In this, Tarrant identifies
two components based on 1) an awareness/belief that specific
environmental conditions threaten or have adverse consequ enc es
for the things the learner values and 2) an awareness/belief that
the individual/learner can act to reduce the specific threat(s)
(Stern, 2000 in Tarrant, 2010). These components and the ex-
tent to which an individual learner aligns with these two beliefs
are critical to the conceptual framework Tarrant puts forth.
The recognition of critical reflection as an integral compo-
nent of the conceptual framework offered by Tarrant (2010) is
evident in Westheimer and Kahne’s (2004) “citizen-type” and
Dobson’s (2003) “Earth Citizen”. For example, Westheimer and
Kahne (2004) argue that a justice-oriented citizen is one who is
concerned with asking questions about issues she or he sees in
their community (local and global) and then acting upon the
answers they find. This is in sharp contrast to a personally re-
sponsible citizen who is typically concerned with acting respon-
sibly or volunteering in times of crisis. Interestingly, it seems
that a clear difference between these two citizen types is found
in the citizen’s concern with or interest in critical reflection
upon their observations and experiences. Justice-oriented citi-
zens seem to be more concerned with asking the more complex
questions versus accepting the simpler answers. By asking mor e
complex questions, it is assumed that justice-oriented citizens
are analyzing, considering, and reconsidering their perspectives
and beliefs. This is primarily a function of critical thinking and
reflection. Doing this may promot e and nurture “change in en vi-
ronmentally oriented values, norms, and behaviors” (Tarrant,
2010: p. 447). This observation is demonstrated further by Dob-
son’s view of an Earth Citizen. With an Earth Citizen there
tends to be less emphasis on volunteerism as ends unto itself,
and a greater emphasis placed on questioning what is observed
or has come to be known and then this is acted upon in order to
ameliorate the causes of observed injustices. Overall, the con-
ceptual framework “proposes that values and worldviews act as
filters for new information in the development and formation of
congruent beliefs and attitudes which in turn predispose be-
havioral intentions and ultimately proenvironmental behaviors
(Tarrant & Cordell, 1997, 2002)” (Tarrant, 2010).
Within study abroad experiences, exposure to new places,
cultures, and learning environments where a students’ precon-
ceived and established notions and beliefs are tested, may act as
the catalyst or impetus for bring forth a transformative experi-
ence. Of particular importance is the creation of moments of
critical reflection and discussion. In these types of environm ent s,
exposed to realties that are outside their previous understanding,
the learner may discover a need to acquire new perspectives in
order to gain a more complete understanding. A deeper, more
sincere understanding of reality is the value in combining ex-
periences with critical analysis and reflection. In order to de-
termine the applicability of Tarrant’s (2010) conceptual frame-
work a sort of call to arms has been made. The “next step” is
for empirical testing of the framework through quantitative and
qualitative methods. The focus is on identifying the relevance
of this conceptual framework for describing learning outcomes
of study abroad and the learners’ experiences as examples of
sustained trans f ormative le a rn in g.
Conclusion and Personal Reflection
Short-term study abroad could serve as a vehicle for foster-
ing transformative learning environments where new experi-
ences and perspectives may be developed. Most salient is the
postulation that when coupled with an adequate pedagogical
framework, short-term study abroad could serve as an educative
opportunity for fostering transformative learning environments
where new experiences and perspective may be developed. The
critical moment where learners have engaged with something
novel, whether it is physical or psychological, is when reflec-
tion and critical reflection become imperative to the learning
Beliefs about:
Personal Awareness of Awareness of Awareness of Personal Pro-environmental
Values Concern Consequences Responsibility Norms Behavior (or intentions) Citizen Type
Altruistic AC (Altruistic) Environmental Justice-oriented
Biospheric NEP AC (Biospheric) AR PN Policy Support Participatory
Egoistic AC (Egoistic) Ecological Personally
Consumer Responsible
Figure 1.
Adapted value-beliefs-norms theory of global citizenship.
process. Though it should be noted that prior to the exposure to
something novel, abstract conceptualization can have occurred.
Meaning, preparation for future experiences related to a stude n t ’s
involvement in a course is also valuable to their learning. These
connections between experience and reflection, content and
experience, and reflection and content are ones that have long
been theoretically (Kolb, 1984; Dewey, 1938; Dewey 1933) and
practically (Perry, 2011) established. By intentionally connect-
ing Dewey and Mezirow’s conceptualizations of learning with
Tarrant’s conceptual framework for studies abroad, a call for
further research focusing on the experiences and perspectives of
students within short-term study abroad environments can be
From this commentary I am reminded of a situation I re-
cently experienced. I went to sleep, like any other night before,
only to awake the following morning with my right eye swollen
shut. I called the doctor, arranged an appointment, and within
one-hour was waiting for the physician’s diagnosis—a simple
eye infection. Now then, as I walked back to the parking lot
where my wife was waiting to take me back home, I realized
how unaware I was of the world around me. I was unaware of
the world that existed to the right of my nose. My right periph-
eral was more or less blinded. Thi s particular experience spa r ke d
an idea in my thinking on the topics of reflection and critical
reflection and led me to this postulation on the subject: Reflec-
tion and critical reflection are processes that create opportuni-
ties to stop and think, question, and discuss what you have ex-
perienced, read, written, or thought; so that perhaps, when you
restart orgo back to your thinking or doing experiences, you
may be more aware of the role you play and the influence you
have in your world. Essentially, transformative learning, educa-
tive experiences, and critical reflection are about opening a
learner’s metaphoric eyes and enlightening their perspectives
through thought provoking scenarios, self-reflection, and dia-
logue. With regard to formal education, this can be related to
fostering a heightened sense of awareness in a learner’s cogni-
tive and affective peripheral. Considering short-term study a broad
is on the rise, perhaps by framing it within these literatures it
can become strengthened, supported, and shaped to practically
expose learner’s to the related teaching methods.
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