The “Authentic” Me

New Understandings of Self and the World as a Result of Global Learning Experiences


  • Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler Elon University
  • Olivia Choplin Elon University
  • Kirsten Doehler Elon University
  • Amanda Sturgill Elon University
  • Nina Namaste Elon University
  • Matthew Buckmaster Elon University



global engagement, identity, global education, reentry, sociocultural development


In this qualitative study, 26 university students reflected on their experiences in domestic or international study away programs. Utilizing a sociocultural developmental framework, we examined perceived changes in identity in relation to salient aspects of the sociocultural context and social interactions during and after study away. Students reported developing an enhanced understanding of who they really are. Their experiences navigating new environments served as a catalyst for personal growth, and, for some, participating in study away ignited new professional pathways and plans. Encountering different perspectives on policies and issues facing the United States (US) afforded opportunities to co-construct new understandings of national identities. Reentry posed particular challenges in communicating with family and friends, and some found it hard to communicate unique personal experiences within an institutional context in which the majority of students study away. The process of reflecting on questions related to identity and reentry in the focus groups was reportedly a unique and valuable intervention. The findings support the need for enhanced opportunities for guided reflection experiences before, during, and after study away.


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Author Biographies

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, Elon University

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler is professor of psychology and director of the Center for Research on Global Engagement at Elon University (USA). Her research interests include early child development, global engagement, and mentoring of high-impact, engaged learning.

Olivia Choplin, Elon University

Olivia Choplin is associate professor of French and associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning at Elon University (USA). Her SoTL research interests include second language teaching for intercultural learning.

Kirsten Doehler, Elon University

Kirsten Doehler is an associate professor of statistics at Elon University (USA). Her research interests include survival analysis, statistics education, and statistical consulting.

Amanda Sturgill, Elon University

Amanda Sturgill is associate professor of journalism at Elon University (USA), teaching courses in media analytics and interactive media. She studies teaching and learning, religion and media, and the affordances of new media for the disenfranchised.

Nina Namaste, Elon University

Nina Namaste is associate professor of Spanish at Elon University (USA). Her SoTL research explores transformative learning experiences, interdisciplinary thinking skills, and intercultural development, for both students and faculty.

Matthew Buckmaster, Elon University

Matthew Buckmaster is assistant dean of global education and associate professor of music at Elon University (USA) where he oversees global education curriculum and teaches study away courses. His research explores best practices in global education.


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How to Cite

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen, Olivia Choplin, Kirsten Doehler, Amanda Sturgill, Nina Namaste, and Matthew Buckmaster. 2021. “The ‘Authentic’ Me: New Understandings of Self and the World As a Result of Global Learning Experiences”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 9 (2).