The Development of Faith and Life Purpose Among College Students: The Role of an International Living and Learning Experience Cindy Miller-Perrin Don Thompson.
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The Development of Faith and Life Purpose Among College Students: The Role of an International Living and Learning Experience Cindy Miller-Perrin Don Thompson Pepperdine University ACSD National Conference June 5, 2007
International Programs at Pepperdine University Provide students a life changing international experience designed for intellectual, social, personal and spiritual transformation. Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, Florence, Heidelberg, Honduras, Hong Kong, Lausanne, London, Madrid, Thailand 55% of sophomores participate Student Experiences Academic – Full Semester/Year Coursework Living Community – House and Home-stay Spiritual – Student Led Bible Studies, House Church Service Projects Cultural Extensive Local Travel Opportunities Group Field trips – Spain, Greece, France, Austria, Brazil, Uruguay Mentoring – Visiting Faculty, Staff, Peers
Home to 55 sophomores & the visiting faculty family Library, computer lab, administrative offices, dorm rooms, and student center
Spiritual Community Weekly Bible Studies and House Church
Mentoring Community The mentor-protégé relationship is based on trust and love.
Question Did you have an international living/learning experience during your college years?
Research Hypothesis Students who participate in an International Program have more significant growth in faith and sense of life purpose than those who do not.
Method Student Samples Seniors assessed in the spring of senior year Students assessed longitudinally at baseline and every year of college career Sophomores in all International Programs assessed each semester Surveys Questionnaires assessing faith, identity, vocation, and International Program experience
Measures Faith Attitudes and Behaviors Faith Maturity Spiritual Transcendence Strength of Faith Vocational Discernment and Action
Faith Attitudes and Behaviors SubscalesSample Items Strength of Belief (alpha =.81) I view myself as a religious person. I have doubts about whether my religious beliefs are true. Faith Behavior (alpha =.88) How often do you attend religious services? How often have you read a devotional, religious, or spiritual book in the last year? Application of Faith (alpha =.90) I depend on my faith in God for decision-making and direction. I try hard to carry my religious beliefs into all other dealings in my life.
Faith Maturity Scale Measures values and behavioral manifestations of faith Sample items My life is filled with meaning and purpose I have a real sense that God is guiding me My faith shapes how I think and act each and every day I devote time to reading and studying the Bible
Spiritual Transcendence Scale Measures ability to step outside of oneself and immediate surroundings to view life on large scale, yielding three subscales: Connectedness : assesses participants’ sense of community and relationships with others I am concerned about those who will come after me in life Prayer Fulfillment : assesses participants’ prayer or meditation experience I have experienced deep fulfillment and bliss through my prayers or meditations Universality : assesses participants’ sense of a greater meaning in life I believe that death is a doorway to another plane of existence
Santa Clara Strength of Faith Scale Measures general construct of strength of faith Sample items My religious faith is extremely important to me I look to my faith as a source of inspiration My relationship with God is extremely important to me I look to my faith as a source of comfort
Vocational Discernment and Action SubscalesSample Items Discernment and Purpose (alpha =.76) I have a good sense for my life purpose. I know of the many ways that I can use my gifts and talents within the context of my professional career. I am unsure about what God is specifically calling me to do. Service to Others (alpha =.68) I am motivated to choose a career that will enable me to provide some type of service to others. I feel a deep sense of responsibility for reducing pain and suffering in the world.
Question What was your life purpose when you graduated from college?
Results Senior Sample: IP vs. No IP Differences Faith Attitudes and Behaviors Faith Maturity Spiritual Transcendence Strength of Faith Vocational Discernment and Action Longitudinal Sample: IP vs. No IP Over Time Faith Development Vocational Discernment and Action Sophomore Sample from International Programs Travel, Community, and Mentoring Experiences leading to Spiritual Growth
Senior Sample 283 Seniors IP Group = 133 seniors who participated in an International Program No IP Group = 150 seniors who did not participate in an International Program No significant differences between groups on demographic variables (e.g., age, ethnicity, faith tradition, gender, & socioeconomic status)
Conclusions Summary of findings Students who participate in an IP have higher faith scores using a variety of measures Students who participate in an IP are more likely to engage in vocational service Limitation Study design does not allow for conclusions about the direct impact of an IP experience, suggesting the need for a longitudinal approach
Longitudinal Sample Participants (and Response Rates) from initial sample of 300 Baseline – 113 (38%) First-Year – 191 (68%) Sophomore – 111 (64%) Junior – 132 (83%) Senior – 114 (70%) Analyzed subsample matched on age and sex IP Group = 43 students who attended an international program during their sophomore year No IP Group = 43 students who did not attend and international program
Strength of Belief Scores for First- Year and Senior Time Periods
Faith Application Scores for First- Year and Senior Time Periods
Faith Behavior Scores for First- Year and Senior Time Periods
Discernment Scores for First-Year and Senior Time Periods
Service Scores for First-Year and Senior Time Periods
Conclusions Summary of findings International Living and Learning Experiences enhance Belief Strength Faith Application Vocational Discernment Vocational Service Faith Behavior decreases over time for all students, and more so for IP students
Question What was the most spiritually challenging experience you had during your college years?
Sophomore International Programs Sample 300 Sophomores sampled each term 80-100% response rate
Factors Contributing to Spiritual Growth in International Programs Travel Community Mentoring
Travel What has been the most spiritually challenging part of your International Program experience? This has been the hardest but also the best year of my life. Living overseas forced me to either embrace or reject what I have believed all my life. It removed my safety nets. I have grown through having to lean on God in almost every situation: from traveling to school to just living in a different culture, speaking another language. My month long trip to Africa between semesters challenged my sense of self. Traveling alone over Christmas Vacation showed me how to depend on the grace of God for support. A person I met in Greece helped me realize my selfishness, making me want to be more generous.
Ego Identity Status Measures Classifies subjects into one of four identity groups: Achievement: exploration and commitment “It took me a while to figure it out, but now I really know what I want for a career.” Moratorium: exploration without commitment “Religion is confusing to me right now. I keep changing my views on what is right and wrong for me.” Foreclosure: no exploration, but commitment “My parents decided a long time ago what I should go into for employment and I’m following through with their plans.” Diffusion: no exploration or commitment “I haven’t really considered politics. It just doesn’t excite me much.”
Diffusion Identity Scores for IP and No IP Groups
Foreclosure Identity Scores for IP and No IP Groups
Moratorium Identity Scores for IP and No IP Groups
Community How has the community of the international program experience enhanced your spiritual growth? Our weekly, student led Bible studies & student run worship have had the greatest spiritual impact on me. Women's small group and student-led worship were an AMAZING support system. The best community I've ever had. This is my home away from home. The guys’ small group was a time where we could be open and honest. I have grown more here in my spirituality than I did in Malibu and all of that growth was due to other students. Simply by living with and engaging with such incredible individuals, who have not only helped me through difficult times, but who have encouraged me to seek God more, I've experienced a growth in spirituality.
Mentoring Who has been most instrumental in helping you grow spiritually? Why? One of the other students in the program made me challenge myself and helped me grow spiritually. The host family impacted me the most because we are in worship with them and they are the leaders that we look up to in the house. When I felt weak, my faculty “mom” knew and was someone that would come up to me and ask what was wrong. She would help me understand and trust in God. She made me feel at home and always made time to check on me and how I was doing. The program assistant had a great impact on me spiritually this semester through her incredible yet humble display of faith. She is such an inspirational woman of God.
Transferability Shake students loose. Introduce them to an experience, preferably in another culture, that demands that they question life assumptions. Facilitate a sense of community, requiring mutual dependency and trust. Practice mentoring. Train faculty and staff. Provide opportunities for the mentor-protégé connection. Transformation will occur – watch for and nurture it.
Final Conclusions International living and learning experiences facilitate greater growth in faith and sense of life purpose Significant opportunities for spiritual growth occur when students leave their cultural comfort zone and rely on communities with mentoring support.