Degree Name

MA in International Education

First Advisor

Lynée Connolly


The purpose of this study is to explore the phenomenon of female college students studying abroad with Semester at Sea (SAS) at twice the rate of their male peers, in the hope of better understanding the significant gender imbalance overall in U.S. outbound study abroad. To put this issue into context, this study uses the theoretical framework of Deci and Ryan’s (1985) Self-Determination Theory of Motivation. Data was analyzed through the lens of intrinsic verses extrinsic motivation to answer the guiding research question: Is there a difference between male and female college students in their motivations to study abroad and, if so, does SAS appeal to these different motivations?

To answer this research question, data was collected through a survey of 79 male and female students enrolled in SAS’s Spring 2015 Voyage. A group of four male students participated in an all-male focus group. Six recruitment staff members from the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) were also interviewed.

Data analysis revealed that both male and female students are intrinsically motivated to study abroad with SAS. The top two motivations, regardless of gender, are the desire to travel and to have new experiences. Students chose to study abroad with SAS because of the program’s multi-country model, which allows them to “see the world”. However, male students intrinsically motivated to study abroad are the minority among their male college peers. While female students received support for their decision to study abroad from their female friends, male students reported that their male friends did not see the academic nor career value in studying abroad. Previous studies criticize study abroad marketing for only highlighting the intrinsic benefits of studying abroad, such as personal development.

In order to effectively attract more male students, ISE should modify its programming and marketing to make it more appealing to the extrinsic motivations of male students. Strategies include showcasing successful male alumni, highlighting the academic and career benefits of the SAS program, and offering more STEM courses.


Higher Education | International and Comparative Education