The production of foreign news by U.S. media has steadily decreased and so has the public’s interest in such topics. Although natural disasters, revolts and protests, and economic mayhems may generate temporary peaks of interest, the American public remains overall indifferent to international happenings. This study attempts to understand what may trigger interest in foreign news. This pilot study thus investigates specifically whether study-abroad programs affect students’ interest in global issues. Results showed that students in study-abroad programs were significantly more likely to have greater interest in foreign news than others. Data also suggested a positive connection between the global-mindedness of participants and their interest in global events. Practical implications are being discussed in the findings.
Keywords: foreign news, survey, international exposure, global-mindedness scale, study-abroad programs.
The Impact of Exposure to Foreign Culture on International News Interest
Americans do not pay attention to foreign news (Hoge, 1997; Saluri Russo, 2010; Willmott, 2010). Nor do they demonstrate boundless enthusiasm for the topic either (Pew 2008). This blunt statement should not come as an earth shattering remark since statistics have consistently highlighted a decline in both the production of foreign news by U.S. media over the past 25 years and the overall interest in global news topics. The Arab spring and the natural disaster in Japan did place foreign news at its highest level of coverage since September 2001 (Stelter, 2011), yet the state of U.S. foreign news remains gloomy (Enda, 2011; Kumar, 2011; Sambrook, 2010). The number of foreign reporters has decreased steadily since the end of the Cold War only to precipitate foreign news in an editorial abyss.
Kumar (2011) stated that the proportion of staff-produced foreign stories in eight randomly selected papers by the American Journalism Review decreased from 15 percent in 1985 to four percent in 2010. Additionally, American news organizations have increasingly closed down foreign news bureaus, limiting the budget spent on correspondents responsible for generating global news (Enda, 2011; Sambrook, 2010). Regardless of which figures are under scrutiny, the demise of the foreign correspondent and its impact on the production of global news stories appears indubitable. Surveys of the foreign press corps (Constable, 2007) underscored the staff reductions. In fact, the American Journalism Review identified 234 correspondents in 2010, far fewer than the 307 surveyed in 2003, the last time the review conducted a census of this cohort of journalists (Enda, 2011). This limited crafting of international stories bears minimal consequences on the U.S. readership for data suggest only a succinct temporary interest in global events.
Traditionally, surveys reveal that disaster news (man-made and weather related), terrorism, conflicts involving U.S troops, and above all else the state of the domestic economy appeal to most Americans (Pew, 2010, 2011). In fact, previous findings indicated that a majority of American citizens only read international news when something major occurred (Pew, 2008).
Analyzing such figures leads to an assessment of five factors often quoted as editorial values: timeliness, proximity, impact, conflict and familiarity. A study of news reading habits indicated that the match between topics and personal interests constitutes the most important criteria used by newspaper readers when choosing stories (Graber, 1988). Geographical proximity, the size of headlines and visuals as well as story length also impacted reading habits (Graber, 1988).
In light of such evidence, two questions need to be asked: (a) are news organizations diminishing their foreign news coverage due to preemptive costs of maintaining a foreign bureau, or because they are responding to a limited interest in international news, and (b) can people genuinely generate an interest in foreign news independently from the nature of the media coverage? Beyond addressing the political, practical and economical reasons associated with the sharp decline of foreign news in U.S. media, this study precisely attempts to fill a void in the literature and sets out to understand what may actually trigger interest in foreign news. More specifically, this study investigates the assumption that people exposed to a foreign culture will modify their news preferences by increasing their interest in global issues. Consequently, this research tests whether short-term study abroad experiences impact students’ interest in global news. Practical implications pertinent to the development of college curriculum will be discussed.
Communication scholars often discuss the determinants of news interests. In their seminal study of newspapers, Gatlung and Ruge (1965) found that nations geographically removed from the country of origin attract the attention of the audience whenever an abrupt news event occurs, such as a natural disaster or a change in government. The events that occurred in Japan earlier in 2011 illustrate this statement. Additionally, the authors explained that clarity and proximity generate interest in foreign cultures. Although literature recurrently studies the identification of news interest (Stone, 1987, Tewksbury, 2003), scholarship seldom investigates whether direct exposure to a foreign nation affects the level of interest in international news. In fact, limited published studies have seldom directly pondered the question leading the present research: can the exposure to a foreign nation generate interest in international news?
Even though the paucity of work centered on the relationships between news consumption and study-abroad programs appears indisputable, the effects of study abroad courses have nevertheless generated several studies establishing evidence of higher intercultural competency and stronger globalism awareness (Golay, 2006), plausible causes of foreign news interest.
The consensual overarching assumption leading research in this area lies upon the observation that exposure to a foreign culture through an exchange program affect individuals at three levels: (a) feelings, (b), beliefs, and (c) behavioral intentions (Bachner, 1994).
The literature indeed emphasizes all three components, yet with no relationships or implications with news media. Using in-depth interviews with U.S. college students involved in study abroad programs, Pennington and Wildermuth (2005) found an increase in participants’ intercultural knowledge and sense of self-awareness. Additionally, data showed a decrease in ethnocentrism, a lower likelihood to engage in stereotyping, and a higher intercultural desire, conceptualized as a general motivation to interact with people of other cultures (Goodwin & Nacht, 1988; Koskinen & Tossavainen, 2003).
Besides measuring the affective changes, tangible evidence emanating from a study on business students’ career goals (Orahood, Kruze, & Pearson, 2004) underlined behavioral intents. Results from the survey indicated that 94% of participants who studied abroad for six weeks or more admitted having an interest or a strong interest in being affiliated to a U.S. company with international perspectives. Additionally, 83% expressed the desire to work overseas, compared to 51% for the control group in this research.
The apparent crystallization of a greater global perspective led some scholars to research global-mindedness. Conceptualized as a “worldview in which one sees oneself as connected to the world community and feels a sense of responsibility for the members of that community” (Golay, 2006, p. 27), global-mindedness is measured through an additive Likert scale index developed by Hett (1993) that focuses on five components: (a) responsibility, (b) cultural pluralism, (c) efficacy, (d) globalcentrism, and (e) interconnectedness. Findings in several studies suggested that study-abroad programs promoted a global-mindedness outlook among U.S. students (Golay, 2006). Concluding discussions on the impact of study-abroad programs on college students consequently pointed in the direction of the variability of the length of the stay, the country visited, the interactions with the local population and the typology of activities conducted abroad. While some studies corroborate behavioral changes (Golay, 2006, Orahood et al. 2007), research falls short of acknowledging whether a deeper understanding of other cultures and a stronger interest in internationalizing an education and a career translates into the willingness to devote more attention to news in other countries, a topic now more salient to participants. In his review of responses from U.S. students to a questionnaire attached to applications for the international student identity card, Koester (1985) did find that participants who had previously sojourned outside of the country reported an increased interest in international events. This brief mention justifies the need to further investigate the issue.
In light of the research linking study abroad programs and intercultural awareness, this study seeks to go further and assess whether a decrease in ethnocentricity and an increase of intercultural desire and global-mindedness translates into a higher interest in foreign news. In the absence of directly relevant empirical evidence supporting directional hypotheses, the following research questions thus guided this pilot study:
RQ1: Will participation in a study abroad program influence college students’ level of interest in foreign news?
RQ2: Will participation in a study abroad program influence students’ perception of the importance of foreign news?
RQ3: Is there a difference in foreign news interest between pre and post exposure to a foreign culture?
RQ4: Will students’ level of global-mindedness relate to their level of interest in foreign news?
Full-time college student enrolled in a southwestern American university were recruited for this pilot study. All students who travelled abroad during the proposed 2011 summer terms received the questionnaire. The university proposes two different types of programs, faculty-led and non faculty-led in 30 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Students who selected either option were targeted for this research. Additionally, full-time students, not enrolled in similar programs were also recruited to form a control group.
All participants were made aware of a material incentive in the form of an iPod. Each subject having completed the questionnaires was considered for the drawing to be taking place at the end of the data collection.
This survey relies on a purposive sample. Staff from the office of international affairs forwarded an explanatory e-mail to all students registered for a study-abroad summer session (n = 688). The letter detailed the study’s procedure and encouraged voluntary participation in the research. Participants composing the control group (n = 102) were also sampled conveniently through recruitment in large undergraduate mass communication classes.
For the purpose of this pilot investigation, the exposure to a foreign culture and the connectedness with a different nation and language, as well as measured global mindedness represent the two main independent variables. This research focuses on the interest in foreign news and its consumption as dependent variables. The present study controlled for age, gender, and declared study major.
The Global-Mindedness Scale (GMS) used in the present research originated from interviews with subjects to precisely determine topics of interest (Hett, 1993, p. 10-11). Golay (2006) explained that Hett (1993), influenced by the work of Schrag (1967) in sociological theory construction, developed and submitted the scale to a panel of four expert judges who rated its content validity index at .88. The final version of the instrument comprises a total of 30 statements centered on five major themes: (a) responsibility, (b) cultural pluralism, (c) efficacy, (d) globalcentrism, and (d) interconnectedeness. Each item is measured on a five-point Likert scale of agreement, between strongly disagree, disagree, unsure, agree, and strongly agree. The referenced overall internal reliability yielded a Cronbach’s coefficient alpha of .90 (Kehl & Morris, 2008).
The sum of all responses is taken into consideration to score each participant’s level of global-mindedness with the highest scores indicating the highest levels. The range of scores calculated by adding every response varies from 30 to 150. Statements 4, 5, 9, 10, 16, 21, 25, 27 and 29 require reverse scoring.
Responsibility, defined as the deep personal concern for people all over the world reflects a sense of moral responsibility from the participant who wish to improve conditions. This item is measured through statements 2, 7, 12, 18, 23, 26, and 30. Cultural pluralism is accepted as the appreciation in other cultures. Participants scoring high on this item demonstrate a pleasure in experiencing and understanding other cultural frameworks. The sum of responses to statements 1, 3, 8, 13, 14, 19, 24, and 27 corresponds to this item. Efficacy represents the belief that being involved at the national and international level is valuable and that one’s actions can contribute to change. Compiling the scores from statements 4, 9, 15, 20, and 28 gives the total for this item. Globalcentrism concerns the desire to make judgments based on a global approach rather than perspectives centered uniquely on the benefits to one’s own country. Items 5, 10, 16, 21, and 29 measure this dimension. Interconnectedness, calculated by adding the scores from statements 6, 11, 17, 22, and 25, constitutes the awareness of the connection that exists between all people and all nations. It reflects an overall sense of global belonging. Hett (1993) defined it as “human family.”
In addition to the GSM scale, the presented pilot instrument features a set of questions pertaining to media use and foreign news interest (statement 38 and 39) and consumptions. In the absence of any specific instrument to evaluate foreign news interest, this study seeks to develop measures capable of identifying it. Statements 40 and 41, centered on the value of foreign news to the participant, aim to do so through a five-point Likert scale of agreement between strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree.
The current research, presented here as a work-in-progress, serves as a preliminary study for a year-long assessment. It employed a three-part field survey experiment to address the research questions. Integrating the Global Mindedness Scale (Hett, 1993) along with measures assessing use of and attention to specific global news media, a questionnaire was administered to students enrolled in a southwestern university participating in summer study abroad programs at three intervals of their involvement. This institution’s study abroad program accommodates more than 45 faculty-led programs across more than 25 countries. Students participating in such programs offered during the 2011 summer constituted the primary sample. In agreement with the Institutional Review Board, researchers did not directly contact the participants, who instead were forwarded an electronic letter sent by the staff of the Office of International Affairs explaining the nature and purpose of the study. Students acknowledged their consent by voluntarily selecting to complete the survey.
The web-based instrument was first administered one month prior to students’ departures. The second deployment occurred one week into their program tenure, and the third took place one month after they returned from their studies abroad. Subsequently, a group of students not attending a study abroad program received the same questionnaire at the first interval.
Although pre-test/post-test designs in field experiments are relatively common, this particular design allows for an additional point of comparison and analysis during the students’ involvement in their study abroad programs. This addresses issues of maturation seen in pre-test/post-test only studies (Campbell & Stanley, 1966). By incorporating a comparison group, it attenuates concerns established by Carlson and Widaman (1988) in their study of the effects of study abroad experiences on general attitudes of other cultures. The three points of assessment proposed for the current study also seek to establish more accurate and valid data focused on attention toward international news media, as opposed to Carlson and Widaman’s (1988) post-test only design requiring students to retrospectively answer measures concerning past and present attitudes toward other cultures. Although quasi-experimental designs such as this one often receive some criticism on issues of overall validity (Field & Hole, 2003), this particular study allows for a more enhanced interpretation of data concerning attitudes toward other cultures, as well as an initial step in beginning to more fully understand what drives attention toward international news.
Results from this pilot study will bolster the development of a more comprehensive assessment of the effects of study abroad experiences on attention to international news. Findings will contribute to existing knowledge of study abroad experiences and audiences’ news interests. Subsequently, it will allow for the development of theoretically driven hypotheses necessary for further research in this area.
Out of the 688 students participating in a summer study abroad program, 153 students responded to recruitment efforts for this survey experiment, resulting in a 22% response rate. Forty-one percent of the students (n = 63) were male, and the majority of the students were white, non-Hispanic (n = 113). The average age was 21.6 years, with a mode of 21 years. Thirteen percent of the students (n = 20) were Hispanic or Latino, while the remaining students were spread relatively even across African-American, Asian, and other. The bulk of the students were classified juniors (n = 49) and seniors (n = 52), while sophomores (n = 25) and freshman (n = 6) made up less than a quarter of the study abroad sample. Fifty-four percent (n = 83) had previously traveled abroad for study, work, or leisure, while the remaining 70 students had not. Among the study abroad students, the average Global-Mindedness Scale score was 112.80 (SD = 14.10) with a mode of 122.
The control group, those not attending a study abroad program during the summer, totaled 84 students, 45% of which were male (n = 38). The average age was 20.4 years, with a mode of 20 years. Seventy-six percent (n = 64) of the students classified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, 18% (n = 15) as Hispanic or Latino, and six percent (n = 5) as African-American, Asian, or other. Although no freshman and only seven seniors were represented among the control group, sophomores (n = 39) and juniors (n = 38) made up 92% of the sample. As opposed to the study abroad group, only 21% (n = 18) of the control group had traveled abroad previously. The average score on the Global-Mindedness Scale for the control group was 103.30 (SD = 12.83) with a mode of 96.
RQ1 was answered through a one-way analysis of variance. Data analysis revealed a significant main effect of study abroad participation on interest in foreign news, F(1, 235) = 9.44, p = .002. A review of the associated means suggests that students who participated in a study abroad program (M = 3.52, SD = .98) were more interested in foreign news than non-participants (M = 3.12, SD = .90).
Two measures were used to address RQ2. An initial one-way analysis of variance was used to compare the difference between both groups on their perceptions of the importance of foreign news, resulting in an insignificant comparison, F(1, 235) = 3.16, p = .08. However, a second one-way analysis of variance showed a significant main effect of study abroad participation on students’ perception of whether foreign news affect their lives, F(1, 235) = 7.66, p = .006. A review of the associated means suggests that study abroad participants more strongly agreed that foreign news affected their lives (M = 3.24, SD = .98) than did non-participants (M = 2.87, SD = .97).
Analysis encountered difficulties when determining results for RQ3. Out of the 153 study abroad participants who responded to the first phase of the research, only 29 responded to another phase. Attrition further impacted the study, leaving only three of these 29 respondents having completed all three phases of the study. Additionally, the 26 students who completed two phases did not respond sequentially. Specifically, only 21 students responded to the first phase and then either completed the second or third phase, while five students made their initial response to the second phase instrument, followed by the third phase. Although response rates lowered dramatically and occurred non-sequentially over the course of the three phases, data from the 21 study abroad participants who completed the first phase instrument and a second or third phase instrument was still analyzed to determine the existence of a difference in foreign news interest between pre-exposure and exposure in general to a different country and cultural environment. An initial one-way analysis of variance revealed no significant differences between pre-exposure and exposure to foreign cultures and their effects on interest in foreign news, F(1, 40) = 1.27, p = .27. Similarly, a second one-way analysis of variance indicated no significant differences between exposure and student perceptions of foreign news importance, F(1, 40) = 1.34, p = .25. Eventually, a third one-way analysis of variance equally demonstrated no significant difference between exposure and student perception of whether or not foreign news affects their daily lives, F(1, 40) = 2.43, p = .13.
RQ4 sought to determine the relationship between global-mindedness and students’ level of interest in foreign news. For a more parsimonious analysis, global-mindedness scores for all study abroad participants and non-participants combined were collapsed into six categories. Considering that the possible scores for the GMS range between 30 and 150, the first category collapsed scores ranging from 30 to 60 (group 1), from 61 to 80 (group 2), from 81-100 (group 3), from 101-120 (group 4), and from 121-140 (group 5). The final group (group 6) comprised scores ranging from 141 to 150. Once all scores were collapsed, a moderately strong positive correlation was found between global-mindedness and interest in foreign news, r (237)= .43, p < .001. Subsequently, an ANOVA suggests a significant main effect of global-mindedness on the level of interest in foreign news, F(5, 231) = 13.94, p < .001. A review of the associated means reveals the overall trend that as students’ scores on the global-mindedness augments (group 1 to 6) so does the level of interest in foreign news (M = 2.83, SD = 1.84; M = 2.79, SD = .84; M = 3.37, SD = .84; M = 4.14, SD = .76; M = 3.00, SD = .00, respectively). These findings significantly indicated that as an increase in global-mindedness occurred, an increase in students’ interest in foreign news developed as well.
This pilot study attempted to understand the relationship that may exist between the exposure to a foreign culture through a study abroad program and the level of interest in foreign news among U.S. college students. Data revealed that students who participated in one of the summer programs abroad self-reported a significantly higher interest in foreign news. Such a conclusion coincides with previous literature, which posits that global-mindedness became more prevalent after time spent abroad (Golay, 2006, Pennington & Wildermuth, 2005). More directly related with this work, results also supported the conclusion drawn by Koester (1985) that an experience abroad generates an increased interest in international issues.
While data certainly underlines the impact that travelling abroad may have had on students’ interest of the global scene, an interpretation in line with previous research, it would be precarious to assert that such an exposure constitutes the main reason behind a heightened concern. Demographics of participants shed some light on other parameters. It imports to notice that participants who travelled were dominantly either senior or graduate students (47.7%), thus indicating a potential higher propensity to adopt a global perspective whereas students not exposed to a foreign culture were essentially sophomores and juniors. Additionally, a majority of students (54.2%) who took part in international programs had previously been exposed to foreign cultures through another study abroad exchange, work, or leisure. The reinforcement of an international exposure and the potential individual inclination to global issues most likely influence the concern for foreign news found in this study. It also bears importance to underscore eventually the likely impact of knowing another language. Indeed, students who took part in international programs declared seven distinct languages (Farsi, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese) whereas students who remained in the U.S. only listed one (Spanish). The aforementioned traits thus lead to conclude that even though the exposure to a foreign culture significantly impacts one’s news preferences, other predominant factors tied to individual differences affect news choices. The results gathered apropos of the perceived importance of foreign news to one’s life may in fact also reflect individual differences.
In its intent to understand the genuine impact that foreign exposure may have, this work relied on a pre/post exposure design. The unsuccessful results obtained due to the lack of data prevent from drawing any concrete conclusions related to this component of the study. Although literature hinted at the fact that behavioral change occurs following time spent outside of the U.S. (Orahood, Kruze, & Pearson, 2004), only a much higher number of responses at all three points of studies would enable the analysis to demonstrate whether sojourners abroad altered their news preferences. The mere fact that this study demonstrated a moderately strong correlation between scores on the global-mindedness scale and interest in foreign news represents a first cornerstone in the attempt to understand how to boost higher concern for foreign news. This finding carries high values for practical educational applications as it gives U.S. universities further empirical evidence of the benefits of a study abroad program. In the context of news globalism, additional data will likely benefit mass communication departments initially as they modify their programs to better target a changing professional scene, and secondly the professional media world as they continue to underline the prevalence of an international approach.
Limitations and further research
The study described above, offers admissible benefits to contribute to the literature on foreign news, specifically as it investigates how to generate interest in global events among the U.S. population known to demonstrate a limited desire to follow such news coverage. Specifically, this research constitutes the first known attempt to apply the global-mindedness scale to news consumption and foreign news more specifically. Largely discussed in inter-cultural research (Hett, 1993, Golay, 2006), the scale’s connection with foreign news interest had never been established.
Yet, this research nevertheless features some shortcomings. The research design suggested for this study relied on responses from study abroad participants at distinct points in time: before leaving the U.S., while abroad, and upon their return to America. Although none of the questions requested socially desirable answers or touched upon sensitive topics, the student population rarely completed all three questionnaires. In fact, a review of the data showed that only three students completed all phases of the research. This non-response error at the unit level appears as the pilot’s primary weakness. It prevents researchers from understanding whether the interest in foreign news created by the exposure to a foreign culture/country, as suggested by this study, withstands once back in the home country. Stronger incentives or a more thorough follow-up may enable an increase in the completion rate. Subsequently, this observation leads to a methodological consideration and specifically the choice to include a status measurement during the trip. Such evidence may suggest that a pre-test/posttest survey design would suffice to have valid and reliable data. As presented here, the data prevent researchers from formulating a complete answer to the research questions.
Additionally, this study revealed the difficulty to establish a direct causation between the participation in study abroad programs and the news consumption. The observation that college students heavily consume social media through mobile devices limits the impact of the international exposure, for participants remain one click away from their relatives and friends back in the U.S. (Pew, 2010). The immediate availability of U.S. news, e-mails and texts from contacts in the U.S. while abroad greatly affect the potential impact of international exposure on the individual.
The present research constitutes a first attempt to investigate the relationship between
foreign news and participation in a study abroad program. Following the revision of the instrument, the second stage of this on-going research focuses on students taking part in international programs in the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 academic terms. This semester-long study will complete the preliminary results outlined in this document. The ambition of this work remains to develop a scale relevant to foreign news interest and foreign news consumption. Future projects will thus specifically be devoted to this objective.
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Enda, J. (2011, December/January). Retreating from the world. American Journalism Review. Retrieved from http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4985
Field, A., & Hole, G. (2003). How to design and report experiments. London: Sage.
Golay, P. A. (2006). The effects of study abroad on the development of global-mindedness among students enrolled in international programs at Florida State University. Doctoral dissertation.
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Graber, D. A. (1988). Processing the News: How People Tame the Information Tide. White Plains, NY: Longman.
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You were selected to be in this study because you are taking part in a study-abroad program offered by Texas Tech University. Please consider this feature when answering the following questions.
Student Attitude Survey On the following pages, you will find a series of statements. Please read each statement, and decide whether or not you agree with it. Circle the response that most recently reflects your opinion. There are no correct or wrong answers. Although we prefer that you complete the whole survey, you may skip any questions.
don’t understand how we do things here.
30. Americans have a moral obligation 1 2 3 4 5
to share their wealth with the less fortunate
people of the world.
The following questions ask questions about your use of other media. Think about a typical day in your life when answering these questions.
How much time do you typically spend reading the newspaper a day?
less than 30 minutes
30 minutes -1.5 hours
more than 4 hours
How much time do you typically spend watching news on television a day?
less than 30 minutes
30 minutes -1.5 hours
more than 4 hours
How much time do you typically spend listening to news on the radio a day?
less than 30 minutes
30 minutes -1.5 hours
more than 4 hours
How much time do you typically spend reading news on the Internet a day?
less than 30 minutes
30 minutes -1.5 hours
more than 4 hours
How much time do you typically spend reading news in the magazines a day?
less than 30 minutes
30 minutes -1.5 hours
more than 4 hours
Where do you most likely go for international news?
If you replied E to question 36, which online outlet are you most likely to go to for international news?
U.S. online news websites (nytimes.com, cnn.com, foxnews.com…)
International online news websites (bbc.co.uk. Aljazeera.com…)
How interested are you in foreign news?
Not at all
Very little interest
What type of foreign news are you most interested in? please select one:
Culture and customs
Vacations (food) and travel news
Foreign news information is important to me
International news affects my daily life
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Answers are anonymous & your participation is appreciated!
1-99 [make drop down list]
What is your approximate annual family income?
$20,000 - 34,999
$35,000 - 49,999
$50,000 - 74,000
48. Were you born in the United States? ___Yes ___No
49. What is your first language? ___English ____Other ____________________
50. Previous study/work/travel abroad? ___Yes ___No
51. Please estimate the number of college courses (including this semester) you’ve taken which deal with global issues or in which you’ve learned a lot about countries besides the United States.
___ None ___ 1-2 ___ 3-4 ___ 5-6 ___7-8 ___ More than 8
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