Working abroadBy Emma Hughes, HR Manager at Wolfestone

Psychologists at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany have completed a long term study into the effects of time spent abroad on our personalities.

The results of the study were published in an article in Germany’s ‘Zeit Online’ this month.

Julia Zimmermann and Franz Neyer claim to have found that students studying with international experience were more open to experience, more socially agreeable and more emotionally stable.

They also found that conscientious people were more likely to study abroad, although they discovered that a shorter stay was preferred and deemed to be sufficient to improve their employment prospects.

The Psychologists claim that going abroad can change us fundamentally, and a big factor in this change are the new relationships we form on our travels.

This will come as great news for Universities and organisations such as CILT Cymru (, who Wolfestone regularly work with to promote language learning in the UK. Most language degree programmes involve a period of time spend abroad and students will now have clear evidence of the added value of their degree to show to prospective employers .

We’d love to know what you think.  Have you spent time working or studying abroad, and do you feel it has strengthened your personality?


This article was based on an article in Zeit newspaper in Germany.  To read the original article in German please visit this site:


If you prefer English, the original article has been translated by Kevin Herschbach below.


A semester abroad strengthens your personality

Psychologists investigated how students change because of a semester abroad. The result: those who have studied away from home are more even-tempered and agreeable.

A semester abroad may not only improve foreign language skills and provide other learning experiences, but also change your personality. Psychologist Julia Zimmermann and her colleague Franz Neyer of Friedrich Schiller University claim to have found out in a long-term study that students with international experience were more open to experience, more socially agreeable and more emotionally stable. The complete study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The psychologists examined possible changes in students during a stay abroad according to the “Five Factor” model which includes the categories: emotional (in)stability (neuroticism), extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The study comprised a period of eight months during which 527 students studied abroad either for five or eight months. These students, as well as 607 control students who stayed in Germany during this time period, were surveyed three times (once shortly before their stay abroad, once after five months and once after eight months) by means of the “Big Five Inventory” in regard to their personalities. Additionally, they had to fill out a questionnaire to determine the number of national and international contacts lost and gained during this time period.

Firstly, the psychologists were interested in the motivation for studying abroad. Apparently it is stronger with young people, whose traits extraversion, openness and conscientiousness are especially pronounced. Conscientious people are generally more likely to decide to study abroad, whether for a long or short period of time. People who are more open were more likely to go abroad for eight instead of five months, while conscientious people preferred the shorter stay.

New relationships lead to a changed personality

Because of this, Zimmermann and Neyer suspect different motivations for shorter and longer stays abroad. Conscientious people are probably more concerned with making their CVs more attractive for future employers, therefore they believe short stays to be sufficient. Students who are especially open to experience seem to choose to stay longer.

In the surveys regarding the stays abroad the psychologists were able to ascertain considerable changes in personalities. Because of the semesters abroad students became more open to experience, more socially agreeable and more emotionally stable – irrespective of the length of their stay. This change was noticeable even after only five months abroad. However, there was not much of a change in the other two personality categories: the students did not become more extraverted or more conscientious.

“In the present study we were able to demonstrate that going abroad can change us fundamentally. Crucial for this are the people we meet and with whom we establish new relationships,” Zimmermann and Neyer write in the summary of their results.

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