Travelling Abroad: A narrative about what motivates people to leave their country



To: Mandi Pierce, Coordinator for Study Abroad and International Programs

From: Catherine King

Subject: A narrative about what motivates people to go abroad

Date: May 29, 2015


Hello, Mandi. If you recall, we had talked a couple years back while I was planning my spring semester abroad in Ireland at the University of Limerick. I am contacting you because I conducted a narrative study about what motivates people to go abroad and thought you would be interested in my findings. I am always asked why I chose to go to Ireland, and I wanted more insight into why other people chose to go to the countries they visited.


I chose to perform a narrative research study because I was looking to get stories instead of just answers to survey questions. I sent questionnaires full off open ended questions to several people I knew who had been abroad by alone at some point in their lives, many of whom are students. I also created a questionnaire for those who had never been outside of the continental U.S. to understand why they remain homebound. Of the eight who participated, six had been abroad, two had not.


I received very informative feedback from those who participated in the study from both sides of the question. As you know, a common motivational factor in travelling abroad is to enrich the coursework students are taking at home. Unsurprisingly a student majoring in Spanish went to Spain to increase his fluency. A student who had taken Arabic studies courses went to Turkey and the U.A.E. There were also some people who went to visit family, one for service, and others who just went to experience something new. Overall, they looked to gain knowledge of a new culture and enjoy the people they could meet. Individually, the stories are a good read.

On the other hand, those who had not been abroad had motivations of their own. Two notable factors were convenience, monetary or otherwise, and the fear of flying. An important thing to remember with these people is that they are not opposed to the idea of travel in general. Combined they had been all over the United States, distances people elsewhere may take them through multiple countries, not just states.


Please look take a look at the attached study for a more detailed look into the significance of travelling abroad has for individuals. If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to email me at Thank you!



Travelling Abroad: A narrative about what motivates people to leave their country


The following study is a narrative report on the motivations people have to travel abroad. For this study, travelling abroad means to leave one’s native continent. Six people gave their testimonies about their time abroad and why they chose their destinations and two people gave testimonies about why they choose to not go abroad. It was gathered that even though some people went to the same places, they went for different reasons. On the other hand, people also went to different places but for similar reasons. Whether it was for study, for service, or for visiting family, everyone had a desire to fulfill. Those who had not gone abroad had reasons of their own, such as responsibilities at home or fear of flight. It is shown though, that these home bound travelers still have experienced long distance travels that have an importance as well.




Growing up, to me travelling meant sitting six hours in a van with my parents and brothers to visit our relatives in Pennsylvania. Everywhere we went was a car drive away. My first time out of the country was a road trip to Canada. Ten year old me sat in anticipation as we crossed the border into a new world. As we drove farther in, I could not help be feel disappointed. Everything was basically the same. Just because I was in a new country did not mean there was going to be a magical transformation of the world around me. In the end, I had just driven a little more north than usual.

As I made it to my teen years I grew restless for something more than North America. I felt within me that Europe was calling my name, that going there would be the grand adventure ten year old me wanted so badly. My first time on a plane was my first trip out of the country with my mother to Italy to visit family. I was 18 and this was my graduation present after high school. This adventure was more than I could I have ever dreamed and maybe one that a younger self would not have been ready for. With a cousin as a translator, we toured Italy and as we travelled my drive to go forward into the world grew.

My dream beyond visiting Italy was to go to Ireland. I was fortunate enough to fulfill that dream through studying abroad at the University of Limerick during my sophomore year in college. I fell in love with the landscape, the cities and towns, and most of all the people around me. Where I suppose my career goals should be, my real goal is to live and settle back in Ireland permanently. When I tell this to people, it always begs the question “Why?” which prompted my desire to do this study.

Why does anyone want to travel the world beyond what they know? I wanted to turn the tables on my family and friends to see the motivations they had to visit the places they have been to in their lives. If I could get them to look back and think about their time abroad, maybe it would be clearer to them what my motivations are. To me, spending a significant amount of time outside of the US was always a given when thinking about my future. I also wanted to hear more from the people I know who have never been outside of their home country and what makes them stay. It was hard for me to consider that the desire to stay in America could be just as strong as my desire to leave.

Theoretical Approach

The theoretical approach I chose for this study is narrative. Under this umbrella I looked to collect as many testimonies from individuals as possible that give insight to his or her personal experience. I also looked to perform an “analysis of narratives” as stated in the text “Five Qualitative Approaches to Inquiry.” I hoped to find parallel themes to stories and what factors contributed to make each experience unique.

The main challenge for this approach is being able to spend enough time with each individual to collect an extensive and detailed story, something I was not able to do. The people I spoke to were not local and did not have the time to sit down and have a conversation, so some testimonies are more detailed and insightful than others. All participants were willing to share their stories and were able to choose to be listed anonymously. Nothing about their testimonies is changed and by participation they gave me the privilege to analyze their stories. I do not believe retelling their stories takes away from the individual’s ownership or the uniqueness of their experience.


To collect my testimonies I created two separate questionnaires, one for those who have travelled abroad and one for those who have not. Note: for the purpose of this study, travelling abroad meant to have left one’s native continent. The majority of the questions in the two facilitated further explanation of answers asked to lend to the greatest insight. In the end, it was up to the individual to decide how much information they wanted to give. View the questionnaires in the appendix at the end of the report.

To gather participants I contacted each person individually through direct messages and emails. I know each participant personally, so I knew beforehand which questionnaire to give them. Their responses were then sent back to me in return. Each participant was graciously thanked for their time and willingness to participate. I would like to hope my relationship with the individuals did not negatively impact their responses. The subject matter is not personal enough to have kept them from being truthful for the sake of what they were willing to let me know. I was also able to know beforehand that these individuals had travelled to different places at different times, ensuring a level of diversity.



In total, eight people participated in the study, six having had been abroad and two who had not. All participants were natives of the USA. Those who were asked but did not respond promptly enough to be analyzed were international, a few being from Ireland and one whose native country was Brazil but is currently living in Hawaii. I believe if I had more time I would have been able to get their responses, but the international divide kept us from valuable contact.

The average age of those who had travelled abroad was 20. All participants who had been abroad for the first time by themselves had graduated from high school prior to travelling. No questions about age were asked to those who had never travelled abroad. Of those who had been abroad, five were female and one was male. Both of those who had not been abroad were male.


Those who had been abroad…

Below is a list of the countries that the participants had visited their first time alone abroad:

  • Italy (2 participants answered)
  • Ecuador
  • Spain
  • Australia/New Zealand
  • Turkey/United Arab Emirates

Of the six participants, four continents were visited.

Four participants went to study abroad, one for vacation to visit family, and one as a service trip.

Two of those who went to study abroad were there because it related to their studies at home. The student who went to Spain went to develop his proficiency in the language because he majored in Spanish. Kendall, the student who went to Turkey and the UAE said this of her choice of destination: “I studied Arabic and Middle Eastern culture so I wanted to experience those things first hand.”

All believed that their experiences were positive ones. Angela, who had gone to Italy to study history and religion was able to witness a historic event herself which she credited the positivity of the trip. She stated, “I was in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI made his historical resignation and for Conclave that elected Pope Francis.” Kendall said some of her positive experiences came from the people she had met there. Sian, who had gone to Australia and New Zealand gained a positive experience from all the things she had learned. On the other hand, Lori who had visited Italy as well explained why her trip was not a completely positive one. She said, “The only negative aspect was that after the visit, I deeply missed the people who live there and the areas in Italy that I visited. I’m always hoping for my next visit. It kind of makes me restless here [in the USA].”

The participants also answered how their first experiences affected further decisions to travel. None of them said that they would not want to continue travelling, and Angela and Lori who had both gone to Italy said they wanted to return there. The student who went to Spain, and Cheyenne who did a service trip to Ecuador both said they were encouraged to increase their travels within the US. Though Sian did not specifically state either way, she gave a different insight on what her first trip meant for the future: “It made me realize that I am capable of living in a city and surviving. Also that I need to learn how to budget. Also that if I want to go to Australia or New Zealand again, I will have to take a month vacation because it is not worth just a week.”

In the next section, Data Visualizations, other comments on their travels will be displayed and analyzed.

Those who had not been abroad…

Doug and Paul both have not travelled to another continent, but have been to Canada. Their reasons for not having been abroad differ. Doug stated this when asked why he had not been: “[I have] no pressing need/desire to travel abroad, [I] would like to see all regions of the US.” Paul’s reason was a bit more personal, he said his fear of flying has kept him North America bound.

Both participants have had the opportunity but chose not to. Doug said that the cost and responsibilities had kept him home. Paul said he had the chance to visit Italy, but once again his fear kept him from going, and he wanted to take that time to travel through his own country instead.

When asked about any regrets about not taking those opportunities Doug stated “I have no major regrets about not going, though it would have been fun to enjoy seeing things with my family.” Similarly Paul said regret came from not being able to see his family in Italy. Their motivations, it seems, would not be for themselves, but enjoying that time with loved ones.

Doug believes that it would take the right opportunity at the right to get him to consider going abroad in the future, specifically to Europe. Paul would need to get over his fear of flying first and would also want to the travels to be with friends for him to consider a trip.

A visualization of where they had been is in the next section.

Data Visualizations

Below is a world cloud created using the answers to the prompt “Please list any more comments you have on what it means to you to travel abroad.” This was only answered by those who had been abroad.


The words that stand out the most are “culture,” “people,” and “different.” Their motivations stem from the desire to encounter people and cultures that are unlike their own. As well, a sub listing is the word “gives” which I believe is an important connection and insight to the motivations. When travelling abroad, in the end it is not about taking that action, it’s about what you receive from doing so, i.e. what the experience “gives” to you.

As a representation of those who had not traveled abroad, below is a map highlighting where they had visited in the US combined.


When asked about his notable travel experiences, Doug said “Pleasure travel to the Florida Keys, Virginia Beach every summer for 2 weeks for the past 45 years, attending Super Bowls in Arizona, Pasadena, and Miami.  Work travel to various locations – Long Island NY, Boston, Charleston SC, Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Keystone CO.” Paul had also said a road trip to the Florida Keys was notable to him. They exemplify that significant travel experiences are not monopolized by trips abroad.



Work Cited

Creswell, John W., and John W. Creswell. Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007. Print.




Questionnaire 1

This questionnaire is part of a qualitative research study I am conducting for a college course. Its purpose is to exhibit the different motivations for and experiences with travelling outside of one’s home country. For the purpose of this study, travelling abroad refers to leaving your native continent.

Your contact information will not be shared with anyone, but your name may be used along with your story. You can choose to be listed anonymously.

Would you prefer to be listed anonymously?

What is your native country?

How old were you when you made your first trip abroad by yourself?

Where did you go and why did you travel there?

Was it a positive or negative experience? Why?

How did this trip influence further decisions to continue travelling?

What are some other notable travel experiences that you have?

What are your future plans for travelling?

Below, please list any more comments you have on what it means to you to travel abroad.

Thanks for your time. I look forward to reading about your experiences!

Questionnaire 2

This questionnaire is part of a qualitative research study I am conducting for a college course. Its purpose is to exhibit the different motivations for and experiences with travelling outside of one’s home country. For the purpose of this study, travelling abroad refers to leaving your native continent.

Your contact information will not be shared with anyone, but your name may be used along with your story. You can choose to be listed anonymously.

Would you prefer to be listed anonymously?

What is your native country?

What are some of your most notable travel destinations and experiences?

Why do you choose to not travel abroad?

Have you had opportunities to go abroad and chose to not go? Why not?

Do you have any regret for not going? Why or why not?

Is there something that would change your decision to not travel abroad? If so, what?

Thanks for your time. I look forward to reading about your experiences!


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