Chinese college students’ risk attitude to moving abroad to study
Xiaolan Yang (Zhejiang University), 2015, 43(5) 795802

I have had a long interest in study abroad. This started when, as a 17 years old, I went from New Zealand to spend my final High School year in Delavan, Wisconsin, USA, as an AFS International Scholarship Student. I have many good memories of this year, and after returning to New Zealand for my Bachelor’s degree, I was attracted again to the United States to complete my Master’s degree at Harvard University.

My academic career has subsequently been very international, with university appointments held in Canada, New Zealand, and for 12 years at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

I was thus particularly interested in Dr Yang’s paper on Chinese college students’ risk attitude to moving abroad to study. Participants were 211 Chinese undergraduate students who were followed through their four year college career. The method developed by Holt and Laury (2002) was used to measure individual risk attitude in the third and fourth years. Participants were required to make a choice between two lotteries. The pairs of lotteries were arranged so that the probability of the higher payoff gradually increased. Paired t tests and logistic regression analysis were used to compare the risk attitude index of participants who moved abroad and those who staying in the home country after graduating from college.

The degree of risk aversion was higher for students who stayed in the home country than it was for students who moved abroad. Among students who moved abroad, those who were more willing to take risks moved over a greater cultural distance than did those less willing to take risks. Income, gender, attainment, and hometown location did not play a significant role in the probability of studying abroad.

I conducted a related before-and-after study with the 1970/71 New Zealand participants in the AFS International Scholarships program. At that time each group of AFS scholars from New Zealand departed for the USA in August in time to commence the Northern Hemisphere academic year. They returned to New Zealand nearly a year later, and most went on to tertiary studies. I conducted a before-and-after study of the AFS international students as compared to a control group of nominated best friends who stayed on in New Zealand for the same period. Comparisons were then made on the results of a number of test instruments and a questionnaire. The test instruments were as follows: The Wilson-Patterson Conservatism Scale, the New Zealand adaptation of the Australian Ethnocentrism Scale, the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values, the Cattell 16 PF, and the Shostrom Personal Orientation Inventory.

Analysis using t tests compared the experimental group (AFS scholars) and the control group (best friends). The AFS scholars, relative to their controls, during the year became significantly less ethnocentric (as measured by the Ethnocentrism Scale), slightly more conventional and more uncontrolled (as measured by the Cattell 16 PF).

Becoming less ethnocentric over the year seems a logical outcome for the AFS scholar group. Although the control group also became somewhat less ethnocentric, the AFS scholars moved significantly more in this direction. My interpretation of the 16 PF results is that the AFS scholar group benefited from their possibly easier transition from NZ’s then authoritarian secondary school focus to the liberalism and freedom of being a university/tertiary student. Sometimes students had difficulty in coping with this change. The AFS students were perhaps more grounded—as a result of their experience—than their best friend controls.

Robert A.C. (Bob) Stewart, PhD | Editor-in-Chief
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal    


Stewart, R. A. C. (1973). The concept of personality: A symposium. Personality change: The effects on New Zealand adolescents of a scholarship exchange year in the USA. Journal of Psychological Researches, 17, 28–46. psycinfo/1975-21178-001