Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 11, pp 2307–2320 | Cite as

Sailing Uncharted Waters: Adolescent Personality Development and Social Relationship Experiences During a Year Abroad

  • Henriette GreischelEmail author
  • Peter Noack
  • Franz J. Neyer
Empirical Research


How does spending a year abroad influence the personality and relationship development of adolescents? This question was studied using a prospective control group design comprising 457 sojourners (high school exchange students) and 284 control participants (German adolescents; 73.3 % female; mean age = 15.63, SD = 0.78), all of whom were assessed three times across one academic year. Sojourners demonstrated higher pre-departure levels of Extraversion and Agreeableness as well as lower levels of Neuroticism. Longitudinal results indicated a steeper increase in Openness and Agreeableness trajectories, as well as a buffered increase in Neuroticism for exchange students. As expected, sojourners’ social relationships showed high fluctuation, which partially mediated sojourn effects on personality development. The role of international youth mobility for personal and social development in adolescence is discussed.


Personality development Social relationships Longitudinal design International mobility Adolescence 



We thank Julia Zimmermann and Stefan Engeser for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. We also thank Julia L. McMillan for stylistic improvements.

Authors’ Contribution

All authors contributed substantially to the conceptualization, design, and the planning of the present study. HG coordinated the study and was responsible for implementation and administration of the current research. HG also performed the data acquisition, the measurements as well as statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript. PN and FJN participated in the design and conceived of the interpretation of the data. PN and FJN also acquired funding for the study and supervised the research process. All authors read, revised, and approved the final manuscript.


The PIRATS (Personality, Identity, and Relationship Experiences in Adolescent Trajectories) study was funded by the German Research Foundation (Grant NE 633/9-1 awarded to Franz J. Neyer and Peter Noack).

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was granted by the Friedrich Schiller University’s Ethical Commission of the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences on October 25th, 2012.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Upon online registration for our study, participating adolescents were presented with an informed consent item which they had to check in order to submit their registration form. It reads (translated from German): “I hereby agree that personal data collected during this study may be recorded, analyzed, and anonymously published. My parents are informed about my participation in this study and agreed to it.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henriette Greischel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Noack
    • 1
  • Franz J. Neyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyFriedrich-Schiller-Universität JenaJenaGermany

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