Learning in Liminality: a hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of student nurse learning during a study abroad journey

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Study abroad generates positive learning outcomes for students. However, experiences of learning, and processes, strategies and influences on learning during unaccompanied nursing study abroad are unclear. This hermeneutic phenomenological study therefore investigated student nurse experiences of learning during a study abroad journey in order to explore the phenomenon of learning and the processes, strategies and influences on learning throughout this journey.

Twenty student nurses, from the UK and Europe, participated; two semi-structured interviews were conducted per participant (post-return and follow-up). Phenomenological hermeneutical data analysis revealed the phenomenon of learning comprised four themes: ‘experiencing a different reality’; ‘active sense-making’; ‘being with others’ and ‘being changed and transformed’.

Findings identify that study abroad was experienced as the liminal space in which learning occurred. Students experienced liminality in this space and the process of learning was triggered by disjuncture. Students took responsibility for learning and undertook active sense-making activities to gain insight. Students struggled to make sense of troublesome experiences, and remained in a stuck place until resolution of troublesome-ness enabled students to cross a threshold into understanding. Threshold concepts in nursing were revealed as particularly troublesome. Learning was influenced by others; this included communitas, communities and communities of practice. Otherness also influenced student learning and position in these communities. Students experienced change and transformation as a result of the learning that had occurred. A postliminal state was attained when troublesome-ness was resolved and students had re-integrated back into their usual reality.

These findings offer new practical and theoretical insight into student nurse learning during unaccompanied study abroad journeys and further development of educational policy, practice and research is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Steven, Alison, Supervisor
  • Larkin, Val, Supervisor
  • Machin, Alison, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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