European identity in EU university sojourners

The data of this contribution were taken from a research work carried out in Italy and Holland in 2009 on the effect of experience abroad for study reasons as a mechanism capable of modifying the representations of the European Union among university students. For the understanding of this social phenomenon, we have taken into consideration a series of macro factors relating to the construction of identity, migratory movements and the debate on the emergence of a European identity, as well as some cognitive constructs deemed capable of discriminating participants to research, such as socio-cultural adaptation and intolerance to ambiguity.


 We therefore developed a constructed questionnaire and following the best practices for this research, consisting of 74 items and divided into 4 main areas in addition to socio-demographic variables.

  • SCAS (Socio-Cultural Adaptation Scale), Socio-Cultural Adaptation Scale, elaborated by Ward and Kennedy (1999), which measures cultural competence and behavioral adaptation among temporary migrants (sojourners) in a battery of 41 items in which it is requested to indicate among the proposed situations, the degree of difficulty encountered in various situations.

  • Items related to tolerance to ambiguity, taken from the work of Kruglanski and collaborators (Kruglanski 1989, Webster & Kruglanski 1998), Need for Cognitive Closure Scale from which 9 items were extrapolated which measure intolerance to ambiguity within a wider battery that aims to examine the motivational nature of the need for Cognitive Closure.

  • Items related tonational and European identity. The first 4 items ask the interviewee the question of national identity, defined in declarative terms, as well as for the next 4 which refer, however, to European identity. These items were taken from a study by Verkuyten and collaborators of the Ercomer (European Research Center on Migration and Ethnic Relations)

  • Items taken from Eurobarometre questionnaire (Eurobarometer 57.2) which addresses issues related to the sense of belonging and the differentiation between national and supra-national affiliations. In particular, the 4 selected items ask to quantify the degree of proximity felt with groups of people ranging from their city or country of birth or residence to EU citizens. (Jiménez, Górniak, Kosic, Kiss and Kandulla, 2004)


The hypotheses that guided the work are the following:

  1. A significant difference regarding the feeling of European identity is expected between university students who have lived a period of at least six months in a European country other than that of birth or residence for study reasons and university students who have carried out their careers in their place of origin or residence. In particular, it is assumed that the students of the first group, which we will call Itinerant from now on, have higher European identity scores than those of the second group, which we will call Autochthonous. Conversely, it is assumed that the Autochthonous students show higher national identity scores than the group of Itinerant students.
  2. A significant difference is expected in the Socio-Cultural Adaptation scores between the two groups, obtained thanks to SCAS, Socio Cultural Adaptation Scale by Ward and Kennedy (1999). In particular, higher socio-cultural adaptation capacities are assumed (which equate to lower scores) in the itinerant group than in the autochthonous group.
  3. A significant difference in the Intolerance to Ambiguity scores between the two groups is expected, obtained thanks to the NCCS, Need for Cognitive Closure Scale, developed by Kruglanski et al. (2002) of which only the scale relating to Intolerance to Ambiguity was measured. In particular, higher scores are assumed in the Autochthonous group than in the Itinerant group.
  4. A significant difference between the two groups is expected in the Proximity scores towards people belonging to their country of origin versus European citizens obtained thanks to items taken from Eurobarometer 57.2, from the work of Jiménez, Kosic and collaborators (2004). In particular, it is assumed that Itinerant People show higher Proximity scores towards European citizens than their Autochthonous colleagues. Vice versa, it is assumed that the Autochthonous people show higher Proximity scores towards their compatriots than their Itinerant colleagues.


The basic criteria for being able to participate in the research were of two types: being university students and citizens of the European Union. The total number of participants is 148. These subjects are divided into the Itinerant group, (N.94) and the Autochthonous group (N.54). Data retrieval was conducted in the summer of 2009, with the active publication of the online questionnaire from 15 June to 20 August. The students were contacted via email with a direct link to the questionnaire, from which they could select their preferred language by choosing from four options (English, French, Spanish and Italian). The avalanche effect technique was used to find subjects, asking to forward the email to those who could meet the above mentioned criteria. Before proceeding with the analysis, subjects who did not meet the required characteristics (N.3) were eliminated. Details on the geographical origins of the participants and their distribution by age (average 25.5, SD 2,8) and gender can be seen in the tables below.

Table 1- Geographical origins

Country N. Respondents




























Table 2- Age and gender divided by Itinerant and Autochthonous



Media DS Our boys    Our girls    Tot.
itinerant 25.6 2.9 29 65 94
natives 25.3 2.7 23 31 54
Tot. 25.5 2.8 52 96 148


Here we combine the results obtained through the analysis of data relating to the entire group of participants first, only Italians then, always divided between Itinerant and Autochthonous. In fact, as we will see, the first three hypotheses will not show significant results for the whole group (E). By observing the conformation of this group and wondering how the hypotheses were formulated, an analysis was carried out post hoc relating only to the group of Italians. Finally, the last hypothesis was tested taking all the participants into consideration.

Hypothesis 1: National and European identity

Identity-Whole group (E):
Itinerant Students vs Autochthonous Students: f = 1.9 (1, 146) p: ns
National Identity Vs European Identity: f = 0.44 (1,146) p: ns
Groups (Autochthonous vs Itinerant) X Identity (National vs European): f = 0,02 (1,146) p: ns

Identity-Italians (I):

Itinerant Students vs Autochthonous Students f = 7.03 (1,69) p <.05 *

National identity vs European identity f = 0.9 (1,69) p: ns

Groups (St. Itineranti vs St Autoctoni) X Identity (National vs European) f = 3.3 (1,69) p = .07

Planned comparisons

National identity only Itinerant Students vs Autochthonous Students p: ns

European identity only Itinerant Students vs Autochthonous Students p <.05 *

Itinerant Students Only National Identity vs European Identity p = .06

Only Autochthonous Students National Identity vs European Identity p: ns

Hypothesis 2: Socio-Cultural Adaptation

Whole group (E): (Itinerant vs Autochthonous) X SCAS f = 3.8 (1,146) p = .051

Italians (I): (Itinerants ITA vs Autoctoni ITA) X SCAS f = 1.3 (1,69) p: ns

Hypothesis 3: Intolerance to ambiguity

Whole group (E): (Itinerant vs Autochthonous) X NCC f = 0.005 (1,146) p: ns
Italians (I): (Itinerants ITA vs Autoctoni ITA) X NCC f = 0.58 (1,69) p: ns

Hypothesis 4: Proximity

Whole group (E)
Itinerant Students vs Autochthonous Students f: 3.3 (1,146) p: .07
Origin vs Europe f: 4.4 (1, 146) p: <.05 *
Groups X Proximity f: 4.6 (1,146) p: ns

Planned comparisons

Only Itinerant Nation vs Europe p: ns
Only Autochthonous Country vs Europe p <.05 *
Itinerant vs Autochthonous Nation only p: ns
Only Itinerant Europe vs Autochthonous p <.05 *

As we have seen, the hypotheses relating to national and European identity have been rejected as regards the whole group (E), while they are confirmed as regards the group of Italians. This has prompted a series of questions relating to the debate on the generalization of hypotheses and results in the social sciences. The sensitivity that allows the researcher to ask questions relevant to social research stems from the ability to grasp relationships between individuals and contexts. It is therefore evident that without knowledge of the context and an adequate one training to grasp relationships, the hypotheses formulated are non-partisan and therefore lacking in depth. It was following a methodological reformulation that we reviewed the hypotheses made, applying them to the group of Italians and verifying that the group actually behaved as expected, except for the cognitive measures of adaptation and tolerance to ambiguity, which were not proved able to discriminate the subjects in neither case.

We can therefore draw information from the results of this work: temporary migration represents an experience to which different meanings are attributed by Italian university students and their colleagues from other member states, and it is neither possible nor useful to generalize.


For the Italians examined in this research, the experience abroad is a factor of fundamental importance for the construction of their European identity. From the data obtained, it can be observed that Itinerant Italians not only show higher European Identity scores than their Autochthonous compatriots, but also and above all higher values ​​also than other Itinerants from other Member States. National identity is not a discriminating factor in any case. Here the idea of ​​the multidimensionality of identity is confirmed (see for example, De Rosa, Mormino, 2000, Pratt & Foreman, 2000): one identity does not replace the other. The natives have no stronger national identities, while the itinerant ones have strong identities, both national and European.

The two constructs used to identify cognitive variables related to European identity have not proved useful for the purpose of this research. While taking into account a tendency towards significance in the groups as regards the SCAS scores, the NCC scores were not significant. However, this suggests consistency between the two constructs.

Proximity scores are an element that connects reasoning with European identity. The authors (Jiménez, Kosic et al, 2004) use the items of proximity as a measure of identity, understood as the feeling of belonging to a group, while we have preferred in the present research to use this measure as a feeling of closeness in itself flanked by items that more precisely connote themselves in relation to national and European identity. The measures adopted of proximity and identity measure two different aspects, providing non-overlapping results. It is also true that the feeling of belonging to a group is a fundamental element for the construction of identity, in particular for social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Itinerant students do not show significant differences in their feeling of closeness between people from their country of origin and between other European citizens, as having had the opportunity to experience knowledge with other cultures and especially with many people from countries different from their own , they have managed to develop with them a degree of closeness such as to put them on the same floor of their compatriots. This does not happen with the Autochthonous people, who show a significantly greater feeling of closeness with their compatriots compared to European citizens. We think of the experience abroad for the Itinerant group as a initiatory rite to the Europeanization process. It starts with knowing the context, the people who are part of it. Relationships of friendship, collaboration, work and academia are established, as well as all that series of encounters that the daily life of a migrant student offers. Is this perhaps a first step, the feeling of closeness. It is only subsequently, from the consolidation of relationships, from the re-signification of experience that the possibility opens that all this is able to provide a sense of identity.


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