The study abroad experience is becoming more common for students from all parts of the world, and the number of students involved in study abroad programs continues to rise each year. These study abroad programs may only last a few weeks or may be an entire year long. Some study abroad programs combine classroom instruction with community service or practical training, and virtually all study abroad programs emphasize cultural experience. Because study abroad programs give students unique perspectives on and experience with cultural and global issues, universities and businesses are placing a greater value and importance on study abroad programs.
Keywords Ethnocentricity; Globalization; Industrialized Nations; Language Immersion; Practicum; Short-Term Study Abroad; Sister Universities; Study Abroad
Today, a large number of students from many different countries find their way into foreign classrooms as part of a study abroad program. Previously the privilege of the rich, overseas study is now an option for students of all income and social levels. Many students travel to industrialized nations to take advantage of their excellent educational institutions, but study abroad programs also focus on lesser known institutions in less developed countries. These programs also cater to virtually all areas of study, and the interested student is sure to find an excellent study abroad opportunity anywhere he or she wishes to go.
Reasons to Study Abroad
Study abroad programs are popular for many reasons. One of the first reasons is the chance to study at a more prestigious university or in a country that is well-known for its education program. For example, the U.S. is a popular destination for many international students, and credits from prestigious U.S. universities such as Harvard are excellent additions to an international student's transcript. Europe has long attracted foreign students. Acclaimed universities from other countries such as Japan and Egypt also are receiving attention from students interested in studying abroad, and many locations besides Europe and America are the destinations of thriving study abroad programs.
Many students choose study abroad programs in order to further their research and gain access to specific resources that are not available in their home countries. Even with important technological advancements in library research and source availability, sometimes scholars must travel outside of their countries in order to track down the research sources they need. For example, a U.S. scholar of Anglo-Saxon history might come to the University of Oxford in order to research texts available through Oxford's Bodelian library and to tour important historical sites such as the Viking burial excavation at Sutton Hoo.
Language study continues to be one of the most significant reasons why study abroad programs are popular. Anyone who has ever attempted to study another language knows that there is no substitute for language immersion. A student of French, for example, who spends just a few weeks studying in a French-speaking country has a great advantage over a student whose French experience is limited strictly to the classroom. Also, the formalized, standardized language taught in the classroom often differs widely from the language of the street and ordinary conversation: to truly understand a language, a student needs to spend time with people who speak it natively and in a country where the language is used.
Short or Long Programs
The flexibility of study abroad programs is another aspect that makes them very popular. The programs may be as short as a week to as long as a year or more, so a student can choose a program that fits his or her schedule. There are many short-term study abroad programs available that allow students a chance to study in another country without disrupting their study program at home; they can often study abroad during breaks in the regular school term. For example, a Chinese graduate student of biology may take three weeks during his summer break to travel to the University of Barcelona in order to perform some research for his master's thesis. These shorter trips can provide invaluable experience to students without having to invest a huge amount of time, planning, and financial expenditure. Shorter programs are usually relatively affordable for many students.
However, a student wanting more language exposure or a deeper educational experience has the option of semester or year long study abroad programs. These programs obviously are more expensive and require more planning but are superlatively valuable for cultural or language students or students who have extensive research to perform.
Partnerships between international universities have helped study abroad programs flourish. For example, Polk (2002) stated that since 1979, the University of Nebraska at Omaha has hosted a group of students from Shizuoka University in Japan every summer for a four-week language and cultural study program. These two sister colleges have enjoyed a good relationship for several decades, and students from both universities have benefited from the partnership. Other universities across the globe have participated in student and scholar exchange programs and have worked hard to open their doors to students from all nations. This global connection of universities has both created more opportunities to study abroad and encouraged more interest in studying abroad.
The Working Vacation
However, many students need little encouragement towards study abroad programs. For some students, the opportunity to spend a few weeks in another country is more exciting than the opportunity to study in that country. A study abroad program can be rightly seen as a "working vacation" of sorts, and most study abroad programs balance classroom work and study with travel, sight-seeing, and other more entertaining educational activities. In our increasingly more globalized world, the ability to interact with and understand other cultures is invaluable. One of the best ways students can gain this vitally important ability is by spending some time in another country or culture, and a study abroad program can provide just the right setting for this.
A Good Value
The benefits of a study abroad program as opposed to a vacation or a tour of a country are numerous, and one of the first benefits is financial. Usually the fee for a study abroad program includes housing, meals, and some transportation, so the student does not need to worry about arranging for living accommodations. The study abroad student usually just needs to pay for the program and have some spending and travel money available. Also, there are scholarships, grants, and funds available for study abroad students. For example, IIEPassport is an organization which gives information about study abroad programs and provides resources about funding for these programs (IIEPassport, 2007).
Another benefit to a study abroad program is the fact that it is generally fairly structured and monitored. While parents might be hesitant about letting their young scholars, particularly their daughters, travel through another country, a study abroad program is generally a safe and well-supervised way for a student to visit another country. Study abroad students often have access to medical facilities at their university abroad and contacts with directors so that their experience overseas is well-regulated and safe.
Study abroad programs draw a large number of U.S. students. Rooney (2002) stated that at Boston's Tufts University, over 1/5 of the student body studies abroad at one point in the 4 year college experience. Tufts ranks 10th out of the top 20 study-abroad institutions. Other U.S. universities have followed suit: during the 2000-2001 school year, Michigan State had 1,835 students studying abroad and New York University had 1,471. All in all, Kohn Chin and Bhandari (2006) reported that during the 2004/2005 school year, the U.S. sent 205,983 of its students to foreign universities, which represented an 8% increase from the previous school year (p. 17).
Rooney (2002) further stated that Europe continues to be the most popular destination for U.S. students - 63% of U.S. study abroad students went to Europe in 2000-2001. However, McMurtrie (2005) said other countries are becoming very popular for U.S. students. For example, in 2003-2004, China experienced a 90% increase in the number of U.S. students it took in as study abroad scholars. During that year, over 5,000 U.S. students went to Ireland, a little under 14,000 went to France, and approximately 2,200 went to Cuba.
Among U.S. students, McMurtrie (2005) said that short-term programs are the most popular. Roughly half of all U.S. study abroad students take less than eight weeks for their session in comparison to the 6% which undergo an entire year study abroad. Obviously, finances and practical concerns are limiting factors for many students, and a few weeks of overseas studies are usually much more realistic for the average student than a longer program.
However, non U.S. students are enthusiastically participating in study abroad programs both in the states and in other countries. For example, Pimpa (2005) reported that Australian universities are the most popular choice for Thai students: there were 8179 Thai students in Australian universities in 2000 (p. 431-432).
The inaugural issue of the SIT Occasional Papers Series, titled “About Our Institution” (Spring 2000), was dedicated to telling the story of World Learning by providing a comprehensive view of this fascinating organization. For many, World Learning is a difficult organization to grasp, given its various divisions and its continually changing nature. In fact, a defining characteristic of the institution has always been its ability to adapt readily in response to changing conditions and needs throughout the world. World Learning is truly a one-of-a-kind institution. This becomes clear as one learns more about its activities and the principles on which they are based. World Learning will continue to innovate and provide transformational experiences as long as it is responsive to the world’s ever-changing needs in its own creative, dynamic, and interculturally sensitive way, while keeping true to its mission. This third issue focuses on one aspect of World Learning – its Study Abroad Programs. This unit, administered through the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, has provided academic mobility programs around the globe for over a quarter century – in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia, Latin America and the Caribbean region, and in other parts of the world – furthering the institutional mission by providing intercultural academic experiences for college students. Several general articles introduce the Study Abroad Program, followed by a collection of articles representing a sampling of some of the work accomplished by college undergraduate students participating in Study Abroad Programs. In the last section (Other Items of Interest), a summary of “Study Abroad Activities” provides further information about the range and scope of these activities. Finally, “Selected Publications on Study Abroad” are included to familiarize newcomers to this field with some of the relevant literature of the field. Our hope is that this publication will help the reader learn about the Study Abroad experience and its effect on student participants and the quality of their essays and research papers.
World Learning, "Study Abroad: Student Essays and Research" (2002). SIT Occasional Papers. 2.