We all know the stereotypical study abroad experience:
Step 1: Go to Europe
Step 2: Pretend to be interested in art history
Step 3: Party
Step 4: Repeat steps two and three
Ever since the notion of a semester (or year) abroad became popularized 50 years ago, the number of college students interested in a four-month vacation has increased steadily.
There’s something to be said for a laid-back study abroad experience. Easy schooling amidst an enjoyable environment offers college students a chance of reprieve from the rigors of American university life.
“I saw study abroad as a chance to travel and really explore the world,” said Johns Hopkins University senior Matthew Stroup, who spent last fall studying in Australia and traveling the Pacific region.
“But, yeah, five months of partying wasn’t too bad either.”
Yet as students come of age in an increasingly globalized world, the demand for outside-the-box programs is higher than ever. Students are finding opportunities to travel to exotic locales like Western Africa, the Middle East and South and East Asia.
In 2009, China ranked as the fifth most popular destination for US students. Latin American locations like Costa Rica and Mexico also ranked in the top ten.
Chris Russell is the Associate Director of Marketing and Recruitment at Boston University’s study abroad office, a home to a program well-known for offering students off-the-beaten-track options – like Shanghai, Rabat and Tel Aviv – for their semester overseas.
Russell was adamant that the face of study abroad has been changing in recent years, not just because of increased options but also from the diversity of students seeking the experience.
“More students with more majors are studying abroad than ever before, whether math or science or really anything,” said Russell.
Syracuse University junior Dylan Sodaro is coming off of a full year of studying abroad in the Middle East. He was first in Cairo, and then, after his second semester plans were interrupted by revolutions, Beirut.
His advice to students interested in studying abroad: “Really think about the experience you are looking for and what you want to gain from a semester or year abroad. If it is to meet new people, do a program outside of your university.”
He added that students should resist the temptation to over-plan for their trips, “because the fun of travel is seeing where the path goes. And don’t be afraid to wonder from the path you are on.”
More and more programs are striving to offer programs to students who seek adventure and a truly global experience. Dozens of students are currently participating in the International Honors Program, studying the topic of “Cities in the 21st Century” and traveling to global cities like Sao Paulo, Cape Town and Hanoi to study the effects of development on urban environments. The program seeks to combine a small group of dedicated students with a passion for studying globalization.
Russell believes that despite potentially limiting financial issues and the prevalence of short travel periods, more students will seek to go abroad in coming years:
“Students are using their time abroad as an opportunity to distinguish themselves while facing the challenge of something new.”