Study Abroad Interest Swells Beyond Europe
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 14:09
At least half of Georgetown undergraduates will venture off the Hilltop to study abroad during their college career. But while opportunities in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France remain popular, more and more American students are exploring less traditional destinations in Asia and the Middle East.
In November 2012, the Institute of International Education announced in its Open Doors Report that China, now ranked just behind those four European options, has jumped in popularity as a study abroad destination. Other countries with significant gains included Brazil, Costa Rica, India and South Korea.
Director of Overseas Studies Craig Rinker said that Georgetown is consistent with the national trend, which he attributed to increased accessibility and the expanded global nature of academia.
“Europe is where study abroad was founded, but as the world becomes smaller, students are drawn to newer locations,” Rinker said. “Particularly as academia becomes more global and more academic disciplines address global issues, students are going to find ways to go to those areas of the world they are studying about.”
To students, emerging study abroad destinations in Asia and the Middle East can be more exciting than their more established European counterparts. For example, Sarah Wang (SFS ’14), who lived with a host family for a year in Tokyo, stressed the “once-in-a-lifetime” chance that many non-traditional study abroad options present.
“Asia is kind of the place where if you have a chance, you should go,” Wang said. “When you talk about it later in your life, it’s really awesome to say, ‘I went to India’ — not that France isn’t [great], but it’s just different.”
Michael Paslavsky (COL ’14), who studied abroad in Dublin, said that although he was satisfied with his experience, he understood the appeal of Asia.
“Growing up, it wasn’t that unusual to go to Europe, so I think Europe is often viewed more like a vacation place,” Paslavsky said. “Japan is so far away, so when you are given the opportunity to go there, it’s Georgetown students doing what they normally do, seizing an opportunity.”
Study abroad destinations are often closely tied to students’ academic interests, particularly foreign languages; those who plan to study abroad in Asia often enroll in intensive programs to gain proficiency in the local language in preparation. These study abroad programs offer cultural and language immersion as a key component for reaching fluency.
“People who study abroad in Asia generally are focused on becoming fluent in their language, but for me I just wanted a different type of people, a different type of culture, and that wouldn’t be defined by a language,” Paslavsky said of his time in Dublin.
But as Asia grows in popularity as a serious study abroad option, Europe’s “touristy” reputation deepens, thanks to its familiarity.
“You kind of know what you’re getting when you go to Europe,” said Matthew Serrone (COL ’14), who previously visited Europe but chose to study abroad in Japan instead. “They often very much cater to Americans who want the European experience without fully diving in. There are definitely cultural differences, but I don’t think they’re as extreme. People, I think, want something more unknown, unexpected.”
Rinker agreed and added that there is sometimes an unnecessary stigma attached to European study abroad programs.
“We have many students on campus who look at what they’re studying and their language preparation and have it intimately tied into Western Europe, for instance, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Rinker said. “I think oftentimes the thought now is that you can’t be current or the cutting edge by sticking to Western Europe.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education also recently reported that the recent economic downturn in Europe and the relative economic rise in Asia have affected schools’ ability to fund such study abroad programs, both stateside and abroad.
According to the Chronicle, Asian countries have continued to invest in higher education, while European university budgets have been continually slashed as Europe battles its recessions.
“With few exceptions — notably Germany — institutions lack the deep pockets needed to fuel international activities,” the Chronicle reported.
James Burr (MSB ’14), a finance student who studied abroad in Barcelona, chose to study in Europe during the recession, however, to observe the recession’s effects on the region.
But while Burr agreed that Europe has become touristy, he argued that it falls on the traveller and the student to seek the local experience in any city.
“It’s like Washington, D.C.,” Burr said. “If you’re a tourist, you’re not going to find The Tombs.”
Rinker emphasized that Europe still provides a valuable cultural experience.
“There are significant nuances to living in Europe, and I think sometimes because there’s a common language, people devalue those nuances,” Rinker said.
Another unique feature of European study abroad programs is the ease with which students can travel between countries. In contrast, students who study in Asia generally stay in one particular country because they are often limited by transportation methods and cost.
“Asia is not the type of place where you can country-hop on weekends like Europe,” Kristin D’Alba (COL ’14), who studied abroad in Shanghai last fall, said. “You really do stay in the local area, but I like that because you get to really know one city.”
Overall, despite the national trend toward non-traditional areas, Rinker said that Georgetown would continue to seek new study abroad sites based on fit, rather than trend.
“We’re hoping that programs are relevant to what’s currently happening in the world, and there is a demand from students for it,” Rinker said. “Part of the challenge is that you want to ensure that there’s quality and that experiences can be managed in terms of student support and in terms of health and safety. We’re very intentional about the programs that we develop.”