On October 1, 2015, University World News reported that the number of students studying abroad from the United States will increase by at least 77,000 students annually over the next five years as a result of the support provided to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Generation Study Abroad Initiative. By 2020, IIE hopes this number will increase to 600,000 students studying abroad each year.
As the number of students studying abroad increases, the institutions facilitating these programs must also increase their awareness of what effect study abroad programs may have, what potential exists for improvement of this growing educational option, and start asking harder questions about the experience, such as for whom this opportunity is really open. Particularly in an increasingly globalized world where the skills gained from studying abroad are increasingly marketable, is the study abroad experience becoming a status symbol contributing to the growing wealth distribution gap?
According to the IIE report referenced above, while Black or African Americans accounted for 15% of US students enrolled in higher education, they made up only 5% of students studying abroad in 2011-12. Other students of color showed very similar rates. With schools like Goucher College, the first school in the country to require students to study abroad, and other institutions increasing the popularity of these prog
rams, the demand for scholarship and other means of increasing access to such experiences will hopefully continue to grow and increase their accessibility.
As a graduate of Goucher College, I personally benefited from the opportunity to study abroad and my experience in Rwanda and Uganda has truly shaped my educational and professional goals from that point forward. However, despite the eye opening nature of many study abroad experiences like my own, inherent in the experience there is often a reinforcement and valuation of educational systems in the US in comparison to international systems. For example, the formal education I received abroad occurred as part of an insular educational community in which my classmates and I were not integrated into existing local institutions, which were seen as not up to par with systems in the United States.
And this valuation, often left over from colonial systems, is also at play for international students who come to study in the US or other Western nations for their higher education. Particularly in countries where it is the upper class who has access to these experiences, this dynamic could potentially have detrimental effects on local systems, causing a “brain drains” and channeling money into international institutions instead of towards investment in building up local education systems.
While I strongly believe and have experienced the benefits of studying abroad, as this type of experience continues to grow in popularity it is essential that we begin to think more critically about both the intentional and unintentional effects that these programs may have and the part they play in maintaining the status quo as we put increasing value and importance on the experience of studying abroad.
Goucher College Study Abroad. 2015. http://www.goucher.edu/study-abroad
Institute of International Education: Generation Study Abroad. One Year Impact. https://gallery.mailchimp.com/1c2990d53535fcb3c05526d43/files/IIE_Generation_Study_Abroad_Impact_Report_Year_One_Highlights.pdf?utm_source=IIE+Global&utm_campaign=9ce7501209-Press-Release-GSA-185M-Study-Abroad-20151001&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_aae91ae631-9ce7501209-49905561
O’Malley, Brendan. 01 October 2015. Groundswell of support for increasing study abroad. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20151001181523239
Sinha, Nidhi. 04 October 2015. Seeking the best for the next generation. Navhind Times. http://www.navhindtimes.in/seeking-the-best-for-the-next-generation/
Warner, Rachel. Summer 2015. Study Abroad: Developing Global Competencies. Home Room: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. http://blog.ed.gov/2015/08/study-abroad-developing-global-competencies/