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University News

After dip, study abroad participation sees uptick

Women, humanities concentrators more likely to go abroad than men, STEM concentrators

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2014

After several years of significant decline, the number of students studying abroad has rebounded modestly over the past two years.

From 2007-08 to 2012-13, the number of students studying abroad during the academic year fell from a high of 565 to a low of 381 ­— a 33 percent drop over five years, according to figures obtained from the Office of Institutional Research. But the number of students studying abroad climbed back to 415 last year and 282 undergraduates are abroad this fall, consistent with last fall’s number.

The downward trend from fall 2007 to spring 2013 is not Brown-specific, but rather reflects the nationwide impact of the Great Recession, said Kendall Brostuen, associate dean and director of international programs.

He said a recession may hinder a family’s ability to pay for plane tickets or other major expenses and may leave students with less spending money, encumbering their capacity to take full advantage of their time outside the United States by preventing them from traveling, eating out or participating in local recreational activities. Several students mentioned these experiences as key elements of their time abroad.

Anna Martin ’16, who is spending the semester in Barcelona, said budgetary concerns figured into her initial considerations before her study abroad program. But she ultimately found that a semester away from Providence would cost her no more than a semester at Brown.

In addition to financial factors, fear of missing out on Brown activities and classes, often strenuous requirements in scientific and mathematical fields and concerns over scheduling conflicts with summer internships sometimes deter students from studying abroad, Brostuen said.

A proliferation of summer alternatives to semester-long study abroad, such as international internship opportunities and undergraduate teaching and research awards, might also diminish the number of students electing to study away during a semester, Brostuen said.

Women are more likely to study abroad than men, who compose just 32 percent of the undergraduates studying abroad this year, Brostuen said. This trend, too, goes beyond Brown, he added.

For students outside of STEM, studying abroad may pose no challenge to their academic plans and may in fact even play an integral role in fulfilling them.

Philip Heller ’16 said his coursework at St. Andrews University in Scotland this fall fills two international relations concentration requirements, adding that St. Andrews has one of the best international relations programs in Europe.

Though the academic rigor of other universities’ courses may not match the rigor at Brown, study abroad offers out-of-class learning experiences that are valuable in their own way and provide a break from the structured learning environment at the University, students said.

“I was feeling burnt out … and I knew a change of pace would be good for me,” Martin said, adding that studying in Barcelona has offered her the opportunity to “live the day-to-day of a Spanish student.”

“Most of what I have learned has definitely come from outside school,” said Jenna Davis ’16, who is studying in Cape Town, South Africa this semester. “Cab drivers love to talk to you about race, money, their favorite food … and more,” Davis added.

Most students who study abroad return happy with their experience, Brostuen said, adding that a semester abroad will stick out when students look back on their undergraduate experiences.

“I am already looking forward to coming back to South Africa to live for a while,” Davis said, adding that Cape Town has become her “favorite place in the world.”

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