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Women, Men and Study Abroad

Christina Talcott

There's an online battle being waged these days, thanks to a study by the Institute of International Education showing that almost twice as many female college students study abroad than their male counterparts. As with any gender-based debate, the "why" is provoking some strong opinions.

Last week, Aaron Hotfelder at Gadling waded into the debate with a few ideas about the trend, including that men are cheaper and women want to travel before they start having kids.

Then Ellen Wernecke of Jaunted weighed in with her own theories: that women are better multi-taskers, better communicators, etc.

Personally, I don't know why women study abroad more than men, and I'm loathe to generalize about it. From my own experience, there were lots of reasons I chose to study in Paris my junior year, including finally being able to put all those years of French classes to use. But the big reason was that it was my chance to live on my own, far from home and my pressure-cooker college, in a place that inspired writers, artists, musicians and romantics. While my classes were certainly secondary, I learned more in those 11 months than in any other year.... so far.

What about you? Do you have any insight into the reasons behing the disparity between male and female college students studying abroad?

By Christina Talcott |  December 9, 2008; 10:14 AM ET  | Category:  Christina Talcott , Europe , In the News , Travel Trends
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Many colleges encourage study abroad as part of certain majors - French, definitely; Engineering, not so much. Literature and History are probably somewhere in the middle. A quick count of the number of males and females in fields of study where it's heavily encouraged would probably account for most of the disparity. Of course, that doesn't solve the problem of underlying biases in the educational system which push boys and girls into different fields.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | December 9, 2008 11:13 AM

I think male college students feel that they will miss out on part of their college experience if they leave to study abroad. College sports being one of the main "experiences" that is uniquely American. It also could have to do with a student's emphasis in school and the types of programs offered overseas. Many females tend toward liberal arts degrees that offer credit overseas.

STA Travel

Posted by: CarlitaTravels | December 10, 2008 11:59 AM

I agree that one's college major must be the deciding factor. But to me the other huge factor is that American college students are unlikely to acquire a functional knowledge of a foreign language, unless they're in a major that requires it or for which it would be an asset. An Art History major who learns French or Italian to study the artists in a particular country is better qualified to make the most of a year abroad than (say) a Business major who took the minimum number of language courses required to graduate and promptly forgot everything. Having had experience with living and working internationally (my own and some of my family members'), I feel that Americans' lack of language skills is a major liability that our higher education system is NOT addressing.

Posted by: PLozar | December 10, 2008 6:53 PM

I studied abroad as an exchange student in high school and there were probably more girls than guys in the various programs (Rotary, AFS. etc). I attribute it to the girls' maturing more rapidly than the guys, e.g., being able to live away from home at age 16 or 17, interest in world languages and cultures. etc.

Posted by: linguist2 | December 11, 2008 7:43 PM

I agree with crunchyfrog. I'm not sure of the actual statistics, but a major factor for me, as an engineering major was that fitting all the classes in and getting credit abroad just wasn't possible. My guess is that there are still more males than females getting degrees in science and engineering, and schools aren't as lenient about transferring technical credits as they are for gen-ed or liberal arts courses. I think this fact could account for some of the disparity, but definitely not all. I had to reduce my abroad time to just a summer in order to still graduate in four years. (I'm a male engineer).

Posted by: emlo | December 15, 2008 1:35 PM

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