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Why Are More U.S. College Students Studying Abroad?

Some 300,000 American college students are expected to participate in a study abroad program in 2011. This number reflects an increase in study abroad students as compared to 2008-09, the last year the number was measured. Why the change? A growing global society, increasing program availability and the expanding diversity in foreign destinations could all be contributing to the rise.

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By Harrison Howe

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Schools Work Harder to Send Students Overseas

Driven by increases in shorter and less expensive study abroad programs, more college students are seeking educational opportunities overseas. According to a November 2010 survey conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE), nearly 30% of colleges and universities reported partnering with other institutions to expand study abroad programs and 18% increased staff in this area. Additionally, nine percent of schools reported increasing scholarship offerings and adding lower cost programs.

The IIE has also worked to increase the availability of study abroad programs to students from low-income and culturally diverse backgrounds, in effect widening the playing field. This has led to more students taking advantage of these programs.

The Institute has also collaborated with the Forum on Education Abroad, a nonprofit organization located at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, to expand studies into countries like Brazil and Turkey.

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Forcing a Bit of Culture Shock Could Have Personal and Professional Benefits

But do U.S. students really get much out of traveling abroad and spending the time rooming with fellow American students and Facebook-ing family and friends back home?

Many programs are striving to force students to immerse themselves in their foreign surroundings. More exotic destinations, the removal of technological comforts and a push toward increased interaction with locals have helped to make study abroad programs more enriching.

The approach seems to be working: in August 2010, The New York Times reported that more college juniors were studying in Arab countries than ever before. While the number of U.S. students seeking an educational experience in an Arab country still lags far behind those going to China, France or England, enrollment in programs that send students to the Mideast rose a whopping 60% in 2006-07.

International Experience = Better Job Prospects?

Study abroad experiences can have long-lasting effects on students as well as their resumes. One recent graduate of Elmhurst College in Illinois told USA Today in September 2011 that employers seemed interested in him because of his time spent studying at a Moroccan university. And that could be yet another reason why we have seen an increase in the number of college students studying abroad: the ability to speak other languages and to understand other cultures can prove to be a huge asset when applying for jobs, particularly in global industries.

'To be a competent professional and to be competitive today, you need international experience,' Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president at New York City's IIE, told U.S. News and World Report in March 2011.

On the flip side: American universities are doing more to draw international students to U.S. campuses.

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