During the 2006/07 academic year, 241,791 U.S. students studied abroad for credit. The number of Americans studying abroad has increased by almost 150% over the past decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Historically, the vast majority of these students have studied in Western Europe, a trend that has remained constant in recent years. Last year, 58.3% of U.S. students abroad elected to study in Europe. The most popular destinations last year were, once again, the eternal favorites among American students: the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and France.
But another trend has become evident in study abroad: a growing number of U.S. students are spending their time abroad in non-traditional destinations. While the majority continue to study in Western Europe, an increasing number of students are choosing to spend a summer, semester, or year abroad in an atypical location. The host nations who have experienced the highest increases in U.S. students abroad include Ecuador, China, Argentina, South Africa, and India. These, and other exotic destinations, have seen the number of U.S. students in local schools and universities increase by as much as 30% over the course of just one year.
But why are American students bucking the trend and journeying farther afoot? First off, many forgo the familiar comforts of developed nations in an effort to cut costs during a time of recession. A semester abroad in South America or Africa, for instance, is considerably less expensive than a semester in Western Europe or Australia due to favorable exchange rates and a lower cost of living. Additionally, the global political climate has contributed to the increase. As the U.S. strives to revamp its image abroad and improve foreign relations, young Americans have mirrored these efforts with their choices in study abroad destinations. Lastly, students who study in developing regions may not even have to sacrifice the comforts of a developed nation. The NYU campus in Accra, Ghana, for instance, boasts air conditioning, 24-hour security, and a dining hall that serves West African food tailored to American taste buds. Inside what is essentially an insulated American compound, students enjoy the comforts of a developed nation in West Africa. Although arrangements like this have received criticism from proponents of true cultural immersion, there is something to be said for striking a balance between the comforts of home and the experience of living in the developing world. In either case, it’s clear that accommodations like NYU’s in Accra have encouraged U.S. students to study in more exotic destinations that might have otherwise intimidated them.
Looking towards the future of study abroad, it seems that the trend towards non-standard destinations will hold steady. The U.S. Senate recently advanced the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, which aims to send one million American students abroad per year by 2018, with an emphasis on studying in developing regions. This trend shows no evidence of slowing down and is a great indicator that American attitudes towards foreign nations are changing in positive, productive ways.