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Why Studying Abroad Might Not Be All It's Cracked Up To Be

It's the StateImpact Indiana "Name That Country" contest! Brownie points to the first person to head to our comments section and name the location of the landmark in this photo, taken during my college study abroad experience in... well, if I told you, you'd have the answer.

Study abroad expert Mark Salisbury writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Claims about the potential educational value of study abroad sometimes sound a bit like a late-night TV infomercial (“it slices, it dices, it calculates pi!”)…

But beneath the appealing evangelism lies a perplexing reality: Despite annual press releases touting another “record” number of students abroad, the actual proportion of college students overseas has remained virtually unchanged. And as higher-education enrollments have grown more diverse, the demographic profile of those studying abroad continues to be mostly white and female.

Furthermore, while many people have vociferously argued that studying abroad is the ideal way to gain crucial cross-cultural skills, a close look at the supporting research makes it difficult to be sure whether the findings amount to legitimate proof or preconceptions in search of corroborating evidence…

Let’s be honest: While a lot of good people are deeply invested in the transformative value of international education, a lot of money is changing hands in the study-abroad business. If study abroad is to assume a more central role in undergraduate education, we need to let go of the mythology and act on what we already know about… the impact of study-abroad marketing messages on diverse students’ intent to study abroad and what learning outcomes can realistically be expected from study abroad.

Salisbury, who directs institutional research at Augustana College, says it’s clear students gain greater cultural perspective and understanding from their study abroad experience. But he says it’s less clear precisely what educational benefits students gain from an international experience.

Although we’ve written about Purdue University’s international connections, Indiana University in particular has made studying abroad part of its institutional identity. Most on the Bloomington campus attribute this focus to the school’s late president Herman B Wells.

IU ranks in the Top 10 of all American schools in the number of students it sends to study abroad  — more than all but one other Big Ten school. A recently-established scholarship program helps front the costs of international education experiences for “high-achieving” IU students.

Studying abroad “has evolved from a luxury to virtually an essential college experience,” IU president Michael McRobbie said in a statement last November, “since nearly every career IU students will pursue will have an international dimension.”

Did you study abroad? How much did you pay for the experience? And was it worth it? What did you feel you gained from the program?

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