The University of Iowa

Asia out of reach for many students studying abroad

February 12th, 2014

By Chris Higgins, The Daily Iowan

Those drawn to the sun and romance of Western Europe form the brunt of the rise in the number of students who study abroad, while Eastern Europe and Asia remain out of reach for many.

According to a statistics from University of Iowa International Programs, the number of students who study abroad jumped from 1,084 in 2007-08 to 1,351 in 2011-12, the last year for which numbers are available.

The two most popular undergraduate destinations were Italy and Spain, which saw an increase of 110 and 30 undergraduate participants from 2008-09 and 2011-12, respectively. The United Kingdom, India, and France followed.

In contrast, the study abroad programs based in China went from 46 undergraduates to 23, and Japan dropped from 39 to 11 in the same time period.

One exception to the trend is India, which has seen an explosion in undergraduates from Iowa — 41 students to 119. The rise has been concentrated in UI’s India Winterim program, which is run in the English language. Most other UI-sponsored programs to Asia use the host’ country’s language.

Russell Ganim, the UI director of the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, said these countries and others in Asia and Eastern Europe have become less attractive to UI students.

“The principal reason is cost,” he said. “It is very expensive to go to Asia [and Eastern Europe]. You have to look at plane fare, living expenses, and so on.” 

But one UI student disagreed.

UI senior Hannah Easton, a student of Russian, spent time studying in Russia. She said that scholarships are “readily available and just waiting to be given out.”

“Money cannot buy the kind of wisdom you get abroad,” she said. “It’s worth every penny.”

However, Ganim said the enrollment in related language courses at the university remains “solid,” and the expenses the students face to study in these regions has risen in recent years.

“Cost is the No. 1 factor in students deciding to go abroad,” he said. “Costs have really gone up over the past three, four, and five years. Scholarship money doesn’t go as far as [students] want it to.”

Another factor, Ganim believes, is the decreased focus on language learning in some Western European programs. Instead, the programs focus is on business or art, which makes them of more interest to the general student population. He said students who travel to the Eastern world tend to view language as a priority.

“Students don’t necessarily go abroad for foreign-language skills,” he said. “What a lot of students are doing is taking English courses in foreign countries.”

Michel Laronde, a UI professor of French and director of French and Italian undergraduate studies, was surprised fewer students now opt to travel to the East because of an increased focus on the study of Asian languages and the explosion in the population of international students from that part of the world at the university.

But Laronde noted that Western Europe is seen as a more traditional study abroad experience.

“That’s where it all starts,” Laronde said. “There have been generations going to Western Europe starting in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.”