The University of Iowa

Statistics: Men lag in study abroad at UI, nationally

March 9th, 2012

By Kristen East, The Daily Iowan

Navi Bajwa took his studies to the United Kingdom because he wanted to immerse himself in the political and social atmosphere.

“The reason I went to the University of Edinburgh is because of the world-class education that institution has to offer,” the University of Iowa senior said. “I have a lot of family in the UK, and I have been there a lot during my life, so I was comfortable going there.”

Bajwa belongs to a rather small percentage of men — both nationally and at the UI — who study abroad each year. Both national and local experts say men often don’t believe studying abroad leads to a greater international perspective.

According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report last month, only one-third of 270,600 American students who studied abroad during the 2009-10 academic year were male.

One UI official said the school’s study-abroad statistics mirror national percentages.

“I think we’re just spot-on with the way things are happening all across the country — very, very similar trends,” said John Rogers, an assistant director of the UI Study Abroad office.

UI student Matt Henry in Australia

UI student Matt Henry (second from right) studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, in spring 2011.

In 2010-11, 908 students studied abroad. Sixty-eight percent of those students were female.

Rogers said men tend to be more pragmatic about their study-abroad options.

“When they pick a study-abroad program, they’re doing it so they can earn major credit … there tends to be a real sort of practical element to it,” he said.

Females are typically liberal-arts majors and have more flexibility in their course schedules to transfer credits, Rogers said.

UI sophomore Tyler Raymond said he wants to study abroad, but he understands why other men wouldn’t want that experience.

“I want to study abroad in southern Germany for language acquisition,” he said. “That’s the only reason I want to go. I think men are lazier. They find it harder to organize it, so they’re less likely to want to.”

Low male participation in study-abroad programs is also present at the other regent institutions.

Yana Cornish, the director of study-abroad programs at the University of Northern Iowa, said the school saw its highest level of male participation this academic year at 37 percent. The percentage of male participation has been as low as 17 percent in the last decade, she said.

“Women are more proactive and jump on opportunities fast,” she said. “Males take a while longer to take an opportunity, and [UNI operates] on a first-come, first-served basis. Men want to pick and make their own programs.”

One study-abroad expert, however, said men’s participation in study-abroad opportunities really boils down to their disposition and the reputation and marketing of opportunities.

Jim Lucas, an assistant dean at Michigan State University, has completed extensive qualitative research on men’s participation in study-abroad programs.

“Study abroad is often viewed as kind of frivolous and extra and not core to what college is about,” Lucas said.

Lucas said more men would seize study-abroad opportunities if advertising appealed to them and demonstrated the importance of an international experience.

“If [men] saw a reason and a value to go and study abroad, they would,” he said. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t. Study abroad was no more valuable, or less valuable, than getting a job or internship.”

Lucas said females choose to study abroad because of a desire to gain a greater world perspective.

UI sophomore August Shultz enjoyed his study-abroad experiences when he traveled to India, and he said all students — male or female — should take advantage of the opportunities.

“I think all should be taken out of their comfort zone and [be] placed in a situation that is drastically different from anything they have known,” Shultz said. “Only then am I able to be truly confident in my decisions and my life.”