American university students are doing their study abroad wrong.
Sorry to say it, but from what I’ve seen, it’s become just another college party in a totally foreign environment. Having spent winter break traveling around Germany and a weekend in Budapest, it became way too easy to spot American study abroad students, and that’s not a good thing.
Americans are always in large cliques, maybe eight to 10, and they are always loud. Often, they won’t mingle with others who don’t speak English well enough and will only converse with each other during daytime sightseeing and nighttime club escapades.
This inability to break away from the U.S. bubble is damaging to their experience while once again letting other cultures think Americans are self-absorbed nationalists. I know this is a generalization, and plenty of you will tell me your time there was spent much better, but this is occurring more often than not, and it’s scary if we continue to let it go on.
Technology isn’t helping either. With the onset of Facebook and Skype, living in front of the screen can take away from the freedom and independence that is coveted by a study abroad.
In a Huffington Post article by Rebecca Ballhaus called, “Do Drinking Abroad Programs Have A Studying Problem?” she takes a look at the slacker culture that has developed during American study abroad programs and how they are avoiding immersion.
“Contrasted against their parents, this generation of student travelers is not a particularly adventurous lot. The baby boom generation embraced the exotic with its trademark near-doctrinal enthusiasm,” Ballhaus said.
According to the Institute of International Education, during the 2010-11 academic year, 273,996 American students studied abroad for academic credit, an all-time high. However, they report that the United Kingdom remains the leading destination for American students, followed by Italy, Spain, France and China.
This is another huge mistake. The number one country we go to is another English-only speaking nation. And the next three countries have been regular destinations for American tourists since … well, Thomas Jefferson. These countries and sister universities that open doors for American students also know how to cater to American academics, partyers and history lovers, and that doesn’t mean you’re getting a true, independent taste of an exotic land.
It’s important to travel while you’re young and capable, and it’s great to see so many of my friends taking a semester and studying abroad, but I’m worried. Is this so-called “semester abroad” really an intellectual and social nosedive off the cultural deep end or just another Blacksburg weekend in a far away location?
I don’t want to sound only like a pessimist, so here are some of my tips:
First, visit a different spot. Go to South America, the Far East or even India if you want to experience something more broad than the Western world.
Second, if you plan on going to Europe, be more independent and lose the unnecessary, and expensive, security of the EuroRail pass or hotels. Use mitfahrgelegenheit, a German carpool website that allows you to travel cheap and with regular Germans, or do a homestay with a random European family.
Finally, be willing and open to try new things and meet new people. Use a hostel for what it’s worth and that means not picking up other Americans.
You’ve heard it before, and you will hear it again: the world is becoming more globalized. This means that international travel is becoming cheaper and increasingly more important. Understanding and visiting other cultures has become so imperative that Americans can no longer rest on their laurels and expect their separatist way of life to follow them wherever they go.