As my own trip looms, I begin pondering on the merits of study abroad
In the academic year 2005/2006 over 223,534 American students chose to study abroad, with an average increase of about 8-10% every year for the past decade. Although 10% is an encouraging increase, I confess that I was expecting to see a much higher number. Afterall, 17.5 million Americans are enrolled in some form of post-secondary education, and of the 304,669,000 people living in the United States 27% have graduated from college. Yet, of the 17.5 million students enrolled in higher education, only about 1% of students have studied abroad, according to the National Association of International Educators.
I have no wish to delve into the socio-economic problems facing the United States that might explain why there's such a huge gap between the mass number of people who graduate from high school and the minority that graduates with a bachelor's degree. Nor will I attempt to draw any kind of connection between the desparity of certain social and ethnic groups in the college scene, recent legislation to prevent illegal immigrants from attending college, and the demographics of that majority who cannot afford to go to college with the disappointingly low number of college students who take the opportunity aforded them to explore the rest of the world. But because I find myself fortunate enough to not only be attending college in the United States, but also to be embarking on possibly the greatest experience any young person could have, international study, I have had the occasion to hear other students' reasons for chosing not to study abroad. It's too expensive. I could never fulfill all my credits. There are so many things going on at my home college that I would hate to miss. I get homesick. I could never learn another language. Then, why go to an English speaking country if i can just speak English in America? It's taken me two years to make the friends I have here and you want me to start all over in a foreign country! What if they don't have anything I can eat in (fill in country)?! (Ok, maybe that last one was made up.)
With the recent realization that my blog might not, in fact, be one of millions streaming in from universities all over the globe (maybe only one of thousands written by American students), perhaps one of the purposes of this blog will be to contribute support to the growing case for international education.
I have 26 more days to ponder such things before I depart for my semester in Aix-en-Provence, France. What will my role be in challenging the way American's view the rest of the world? How the rest of the world views Americans? How can my experience fire more students up to study abroad? Learn another language? Take the chance while they still can to travel like a starving student? Because there really is no other way!
And of course, the truth is, I know the majority of my blogs will record only the day-to-day struggle of learning a language, eating new foods, making friends, navigating French public transportation, and many many other joys, pains, frustrations, revelations. But surely those small struggles and nuances are what study abroad is all about.
So bring on the escargo, monsieur! Season it well, drench it in butter, accompany it with the perfect bottle of vin blance. Then maybe the other 99% of Stateside college students won't be able to resist having a taste.