So you’ve made the choice to leave your university for a semester or two and venture out into an unknown culture. In addition to getting used to a new place and new food, you have to get used to something else: a new language. But don’t worry—a record number of American college students like you are recognizing that international study is an essential part of preparing for a successful career in a global world and are becoming more adventurous as they choose to study abroad in non-English-speaking destinations.
According to Open Doors 2009, an annual report published by the Institute of International Education, approximately 262,000 U.S. students studied abroad in the 2007–2008 academic year, an increase of 8.5 percent from the previous year.
While the United Kingdom still the most popular destination on the list for students to study abroad in (followed by Italy, Spain, and France), there were major increases in the number of students headed to China, Austria, India, and Argentina. Both China (now number five on the list of leading destinations for American students and the only Asian country in the top ten) and India provide useful languages and cultural skills for students’ future careers.
The U.S. Department of State helps U.S. students gain access to international experiences. Opportunities through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Gilman Scholarships for undergraduates with financial need, and the new National Security Language Initiative, which is focused on learning a new language. Students who study critical languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, and Korean not only enrich their lives and make themselves more marketable, but also help with adapting to our changing world.
Courtney Waugh, a graduate of Ohio University, said she chose to go to a non-English-speaking country because she wanted to learn a second language and always felt that immersion was the best way. Waugh, who studied in Ecuador, described the new culture as “a challenge to yourself.”
“If I studied in England I would have the advantage of being able to discuss and question cultural differences from the start. In Ecuador (or any country that doesn’t speak English), it was a lot harder to learn all of the customs because communication was so difficult, even though I’d studied Spanish for three years,” she said. Despite these challenges, Waugh said the main benefit she gained from studying abroad in a non-English-speaking country was fluency in a second language.
“It’s been invaluable. So many potential employers have told me how useful it is,” she said.
Also, students are no longer just studying abroad during their junior year—which has typically been the most popular time. Students are now seeking educational experiences of various durations and at different points in their educational careers—and often more than once. Open Doors 2009 shows that 56 percent of U.S. students elected summer, January term, and other programs of less than one semester to study abroad. These short-term programs have helped in the growing popularity of studying in another country, as well as offering flexible international study opportunities.