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Study Abroad Research Explores Gender Differences

November 9, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

If you're inspired to consider a study abroad program after seeing all the news on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, chances are you're twice as likely to follow through on the idea if you're female than if you're male. A recent study conducted by three University of Iowa researchers suggests that women, especially women at liberal arts colleges, are more likely to study abroad because of factors like their academic pursuits and backgrounds.

Explaining the difference exactly seemed difficult for the researchers, as they tried to dispel common wisdom that more women studied abroad because more women than men were interested in fields of study like the arts and foreign languages that more easily lent themselves to overseas programs. The research suggests it's more complicated than that. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that examines the study suggests that the women interested in foreign study were also more easily influenced by liberal arts programs, especially those exploring diversity issues, than men, and that women were also more influenced by outside sources such as professors and their parents when determining whether to study abroad.

The study's results also found that:

  • Men who interacted with their peers were less likely to study abroad than those who interacted little with their peers.
  • Women at regional and community colleges were less likely to study abroad than women at liberal arts schools.
  • Men who reported undecided majors were more likely to study abroad than men with set fields of study, although that characteristic had little effect on women.
  • Asian-American men were less likely than white students to study abroad, but this was not the case for Asian-American women. Hispanic and white men were equally likely to study abroad, but Hispanic women were much more likely tostudy abroad than white women.

So should you study abroad? Apart from the obvious of being able to get out of your comfort zone and learn more about a new country, the experience is a good way to pick up skills you may not have picked up otherwise. If you're somewhat proficient in a foreign language already, consider visiting a country where that language dominates so that you're able to come back home and boast that you're bilingual. Studying abroad could also be a good resume booster in a difficult economy if you go overseas with the intention to pursue a particular field of study that you're interested in, or be a part of a volunteer project, as community service looks good not only to employers, but to scholarship providers as well.

And if you're worried about how you're going to pay for your time abroad, or whether you'll need to take out more student loans to do so, there are study abroad scholarships available to help you cover those expenses, especially if you've shown that you have significant financial need.


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