Studying Abroad: Has It Become too Easy, Comfy, American?

Hi Readers! Have you noticed that study abroad programs are becoming very common at college? (Is this as obvious as saying, “Have you noticed kids spend a lot of time on Facebook?” If so, sorry. It’s just a jumping off point.) Anyway, while traveling strikes me as great — we can all use some perspective! — I’m  nonetheless a little skeptical about the programs.  They seem both more expensive and less immersive than simply taking a semester or two off and heading over to the country of one’s interest.

With that thought nagging at my mind, I stumbled upon this entry at the NAFSA: the Association of International Educators‘ LinkedIn page, where those educators were discussing how students can get the most out of their time abroad. Commented one:

• When I was overseas my basic premise was that “everyone is pretty much the same” so I encountered differences my reaction was to set them aside as some anomaly. This was a mistake in so many ways because it is within these differences, some small some large, that culture is seen. Before this can happen students need to step out of the comfort of their dorm rooms (likely with other students of the same nationality) and engage people from the host country. Furthermore, giving them some sort of framework for exploring and reflecting on the differences could help provide focus. The development of intercultural skills just won’t happen unless students engage with people of different cultures, and make an effort to really understand them.

That seems so true, especially the dorm part. And to that notion I must add another disheartening story I just read, about a county in Wales (Ceredigion) that will no longer allow its exchange students going abroad to live with families, as those host families cannot be vetted to the degree the school wants:

The policy, first adopted last year, also stops foreign students staying with families when visiting Ceredigion….

A report went before the cabinet on Tuesday by , recommending approval.

“This decision was based on safeguarding children and ensuring their safety,” said Mr. Evans [Ceredigion’s head of educational wellbeing] about the school trip policy.

“It was felt that despite undertaking CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks or similar and utilising family agreements there was still a largely unknown element to such arrangements.

Oh my — the unknown! Can’t have anything unknown! So a true chance to see and be part of another culture bites the dust, thanks to the fact that — as has been the case since the beginning of time — we cannot absolutely guarantee every child will be safe every single second of the time they are not directly supervised by us. On the alter of complete, if impossible, safety, we will sacrifice this  time-honored, mind-expanding, community-creating experience. Why is “safeguarding the children” the only lens we look through when evaluating almost anything regarding young folk? Oh, for a little perspective! – L.

Bienvenue! Or, as we like to say in our study abroad program, “Welcome!”



58 Responses to Studying Abroad: Has It Become too Easy, Comfy, American?

  1. Filioque March 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    One thing to remember about these study abroad programs is that U.S. universities often *require* their students to use them, as opposed to the students simply going abroad on their own and enrolling in a university.

    These programs allow the use of financial aid for study abroad, they have on-site staff abroad to help with emergencies, and they take on the all-important liability if something goes wrong. They also reduce the workload for universities’ international offices, which often consist of just one or two beleaguered staff who have to juggle hundreds of study abroad and incoming international students.

    For many college students, just going abroad and having a truly cultural experience alone is no longer an option. Of course, so many college kids today have been so coddled and protected that they’d probably be repulsed by the idea anyway!

    Can you tell I work in higher education? :)

  2. Filioque March 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    One more point: It is true that some study abroad programs consist of dozens of American students schlepping around together and soaking up little, if any, culture. But the more reputable programs work genuinely hard to make sure their students have a truly integrated experience abroad.

    These programs will arrange host families (though not in Wales, apparently!) or housing with degree students from the host country, and they will help the students enroll in regular university courses so that the students aren’t just taking classes with other Americans. Some even require volunteer work or internships to get students outside of their comfort zone and into the community where they live.

  3. Warren March 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Quick question, typical age for college students is 18-22 right? So why are they still kids? You would think that once one is old enough to vote, and enlist in the armed forces, that they would be considered adults? Yes no?

  4. Jessi March 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    That’s so sad. I had a friend who did it in high school. She grew so much from the experience in Finland. Mostly because she stayed with a host family. They still exchange letters, almost 18 years later.

  5. MT March 27, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    I did my third year of university in France, and it was an amazing experience.
    1. I got to know the French students by living in the university residence. Not only did I cultivate Friendships in the residence, but I was also invited to several of their homes and met their families.
    2. I got to take courses at a French university.
    3. I had a wonderderful relationship with a family through a host program (I did not live with them but visited them on weekends and for supper some evenings, they took me on day trips, they introduced me to family life in France etc.)
    4. I spent time working in some high school English classes, thus learning about the French school system (which I find gives me a different perspective as a teacher in Ontario).
    5. I got to travel during long weekends and school vacations.
    6. I learned a lot of French, which, as a French teachers, has obvious benefits.

    Yes, I could have just taken the year off to travel, but this way I was able to travel, volunteer, get to know people of different ages, both inside and outside of the university environment, while at the same time, keeping up with my studies.

    I’m not quite sure why any of this would not be seen as beneficial. In fact, it was one of the best choices I made and I am so grateful that I got that opportunity.

  6. Emily March 27, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    @Warren–With all this emphasis on “children,” I assumed that the study-abroad program in question was for high school students (who still aren’t “children,” but it makes more sense than to use that label for college/university students). I remember being on our concert tour of Italy with the high school band, and a reporter actually dared to use the dreaded “CH-word” about us, and our teachers agreed with us that it was annoying. They expected a lot of us, musically and maturity-wise, but for the most part, they treated us like the young adults we were.

  7. Donna March 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I spent 4 weeks in Florence Italy studying the summer after my first year of law school. Wonderful experience. Our school has what is consideres one of the best law summer abroad programs around and it is attended by law students from all over the country. I stayed with a host family with several other students from Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and an American classmate. We all ate these fabulous Italian homecooked meals every night that went on for hours and often involved singing. The program planned a few things that we could choose to do like dinners, cooking classes, a trip to wine country and a trip to Modena for a Paverati and friends concert. But mostly we were on our own to do what we wanted when out of class (which only met for 2 hours a day). We generally broke into small groups made up of people from different regular law schools and traveled to other cities/countries on the weekends.

    I followed that up with 6 weeks in London with another school. The program sucked. It took itself way too serious. Everyone stayed in a dorm. Most of the people were from the host school so all already knew each other and were fairly unfriendly to those from someplace else. Nothing cultural was planned at all. Very little travel was done on the weekends – one group may have gone to Paris for Bastille Day (although the planning was going very poorly when I was involved and I dropped out of the group so I don’t know if it ever happened) and there was talk of a trip to Dublin for awhile. I had fun for myself but about the best thing I can say about the study abroad program is that I got to meet Regis Philbin whose daughter was in the school and he was very nice (and his daughter was one of the very few friendly people in the whole program).

  8. lollipoplover March 27, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Last I checked, college aged students were considered adults and capable of making independent decisions. THEY are in charge of their safety and don’t require international nanny service. Different cultures, different customs and no way to ensure “safeguarding children” shouldn’t translate into air-conditioned units with private bathrooms and Starbucks on the corner.

  9. deltaflute March 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    typo it’s altar not alter

  10. Donna March 27, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    I will say that even 13 years ago Brett and I were the only ones in the entire Florence study abroad program willing to stay with a host family. Some was simply age. The group ranged from 22-32 and well used to living independently. But all the women thought I was crazy for risking the husband raping me in my sleep.

  11. Linda Wightman March 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Based on the experiences of my daughters and my nephews with various home stays overseas, I’d say that living with a family of another culture is one of the greatest benefits of such a program. If it is part of a recognized, legitimate organization, and the participants are not isolated but have access to help if there is trouble (as they would if they’re in school), I would imagine the risk of danger would be minuscule.

    But sometimes even danger has its benefits. Consider a friend of mine (well over 50, so you know this was a while ago) who while still in her teens went overseas to study. She was completely on her own, living in an apartment with only a minimal knowledge of the language. Her parents were against her going, so when her requests for money went unanswered, she was not surprised. As it turned out, her parents were sending her funds regularly, but her landlady was stealing her letters! She will tell you that she nearly starved, but also that she wouldn’t trade the experience. And to this day she likes nearly every kind of food available — no picky American food preferences for her!

  12. Filioque March 27, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    @lollipoplover-Having someone on site to help with cultural adjustment and emergencies isn’t exactly a nanny service. Just because college students are legal adults and ultimately responsible for their own safety doesn’t mean they can’t use some support along the way.

    For many of these students, study abroad is the first time they’ve ever been out of the U.S. I think it’s great that American students are “free range” enough to want to take this step at all, and if they need some extra help, so be it.

  13. Andy March 27, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Once you’re 18 you’re an adult. I remember when I was 17, I participated in an foreign exchange program where I got to visit far away lands. I got to experience new cultures and even went into bars and socialize. The program was called the U.S. Navy.

  14. Andy March 27, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    By the way, no one would have dared call us children.

  15. hineata March 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    I spent 7 weeks in Tahiti as a sixteen year old, and still find it a laugh to think about. Because my friend and I were rural girls, we were put at the opposite end of the island from where almost all the rest of the group was (Papaeete, the only city). My dad was a fairly uptight type for the time, but agreed to me going because of all the assurances about safety being guaranteed, the teachers (who both stayed in Papa’eete) being only a phone call away, local teachers being oncall too…etc, etc.

    Well, we landed into the beginnings of a cyclone, so the homes were all flooded, the telephone was a quarter mile away through dense bush, the local teacher was a sleazy dirtbag from France, and we had to share beds with the teens in our host families. Fortunately for me I was used to marae living, so had slept beside others in close confines before, but my friend, who was staying several miles away on the other side of the isthmus, hadn’t, so it was huge for her. Also luckily for me the girl I shared with didn’t have a boyfriend – the year before, I found out later, the girl who’d been put with this family had spent most nights locked in the toilet, as the girl she shared a bed with kept bringing her boyfriend up to have sex beside this kid. Oh, the fun!

    And we had rides on overcrowded ferries between the islands, went to funerals (again, lucky for me open coffins are normal), rode mopeds in crazy manners without helmets, got propositioned umpteen times (a shock for sheltered little teen me the first time, got used to saying ‘bugger off’ by the end), and generally had a mad old time. Some of the stuff really was a bit dangerous – I had boys wanting me to ‘wait for my friend’ down by the pier, in the dark, and they would ‘look after me’ (yeah, right!). I grew a few assertive muscles on that trip!

    Not sure why, actually, I signed the papers for Boy to go to Germany now, thinking about it! But surely there things are at least partially civilised :-)

  16. hineata March 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    PS – Donna, did you remember what happened to the goats, LOL?!

    We should all get out and see the world, if at all possible. It’s a crazy old place :-)

  17. Jennifer Jo March 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    My university requires students to have a cross-cultural experience ( The program is thorough and wonderful and deeply life-changing. While a student, I lived in Guatemala for three months (with a host family) and studied Spanish, along with the economic, political, and social side of Guatemala. A few years later my husband and I moved to Nicaragua where we volunteered with an organization for three years and started a family. Right now, I’m typing this from the Guatemala highlands—after 13 years back in the states, we have returned (with our four children!) for a 10-month volunteer assignment. We are having a fabulous time—it’s super hard and super rewarding. So…in other words, done well, studying abroad can have some pretty long-lasting effects!

  18. Bernadette Noll March 27, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    i think it’s up to each parent to make sure the program they are paying for is giving something that can’t be had here. Otherwise, I agree, what’s the point? If you’re going to live with Americans and eat American food, just stay home.

    Anytime these programs are too contrived, I say save your money.

  19. Cara March 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    I purposely chose my study abroad program so that I wouldn’t just spend a semester partying with other Americans. On one hand, it was REALLY hard. My host family was miserable and I was lonely most of the time. On the other hand, I learned a lot about myself and my abilities, and have some amazing stories (calling up the leaders of political parties and trade unions, talking to paramilitary leaders) that are so unique that I will treasure forever.

    All in all, I’m glad for my experience. It made me a stronger person. And I’m so glad that my parents and university let me do a program like that.

  20. Rachel March 27, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    My nephew is 19, and is in a study-abroad program in London right now. He is staying in an apartment with other American students, though I think he takes classes with local kids. I think he is having a good time, but I was disappointed to hear he was rooming with Americans.

    When I was 17, I spent 10 months in Sarajevo, Bosnia, living with a host family. In college, at age 20, I was in Mexico rooming with a Mexican student in a college dorm for 4 months. Living with local families and students made me feel more immersed in the culture. Living with other Americans would have been fun, but the experience would have been more like a long trip as a tourist than a cultural exchange.

    Oh, and by the way, I was perfectly safe with the family in Sarajevo, and the nice girl I roomed with in Mexico. My host family in Sarajevo had a 23 year old son at home (I was 17)..their daughter was studying in the U.S. that year. Their son was perfectly respectful of me. He was used to having a sister around, and treated me as if I were his sister. The dad in the family treated me like I was his daughter. There was nothing unsafe or weird about it.

  21. Lisa March 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    My daughter studied in Switzerland with 3 friends, through a program offered through her state university & she lived in the dormitory. With the exception of the transportation, the cost was less than I pay for my son, who attends an out of state college. One of the requirements of her program was that she have a Eurail pass. The classes were held Sun-Tues and the kids were expected to travel the rest of the week, stay in hostels & report back. It was an incredible experience. It taught her planning & problem solving. It also fostered a love of travel, history & culture that nothing else has. She has since graduated college & moved Prague to teach English.

  22. Andy March 27, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I’m not sure how it is in USA, but if students here go out by themselves, then they have to pay everything for themselves (including tuition) and it is way harder or even impossible to transfer credits from the semester abroad to home university. It could also severely limit your choice of host university to only some private institutions.

    International nanny services provide at least partial funding, the student does not have to pay tuition and credits are going to be transferred automatically. He will be treated the same way as home students, something you can not get if you go on your own.

    Also, studying or working in another country is very different from just traveling/being tourist there. Most students abroad also travel for at least few weeks, but some differences are simply not seen until you start to interact with bosses, teachers, local coworkers, local students and so on.

  23. Donald March 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Children need to be safe. We addressed this by hiring bureaucrats. Years back, they did a good job. Now they look more like Micky Mouse in The Sorcerers Apprentice. Although children are drowning in safety, the magic broomsticks keep bringing us more water.

  24. Kelly D. March 27, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    I just emailed my best friend, who lives in the Netherlands but tends to roam around Europe to let him know that when my twins are in high school, or just after graduation, they are coming to wherever he is for a while. He’s just irresponsible enough to make sure they are immersed in the culture and not living in an Americanized bubble.

    My understanding of the post was that instead of taking a “boxed” study abroad package offered by the university, maybe it would be best to take a break from school altogether to go explore another country.

  25. pentamom March 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    I know of one situation with a high school exchange program where the host family just was not providing a good experience. For some reason these people decided that within two years of having both of their teenage daughters (their only children) killed in a car accident, it would be a good idea to host a boy from Norway for an entire school year. Needless to say, there were lots of unresolved things that, while not creating a complete disaster, made it a less-than-rewarding experience for the boy.

    So, here’s how this awful, terrible, catastrophe was resolved — the family of a boy he’d become friends with at school took him in. The rest of the year went great.

    Now I suppose if some horrible, intolerable situation develops the first week before he knows his way around the other country, the kid is in some real trouble. But generally, the solution to a host family not being suitable is (wait for it) find someone else to live with! Only if, for some odd reason, you think these kids who manage to live on their own and resolve their own living situations at college can’t do it in another situation, is the potential for a bad host family situation a potential for intolerable disaster.

  26. Katie March 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I wish I had some great travel story about being a foreign exchange student but I don’t.

    However I do find it interesting that now 18-22 year old adults are considered kids that need us to protect them. Actually that adults even older than this are.

    I saw on a forum a person who said they were proud of their 25 year old because they called them to come pick them up when they were drunk. Now perhaps this is behavior that would make a parent of a teenager feel good, but a 25 year old? At age 25 call a cab.

  27. Dulcie March 27, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    My daughter loved the 2 months she spent in Uruguay. She left 4 days after her 18th birthday and went to a country where she barely knew the language. Enjoyed a month in the capital city living at a Spanish immersion school with people from all over the world then spent another month in a leaky cottage on a horse ranch where she learned the very important skill of saying “could you please kill that tarantula for me?” in Spanish. Her Facebook friends are from all over the world and the confidence she gained was priceless. She’s 19 years old now, living on her own 3000 miles away from home and I’m so proud of the independent young woman I had the privilege to raise.

    I think more people need to trust their children to make the right decisions in their lives and to deal with the consequences when they don’t. Those are the kind of people who made our country great.

  28. Kate March 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Well, after archeology camp in the wilds of Southern Illinois, my junior year abroad was nothing! But to this point, flying over by myself, finding the bus to Victoria Station, using pounds to buy a ticket and get the train by myself … oh, and get a taxi to a residence hall I’d never seen before …all while jet lagged … has made me feel prepared in many situations since. I was very proud of my university which wouldn’t give credit to any American programs conducted in a different locale – we had to directly matriculate to a university. I personally would not let my kids do one of those “American College in…” programs – they can get drunk with Americans far more cheaply at home. Did I mention it was the best year of my life??

  29. ank March 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    I did not happen to do a year abroad, and I regretted the decision. I did travel between England and Paris when I was 21 with my best friend so I could say I did something fun and exciting before I graduated college. And it was! Two weeks of sight seeing by day and partying by night that only a 21 one year old can do. 😀 However my husband did his junior year abroad in Australia and loved it. He learned how to sky-dive and scuba while in there. You can tell he was all studying all the time while abroad. :/ And you want to know how he told his parents he learned how to sky dive? He sent them the video!!

  30. ank March 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    uhh…that should have been either London or Paris, or England and France. PIMF

  31. Jynet March 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    My daughter is 19. I’ve been “planning” her away year since I was pregnant. Her father is a UK citizen, so we applied for and got her UK citizenship.

    Next year sometime (see the tight planning I’ve done?) we will head over to the UK, me and her, spend two weeks seeing the sights, and then I will head up to Scotland to do some family tree research while she settles herself into her vagrant lifestyle.

    She is currently planning on 4 months… I’m pushing for a year. I think the money will last about 2 months, and then she’ll have to get a job (UK citizen = no work visa!) and figure it out for herself.

    I will not be paying some school to babysit a grown adult!

  32. mollie March 28, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    I’m actively searching for a host family to take in my 12-year-old son, who is in a French immersion program here at school. Either France or Quebec. I’ve been sad to find that the programs are nearly all for 15+.

    Nothing grows a kid up faster than an exchange program with homestay, in my experience. And I’m all for it, even for middle-schoolers!

  33. Donna March 28, 2013 at 2:24 am #

    The first time I went abroad, I stayed with a family and it wasn’t even an organized exchange program. I got a penpal in French class and we formed a plan to do a summer exchange – she would stay with me one summer and I would stay with her the next. It surprisingly worked out. She spent the summer before senior year with us. I spent the summer after high school graduation with her in France.

    I can’t imagine most people doing this today. Not only would they be too afraid to have a strange child in their house but to host one with no real guarantee that their child would really get to go the next year – the other family easily could have backed out after they got what they wanted.

  34. Masters in New Zealand March 28, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    Study abroad might be easy but what to do in case of not having all the documents as required to get admission in universities in abroad. Now education consultants can help one to pursue his higher education via US, Australia etc. Please let me know some of the best universities in USA.

  35. Stephanie March 28, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    College students (and everyone else) going overseas have someone there already to help with true emergencies such as lost passports or being robbed of all money. The U.S. State Department has American Citizen Services offices in nearly every country in the world and in some countries they have several offices in different cities. If a parent calls up and asks them to check on their kid (which happens!) they won’t do it. But there is a lifeline for real emergencies.

  36. Donna March 28, 2013 at 4:25 am #

    Yes, the State Department can help in some emergencies but I’m not going to fault a student or family who appreciates a program coordinator to help with emergencies. 18-22 year olds are still lacking many life experiences. I don’t actually anticipate throwing my kid out of the house at 18 and saying “you’re an adult now so take care of everything yourself.” I still expect to lend an occasional hand and answer questions on how to do things when my daughter is in college, even in her home country where she speaks the language and understands somewhat how life works.

    For example, the summer before I went to Italy, one of the program participants ended up in the hospital for an appendectomy. Even most free range 18-22 year olds have never dealt with checking themselves into a hospital and having surgery in their own country, let alone one where they have limited ability to communicate. Could I have figured this out and handled it on my own if it had been me? Probably. Would it be nice to have someone who knows more than I do to help? YES!

    Some young adults are comfortable heading off in the world without a safety net. Others want to know that someone is available for emergencies. At 18-22, I’m not going to consider it “babying” to have an easy access point for help. I’m 42 and have traveled a bit and have been very glad several times in the last year and a half to have a boss who could tell me how to get things done in A. Samoa. It saved me hours of frustration.

  37. This girl loves to talk March 28, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    we’ve been a host family for 7 years and its ‘mostly’ been a pleasurable experience. We usually host 18-30 year olds but have done a few shortstay 14 year old japanese groups. Our last young japanese girl only stayed two weeks but had an absolute amazing time and we loved her so much. Her experience made me what to search out similar for my girls who are 10 and 12 in a few years. I would love to send them overseas for a short time to see such cultural differences (as unfortunately I will never be able to take all 6 of us overseas – pretty cost prohibitive from australia) but I could find no such thing here in australia for young kids. Mostly school groups may go if your school does that type of thing. I could only find long stays for older teens.

    Long Live Homestay!

    I’ve heard stories of host kids being fed only canned food and having to stay with not so nice people, but well one can complain and change families..But I think our family rocks and is a pretty good example of an australian family. I would say out of our 40 students we’ve hosted atleast 30 or more were very happy. (theres always the odd one that just doesnt blend well with the family)

  38. Diana March 28, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    As with any program or situation you get out of it what you put into it. No matter what program you travel with you have the opportunity to stay in your host family’s home or in your dorm room or to organize your own travel and get out there. I suppose it is reasonable to expect a 20 year old to travel around many countries in Europe by themselves but for those kids who want to go to Africa or Asia that would be really intimidating to organize on your own. I did a semester abroad in Kenya and I can say that without the assistance and support I would not have been able to go. There is nothing wrong with wanting a safety net when you are in an unfamiliar situation, in fact it is very adult to make sure a plan is in place for a negative situation.

    I also couldn’t have afforded to travel for months outside of school, as all of the costs of my trip were covered by school tuition. There is no way I could have taken a year off and backpacked around Europe without financial aide.

    Certainly if these semester abroad programs are sequestering the American kids and not letting them out to travel or make friends within the university that is a sad trend but it is just as likely that making semester abroad programs for available and less intimidating that more students are going to be able to go. They still have to take responsibility for making the most of the opportunity.

  39. Andrew March 28, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    The Wales story is about school exchange trips – a class of (typically) 13 to 18 year olds visiting another school (usually France or Germany) for perhaps a week or two during term time, to study at the other school and each one living with the family of one of the host school’s pupils. The arrangement would be repeated in reverse when the foreign school visits Wales.

    I can understand the concern – a child alone overnight for a couple of weeks with a (relatively) unknown family – but the ultimate end-point of “safeguarding children and ensuring their safety” is wrapping them in cotton wool (which would, of course, suffocate them, and some would be allergic). How do you know the children are not at risk in their own homes? The statistics suggest that they are – most child abusers are known to their victims, as family or friends. How do the host families feel about having a stranger in their midst? There are occasional problems – accidents will happen, and here is an extreme example:

    College students are (mostly) adults. I would have been pretty disgusted if my parents had interfered with my travel plans when I was at university. Being available to help when asked is entirely different.

  40. Filioque March 28, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    I’m surprised by all the negative comments about organized study abroad programs. For many students, this is the only type of program their college will allow. Of course, students can always flout the rules and go abroad on their own, but a college can (and often will) deny any transfer credit. Other students just aren’t comfortable with the idea of a completely independent experience.

    In my mind, the more Americans who actually get some kind of experience in another country, the better. What does it matter how they do it?

  41. pentamom March 28, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    BTW, I agree having a facilitator in the host country is a fine thing. But that’s all it should be — a facilitator to help out with particular issues, not a program where the kid goes to be babysat and handheld all the way through. Not at the college level, certainly.

  42. Brian March 28, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    There are alternatives to formal study abroad programs. For instance you could try John Cabot U in Rome or Franklin College in Switzerland. Both are English speaking accredited universities which accept 1students for 1 semester. You can more easily transfer those credits.

    Big study abroad programs become 1 big party and drunken haze instead of a real cultural exploration.

  43. lollipoplover March 28, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    @Filoque- But why does it have to be the “only type of program their college will allow?” It’s this one-size- fits-all approach to international study (often required dorms and transportation) that I have a problem with.

    These programs profit more when then require students to live on their campus, eat their food, and ride their buses. Why should a student taking the same courses at the University be denied transfer credit because they chose to live in town and ride a bike everywhere?

    It’s not about safety. It’s about money.

  44. Filioque March 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    @lollipoplover-For the types of program you’re describing, I completely agree with you. But the programs that my campus requires aren’t anything like that. I’ve never even heard of anything like you describe, but I’m sure they exist somewhere.

    Most study abroad programs don’t have their own campuses abroad, buses, or even housing. They just facilitate enrollment at foreign universities (which is no small feat in many countries), organize host families or arrange for university housing, and help apply financial aid and scholarships toward the cost of the program, something that’s not possible when a student enrolls directly in a university abroad.

    And yes, these programs usually have someone on-site to conduct orientation and language classes where relevant, and to help with adjustment issues and emergencies. But most of the programs work hard to encourage students to be as integrated into the culture as possible. There will always be students who just want to party and/or live in an American ghetto, but that’s not the fault of the program unless it’s a really lousy one.

  45. Filioque March 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Also, I don’t mean to misrepresent the study abroad requirements of U.S. colleges. Though most of them have rules about how students can study abroad, they usually allow numerous choices, from very hand-holding, guidance-heavy options to programs that really are very suited for more independent students. There are tons of study abroad programs out there, and it’s fairly rare when colleges limit students to just one option.

  46. Donna March 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    While I agree that students need to get out and engage people in the culture, the fact that they hang out mostly with other exchange students may be out of necessity. I hang out with mostly other contract workers in A. Samoa. Most of the Samoans don’t have much interest in spending a lot of time getting to know the palagi contract workers who will be gone in a year or two. Even the palagi long-time residents I know generally say that they have no interest in becoming close with the contract workers. Now that I am in the waning of my time in A. Samoa, I get it. It is hard to say goodbye to people we’ve come to love.

    If I had to rely solely on Samoans for my socializing, I’d be horribly lonely and bored. Many foreign exchange students probably find the same. Their countrymen and other exchange students are who are looking for friends; the locals may not be. Their countrymen and other exchange students are who are looking to see the tourist stuff they want to do. The Eiffel Tower isn’t all that exciting to a Parisian. Their countrymen and other exchange students are the ones on campus with money earmarked for travel to see the sights of wherever they are; the locals not so much. The locals have commitments that mean it is difficult to run off to Venice one weekend, Monaco the next, Rome the weekend after, Switzerland after that. So the stronger bonds are formed between other exchange students and not with locals.

  47. Andy March 28, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I think that a lot of people involved in this discussion immediately assumes the worst about these programs. I never seen an international program that would have its own separate dorms and transportation.

    The “home university accepts credits from foreign one” is huge benefit that seems to be downplay here. The student will travel and he will not loose a year by doing that. He will end his studies the same year as originally planned, so he does not postpone working, earning money, paying debts etc.

    Seriously, if you have enough money for year of traveling, paying hotels, etc without working or getting education during that time, consider yourself rich.

    Transferring credits between two schools in different countries and school systems is not as easy as some people tend to imagine. First of all, home American college of American student-traveler can not accept credits from any unknown foreign institution. They usually need to know that foreign school had some minimum level of quality.

    Those programs often facilitate discussions between universities about whether and under which conditions they will accept each others credits when students travel abroad.

    You can not just come to university with some credits from randomly chosen institution and expect them to accept those credits. Unless they already have that agreement, they will tell you no and that will be it.

  48. Andy March 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Also, it is true that international students tend to socialize more with other international students. It is not necessary fault of international students only.

    While Americans tend to be extremely open and very willing to chat with strangers, other cultures are often way more closed. Other international students look for friends while home students already have their own stable social circles and talk among themselves in home language.

    Breaking into local social circles may take years (or be impossible) in some cultures, even if you are good in their language, so students are often out of luck.

    I think it is sort of impolite to switch into local language during conversation while international visitor is around. Sadly, the rest of the world does not always share my opinions.

    Also, campus life on foreign university can be less social then campus life in American universities. European universities tend to provide less sport and cultural opportunities, there are no school teams to root for.

    If you care about that, you have to find local club and that will be in local language. Local students tend to socialize there, international ones then find those few places where communication is in English and consequently socialize with other international students.

  49. Warren March 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Is this more about keeping adult children safe, or is it really more about controlling what they do? Helicoptering from a distance?

  50. Papilio March 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    I’m with Andy on this, it’s not that simple if you want to go someplace else without delay in your study. You have to pick a program that’s is 1) the same study, on 2) the same level and 3) most importantly, taught in a language you speak well enough to follow education in.

    When I was in 5VWO (the second last year of the secondary school level preparing for research university, 16-17 yo), a girl from Italy and a boy from Chili joined us for a year. The boy from Chili already had a diploma, so he was perfectly relaxed and skipped school to smoke joints in Amsterdam (the tourist!). For the girl on the other hand it was also her second last year in school, and she was expected to keep up so she could still get her diploma the next year. While her Dutch was basically non-existent when she arrived in August. She did fine socially, she did fine learning Dutch, we did fine speaking English half the time, but sadly it made her really nervous about school and I doubt if she got that diploma the next year.
    For 18-22 year-olds, there are some (research again)universities that teach their BA programmes in English (so lots of foreign students in Maastricht and Groningen), but at most of them it’s only the MA programmes. So… I don’t blame students for taking things into consideration before jumping onto the next plane to Paris.

  51. missjanenc March 28, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Jynet, my ex was an Englishman. Our eldest was born in England – British by birth, American because of me. Second son born in US – American by birth, British because of dad. They’re both dual nationals and didn’t have to “apply” for citizenship anywhere. However, my oldest son had to show his birth certificate issued by the American Embassy in London to enlist in the Marine Corps.

  52. Jynet March 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    missjanenc, we didn’t have to apply for her citizenship, we DID have to prove that she was entitled to be “registered” as a citizen by filing a MN-1 form with the Home Office. Now that she has her certificate of citizenship she can apply for a UK passport and live/work anywhere in the EU. I just shortened that explanation it for ease of use on the internet. The process is slightly easier if the parents are married, but not significantly.

    Does your US born son have a British passport? I researched the registration process quite extensively because I applied for both my daughter’s (through her father) and mine (through my mother) at the same time…. and it was very expensive. I’d be interested to hear if you found a cheaper way to do it.

  53. Pluto March 28, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Many Universities in the US now require or strongly encourage study abroad, but the “experience” has become highly institutionalized. Most programs are run by for-profit organizations that compete for students by offering “all the comforts of home”, classes in English, dorm suites, and planned agendas to fill free time. Seems tailor-made for kids who have grown up in America.

  54. AW13 March 28, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    My college offered an “insert region here semester” (Asia semester, European semester, South American semester). That was a program in which several professors from the college went, along with a good number of students. Everyone travelled together and stayed together (though from what I understand, they had a two week block to themselves to go and do whatever they wanted). I suspect this was because these students were still taking a full course load and getting graded, thus, it was necessary to stay with the group to hear the lectures, etc.

    I chose a different, smaller program. There were about 7 of us who did a summer semester in Germany. We were there for six weeks. Tuition was free (we were all enrolled in two classes), but we covered everything else. And we had little to no supervision. Our German prof was there, but he flew back and forth to the states a couple of times. We also had contacts whom we could get ahold of if necessary when the prof was back in the states. That came in handy, as I came down with my first and only case of bronchitis when I was in Germany, and although I’d been studying German for about 3 years by that time, I didn’t have a working vocabulary for things like “phlegm” or “prescription”.

    I had a blast! A friend and I hopped a train to Berlin, ended up sharing a car with a girl from Australia and a guy from Italy. We invited them to stay at our hostel, and somewhere along the way, we ended up with a Polish guy in our group, too. There were challenges, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. (And despite the fact that my friend and I stayed with three total strangers in a hostel room for two nights, no one was raped. The Italian guy did carry my luggage around for me, which was kind of awesome.)

    We didn’t have a home stay option, but everyone on the trip was 20-22 years old, so we weren’t expecting one. But a friend of mine went to France in high school, did a home stay, and absolutely loved it! It’s a shame that high school kids don’t have that option so much anymore.

  55. gail March 29, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    There is an international students’ residence across the street from where I live. Apparently there are mostly American students, who keep to themselves — we local people only come across small groups of them at the supermarket or in public transport. I can understand that when your college makes everything so easy for you, it takes energy to go out and actually try and meet people. But it isn’t THAT difficult, either. I’ve personally met students who were here in France through that sort of programs and did their best to step out of their comfort zone and reach out to the rest of the city/country, by enrolling in “conversation exchange” meetings for instance, or volunteering. So, whatever your college program, it can be done!

  56. Sarah March 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    I studied abroad in Ecuador my junior year in college, and many of the other students spent their time almost exclusively with other Americans, and spoke english when they weren’t required to speak spanish. Most of them moved out of their host family houses as soon as they could, and partied a lot. Some went home early. A couple of friends and I decided at the beginning of the year that we would only speak spanish with each other, and we all stayed with our host families for the full year. I consistently felt pushed well outside my comfort zone, and it made me grow incredibly confident in that year. I’m not sure it was much more than a resume-builder or a diversion for some of the other students.

  57. Kristen Olosky April 8, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I found your post, and the comments that followed, very intriguing. I edit an online magazine called Young & Global (, and one of the topics we explore is study abroad, at both the college and high school levels. I would love to publish a full length article exploring the question of whether the experience has become so supervised and safeguarded that it loses value. If you – or any of your readers or commenters – would be interested in writing an article on the topic, please contact me, or have a look at our writers guidelines. Thanks for the great conversation!

  58. P. S. April 25, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    College students ARE still kids in many ways. The human brain continues to develop until the age of 25, and college is a vulnerable time. It’s the time when many mental illnesses begin to be observed, it’s the time when poor choices or lack of perspective can lead to very destructive results. I teach at a college and I send students abroad and take them abroad myself every year. They stay with families whenever it can be arranged, they do community service, and they are required to interact with people of all ages. This is all done with support and help from the adults involved. Most of my students have never been abroad, and many have never flown before. They are not privileged, they don’t have much money, and they usually make huge sacrifices to go on these programs. And the experience changes their life–I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s easy to dismiss study abroad programs as useless but that works on the assumption that what you observe from the outside is all there is to it. I carefully organize my programs so that there are many opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange. The longer programs on which I send my students are well-run, they include a home stay, a local conversation partner, excursions to historical and cultural sites and events, and if the students have a high enough level of language skill, they include classes in local universities. There are many low-quality, party/tourism-type programs out there, but no student is obligated to participate in anything of that sort. Do the research and find something that will be worthwhile.