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August 24, 2004

Foreign Study: American Students ‘Over There’

FROM QUICK-TRIP FOREIGN STUDY PROGRAMS come embarrassing and disheartening tales of ugly American behavior, frat-like revelry and overall boorishness.

Foreign study has not only become an important marketing tool to help attract incoming students, but it has also become almost an entitlement—or rite of passage—for a growing portion of students.

It’s no wonder that presentations on college visits to visiting high school students and parents typically devote a disproportionate amount of time to describing the glamour and excitement of foreign study.

Getting the students into American colleges is one thing. Sending them abroad is entirely another thing. As the numbers have grown, and as some of the trips have become quick trips of only a few weeks, a much different profile of students have been going ‘over there.’

Whereas in the old days students might study for a year or more stateside to prepare for their semester—or longer—trip, many of today’s study abroad participants have little interest in studying the local cultures that they descend upon.

"We're very clearly starting to get into the kinds of students who, a few years ago, wouldn't have considered going abroad at all," said James Buschman, senior associate director for international programs at Syracuse University. "We're seeing nursing majors, business majors, engineers. They may not have a great awareness of the current events of the world or, for that matter, even of the geography of the world."

More American students are expected to study abroad this year than ever before—up to 160,000--more than twice as many as a decade ago.

The runaway popularity of study abroad has presented colleges with a problem. On the one hand, they are obliged to fulfill the rosy foreign study opportunities that they used as lures for recruiting students in the first place. On the other hand, they downplay the trouble their students find themselves in while studying abroad.

The problems affect a small percentage of total students abroad, but the behavior is the stuff that perpetuates the Ugly American stereotype in other cultures. American students in Amsterdam used their dorm-room windows to dump trash down on passers-by. In Spain, a knife-and-stick fight with locals. Some students trash hotel rooms like touring rock stars, students have gotten arrested in Central America for carrying drugs and then became indignant about it.

"I had two students in Asia who decided that they would drop beer bottles on passing cars," said Joseph Brockington, associate provost for international programs at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He added: "We are hearing from our associates overseas, 'We're tired of this. We're not going to do this anymore. Don't send us your troublemakers.' "

Colleges are catching on quickly, and have been building in safeguards to the process to protect the schools and the students. Students are being made to abide by behavior guidelines. Those who don’t toe the line can be sent home. And the worse cases they can be thrown out of school.

Kinda reminds one of Chevy Chase in European Vacation?

(this 503 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary—was distilled from a 1606 word article from the New York Times of 8-23-04)