You should study abroad. It’s amazing.
This All study abroad alum
Ok, I guess I need a bit more evidence than that so let me try again: You should study abroad, it will help your career, nudge you towards higher salaries, prepare you for the real world, and help you gain more confidence and maturity. But it is true—in a globalized economy, many employers are looking for someone who has international experience and can prove that they can work with diverse groups.
The benefits of studying abroad for men (and women)
International experience is very useful in STEM, where many scientists will likely be working with some of the best and the brightest from all over the world! Best of all, some studies have found that people who participated in study abroad are more likely to have a job after graduation and even have higher salaries by up to 25 percent.
There is nothing like showing up to an unknown culture to navigate a new language and new streets, away from the shelter of campus or family to grow you up right quick. You pick up confidence, independence, and a sense of self when you find yourself doing things like fording a flooding river in the Caucasus, canoeing around the Amazon, or lost in a city in South America. Not that it’s always comfortable at the time (although, sometimes it’s a blast!), but after you come out the other side ok, you know you have it in you to face any challenge.
Studying abroad can actually change the brain to make you more confident and independent.
Of course, there are study abroad programs that are more insular and sheltered than others, so choose wisely and find a program that will give you what you need. Need an official certificate in a language level to show employers or graduate schools? You can find that! Hands on volunteer or internship experience in your field? That’s available.
Study abroad takes many different forms, from programs where you conduct your own research throughout the country to those where you directly enroll in a university. While it doesn’t work for everyone’s academic situation, for thousands of people (including me!) it has helped them find their passion, achieve their career goals, and challenge themselves.
If study abroad can do so much, and there are so many different program options…
So then, why are so few men studying abroad?
The numbers from 2015 show that women made up over 65% of American students studying abroad (men making up just over 30 percent). The average American study abroad student is a white woman in her junior year of undergrad (so uh, me. That was exactly me. #SoAverage).
There are some theories—the main ones being college student demographics, choice of major, men being more career focused and, ahem, the idea of maturity levels and how friendships are formed…which seems a bit condescending to me, but I’m no developmental or social psychologist.
Let’s break these reasons why boys don’t study abroad as much as girls down:
In general, more women than men attend college, with the latest number being 55 percent of college students are women, so that likely accounts for much of the study abroad gap. But if it was only demographics, we’d think it would be a bit more aligned (remember, over 65 percent of study abroad students are women).
Anecdotally, my own study abroad program, and a number of my friends’, was mostly women— as in two men in a group of twelve, or even three in a group of twenty-two students studying abroad. American men were few and far between in those programs.
Choice of Major
In my own very unscientific study (aka polling my Facebook friends), one of the major reasons cited by male friends why study abroad for men is difficult, was that it didn’t fit in with their major. The major reason pointed out when talking about why men don’t study abroad are always in the STEM fields. It is true for many universities with strict STEM majors that studying abroad can be difficult if not impossible (or might need to be in the summer), but it’s definitely not true across the board.
CIEE, for example, offers 104 different programs with STEM courses! I also came across a math course in Budapest that is something of a tradition for some mathematics majors. Sign me up! (But really, my math could use some help and Budapest sounds lovely).
More men than women earn STEM degrees, but that difference centers almost entirely in computer science and engineering, among other science fields the gap isn’t huge. STEM fields actually make up quite a chunk of study abroad students, and were the largest discipline studying abroad starting in 2012. They even outnumbered business and social science majors, coming in at 23 percent of all study abroad students. However, STEM students are overall not well represented.
These came out in a few comments in my super skillful interviews (aka Facebook comments on my status inquiry). Some international education professionals believe it is a marketing issue— that study abroad was marketed as a “life changing experience” instead of a stepping stone to career goals. I found this mentioned in a few places, and even had one male friend tell me flat out that he thought “women had more wanderlust.” That’s not something I would ever presume, but it opens up a really interesting line of query about gender in travel and career paths.
Study abroad will definitely help your career, especially if you gain a marketable language skill or do find some stellar international internships! So, for those career focused men, studying abroad could be the key to future your success.
Maturity Levels & Social Tendencies
This one I’m not sure about—I saw it cited in a few different articles that men mature slower than women do and have a harder time making friends, so male students are less likely to value the experiential aspect of study abroad or be willing to leave their friends. One study abroad professional went so far as to say (about male students) “They won’t say this is why – they will come up with reasons like the subject of their major or athletics keeping them on campus – but these are in fact excuses as they don’t seem to be a deterrent for women.”
I’d have to do a wider ranging study into social psychology to give my own opinion on this, but I find it a little hard to believe. Study abroad is all about making new friends! Why fear that?
Think of the FOMO
And no, not the FOMO you might feel being away from your friends for a summer or semester. Think about what you will miss out on if you don’t study abroad.
In the end, circumstances such as finances, health, or our course of study can restrict us, but study abroad is far more open and accessible than many people realize.
Men, if study abroad is something that might interest you, if you find yourself wondering what life is like beyond your borders, then pursue it. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
All men who are capable and interested should study abroad. Period.
Check out these alumni interviews from men who studied abroad: