“Initially the problem was perceived to be curricular, meaning the curriculum of study abroad was likely to be in the humanities, social sciences, with a strong language dimension. To the degree that women were more likely to study in those areas, and the curriculum of study abroad was in those areas, it meant men that were studying more in science and business and technologies didn’t have the curriculum overseas,” said [William Hoffa, an independent practitioner in study abroad]. He continued, however, that while there’s likely still a bias toward the humanities and social sciences in study abroad, “The curriculum of study abroad is actually pretty much across the spectrum these days.”Even if the courses are offered, it must be that some areas of study are more usefully studied abroad, beginning with the obvious, foreign language. Then, there's also the fact that women outnumber men in colleges these days. And once study abroad is perceived as something women do, men may avoid it. You might say men ought to do it, since they'd be able to form more relationships with women, but the numbers are also in their favor at home, and maybe they don't want to compete with -- or deal with -- foreign men.
Among the many conventional wisdom-type explanations pervading in the study abroad field: differing maturity and risk-taking levels among 18- to 21-year-old men and women; a sense that females, concerned about safety, are more inclined to attend a college-sanctioned study abroad program than travel on their own...Ah, interesting. Study abroad as the safe alternative to freestyle travel? Do women travel on their own less often? Maybe women are just more interesting in traveling. Maybe women are less interested in staying at home. Why assume women are more risk-averse? Maybe men like the home territory better.
“The further from the sort of comfort-zone area [outside Western Europe, for instance]... the more likely that females will be in that program,” said Michael Vande Berg, vice president for academic affairs at the Council on International Educational Exchange. In a research project that spanned 61 study abroad programs and about 1,300 students, Vande Berg has found differing outcomes among the men and women who do choose to study abroad. For instance, on a test of intercultural development, females on average start higher, with a score of 97.19 on a pre-test. They finish at 100.94. By contrast, and of concern, males actually lose ground from pre-test to post-test, their average scores dropping from 94.31 to 93.81.Hmmm. I wonder what "a test of intercultural development" is? Are we looking at whether students change their beliefs?
“Sort of the nicest thing you can say about the males is that difference, going mathematically from the first test to the second test, is not significantly different. That is, the good thing you can say about males is they’re not learning anything interculturally,” said Vande Berg, who has argued the need for targeted mentoring and intervention to improve students’ learning outcomes abroad.What? Difference... is not significantly different? Not learning anything is good? Could he say that in a way that makes sense? Perhaps he's afraid of offending. It could be that he means: The males have a strong sense of personal identity and a mature set of beliefs that are not unsettled by exposure to other cultures. But that would make women look worse then men, and researchers are not allowed to say that.
Tying his findings on gendered outcomes to the participation trends, Vande Berg asked, “What is it that students expect study abroad to be? Is it the case that male students are expecting study abroad to be a different experience than female students? And if so, are those expectations getting in the way of learning where the male students are concerned?”I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Whenever a study shows a gender difference, whatever is true of the female is good.
And isn't it ironic that, with all of this interest in appreciating cultural diversity, the researchers don't simply appreciate gender difference? Why is it something to change? Some people like one thing and some like another. Why is that a problem?