December 4, 2008

Study abroad -- it's much more popular with female students than male students.

Why?
“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?

37 comments:

s1c said...

My daughter is using the study abroad opportunities as a criteria for her college selection. Her plan is to double major in Math and Spanish so is looking to spend a year abroad as part of that planning.

John Thacker said...

What? Difference... is not significantly different? Not learning anything is good? Could he say that in a way that makes sense?

He's saying that the change is relatively small compared to the sample size, so it's impossible to say with standard scientific confidence that males actually declined in "intercultural development," though you can state with some confidence that they didn't improve. Therefore, the "nicest thing you can say" is that there's a good chance that they stayed the same and didn't actually get worse.

It's pretty standard statistics jargon.

Windbag said...

They do it because it's a real-life Harlequin novel.

John Althouse Cohen said...

At the orientation for the study abroad program I did, they pointed out the gender difference and said the reason might be that women are the ones who are more willing to take risks -- they're less afraid to make themselves vulnerable and be open to new experiences that might be out of their control.

Synova said...

For what it's worth, my impression of "study abroad" is that you add a year to whatever school you're in.

Now, that may be entirely wrong, but it's my impression.

Study abroad, at least in my experience, is seen as a cultural rather than academic experience, the academic part being primarily an excuse to go and the academics needing to be made up once one returns home.

Also, of women I know who have studied abroad including my cousin who studied chemistry in Switzerland, well, I haven't necessarily heard them say anything about the education other than that foreign universities are set up differently. (That and not to trust young men met on trains who offer to tell you how to greet your Norwegian relatives in Norwegian.)

Of men I know who have "studied abroad" they didn't go to the university, they went to work in their target industry for a year. One fellow I talked to went to Japan. He said that he was the only one in his group who learned Japanese at all because he was the only one to go to his company (and he wanted to learn) and the others were together in a workplace where their Japanese co-workers were more interested in practicing English.

I didn't ask to clarify but it sounded like those engineering students were all men.

I realize it's not a scientific sampling but that makes two women I know, one who went to Oxford and one to University in Switzerland, and one man who went to work at an engineering company in Japan.

Oh, and one female friend who taught overseas and traveled alone through China and Mongolia on her way home to New Zealand.

Oh, hey, and I forgot my older male cousin who didn't study in Europe but did the travel-by-train tour one summer.

I don't think that men are more risk adverse. That's silly. They may be less inclined to engage in educational digressions that don't efficiently get them closer to their goals, but I can't believe that people who do so many risky things suddenly don't want to face the risk of foreign travel.

David said...

I have two daughters and three stepdaughters. All five have studied abroad and also traveled on their own (usually with a friend or two) abroad. They have also gone on their own in non academic travel to:

Russia, Israel, Kenya, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, England, Ireland, Mexico, Finland, Holland, Spain, Portugal. Plus quite a bit of the USA.

They are all adults now. The youngest is 26, the oldest 38. Three of the five now live in very small towns in the USA. The other two live in New York City and San Francisco.

They are very different personalities and have diferent interests, but they share strong traits of confidence, calm under pressure and adaptability.

The independent travel--which began as early as age 16 for two of them--is clearly a big factor in their success.

Am I proud of them? Damn right I am.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I did study abroad the last quarter of my 4th year..... Because it was a trip to Greece and a chance to see all the archeological sites I'd been studying!

I'm not sure if I was "Interculturated at all", but I have a much better understanding of Byzantine Art!

I like the idea of study abroad as "A really long field trip" -- We didn't engage the local culture much, except in terms of restaraunts and alcohol, but now when I read about the Acroplos, I can walk over it in my head, playing the Pausanius game.

(Also, the coursework was a JOKE compared to my normal courses. But there were ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES!!!!)

PatCA said...

First, women should be concerned about their safety in an unfamiliar place. Cultures are different, and men are usually physically stronger than women.

Second, I agree this study is another way to marginalize masculine values. It could be that men are more serious about life in general and do not have the time for a Grand Tour experience. This Vande Berg sounds like a typical academic Nazi, vowing to increase mentoring (brainwashing) to make sure those men become as malleable as the women.

laura said...

My daughter, returned in mid-August, after studying abroad in Germany for a year. Yes, she's a German major (from the U of M) and will be graduating in 4 years (yea!). She was fully integrated into the local culture, as she lived with native German students attending the same university and all of her classes were conducted in German. With her complexion and hair color, she was often assumed to be a local, by the locals. She said these impromtu conversations ramped up her language skills in a hurry.

Why did she go? Similar to s1c, she had used study abroad opps as a criteria for choosing a college. Seems she had some need to travel and it made sense with her major (and schooling, in general). This helped justified the costs and the safety consideration (from a parents standpoint).

Why is there a difference between the sexes and that it's some problem that needs to be rectified? These are open programs to the general student populations - based on the ratios of students on US campuses and the propensity for LA majors, it kinda makes sense. I'd also agree that the age/motherhood, pack-it-in- while-you-can plan has a play in this. But is it really a problem that needs to be fixed? No. It's just the way it is.

Oligonicella said...

JAC --

"At the orientation for the study abroad program I did, they pointed out the gender difference and said the reason might be that women are the ones who are more willing to take risks --"

I've found the people who do 'orientations' are anything buy trying to 'orient'. They are trying to push views. That quote would be a case in point.

george grady said...

Why don't men study abroad? Because foreign schools don't have football or basketball games to go to. Duh.

Pastor_Jeff said...

The female-male ratio wasn't the only reason I spent my junior year studying abroad, but having 3 girls to every 1 guy in our program sure was a nice feature.

Jason said...

I wonder if daddies are more willing to pay for a daughter's semester abroad in Paris than they would be for a son?

peter hoh said...

St. Olaf has an extensive study abroad program. I didn't notice that there was a gender imbalance when I attended. My study abroad program was evenly split.

froggyprager said...

1. I don't think that male college age students do much free style travel, that is not it.

2. part of the explaination, some male students are very career focused and want to get the most time in for core classes and networking, internships, etc. in their field (busiensss, engineering, etc.) when more women are somewhat less focused on the job market for various reasons.

3. in the words of the grateful dead, 'the women are smarter', they are more mature and better organiazed in college and can plan for an abroad trip better than their beer bong counterparts.

ps - I studied abroad in the Netherlands because I did not need to learn a language and to meet women (and was not successful).

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...

IIRC, Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa postulated an explanation for this rooted in evolutionary biology in their awesome little book, "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters." I have reservations about their theory, but they claimed that what women use to attract men is portable -- they bring physical beauty, which is ultimately just various indicators of fertility and survivability -- while men rely on things like prestige and wealth, which do not necessarily translate well into other cultures. So women have more incentive to go abroad to look for partners, while men will tend to reduce their chances of pairing up if they leave their native culture.

Daryl said...

When men go abroad, they are out of their element and it's harder to get laid.

When women go abroad, foreign guys all try to romance them like the women have seen in cheesy movies.

That, right there, explains the difference.

Henry said...

The study abroad program called the U.S. Armed Forces tends to attract more men than women. That could be curricular, however.

MadisonMan said...

My sister's two sons both studied abroad. One in Europe, one in Singapore. Both graduated in 4 years.

I do not know if they got laid while abroad.

Dudley Do-right said...

For me, study abroad was a non-starter as it would restrict my access to firearms. But, as Henry so aptly points out, going abroad for Uncle Sam neatly sidesteps that little sticking point.

As a Vietnam era college student and ROTC type, I always thought, "Don't worry, I'll get there soon enough.". And I did...though luckily, not Vietnam.

dick said...

The part that bothered me was the targeted mentoring and intervention. If I were to study abroad then a good part of the reason would be what my expectations would be, not what this guy's expectations for me would be. Is he saying that he defines what my goals will be and that he will intervene to insure that i meet those goals? Screw him! I am not there to satisfy his goals, I am there to satisfy my goals. I might listen to what he wants but the final decision, sans intervention, should be mine.

I also want to know how they measure intercultural development. Who decides what the development to be measured will be and how it will be weighted. How do they go about measuring it, with a multiple choice, fill in the blanks, or some other way. Does it include political development? Does it measure knowledge about how the other culture functions? The whole thing just sounds very touchy/feely/nebulous whatever he wants it to be to make his point. I sure hope he wasn't paid much for this one.

paul a'barge said...

maybe they don't want to compete with -- or deal with -- foreign men

You're not spending much time around American men who have chosen hard science or technology, would be my guess.

American men in hard science and technology beat foreign men hands down, every time, and I do mean every time. We don't have a problem competing with these foreign folk, we have a problem cleaning up their botched technological solutions behind them.

Here's the real reason: men have an obligation to prepare themselves to raise and support a family in a culture that at least to date has not been one where the State coddles losers (unlike foreign cultures). Women can study abroad, engage in pointless travel that adds no value to their earning power and generally waste their time because they know their main future task is to find a strong wage earner, attract him into marriage, get pregnant and focus on running a house and family.

It must be nice when your educational expectations allow you the option to engage in no-value-added travel. It certainly is not an option for men in America.

Freeman Hunt said...

-- or deal with -- foreign men

I was a female student, and that's why I skipped out on my study abroad opportunity. I had a scholarship to spend the summer studying Arabic in Morocco. That sounded great until I got the travel guide which advised that as a single female, I would have to get used to being followed by a literal line of suitors seeking American citizenship every time I went out in public. And that I would constantly be asked what I was doing out by myself.

No thank you.

I have a lot of friends who studied abroad. They seem to have enjoyed it, but I've never gotten the sense that, aside from foreign language fluency, it actually made them more educated. Great for the resume though.

former law student said...

women are the ones who are more willing to take risks -- they're less afraid to make themselves vulnerable and be open to new experiences that might be out of their control.

I think daryl's right; I would translate that as having a fling in a foreign country. From my friends' experience, both foreign males in this country and women who have travelled abroad, women want to experiment with guys from a different culture before they settle down with Joe Whitebread from home. And the "barrier to entry" is much lower for women than men.

Cabbage said...

re: daryl & former law student

I cannot believe this hasn't been posted yet: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/34198

My wife spent a semester abroad in Australia. I'm pretty sure she went entirely because Australia sounds like a cool place to visit.

I did not study abroad, because I was in flight school, and it is exponentially more expensive to fly anywhere outside the US (AvGas is like 8 friggin' dollars in the EU!)

Alex said...

Parents, before you send your daughters into central Europe, please make them watch the movie "Hostel".

rcocean said...

Paul has stumbled on to the truth. Men can't afford to waste their time on a "year Abroad" soaking up the local color and culture. Large numbers of females can take English Lit, intern at the White House or travel abroad, since their real source of future income will be their parents inheritance or their hubby.

Donna B. said...

The one person I know who actually spent a year studying abroad was miserable most of the time.

She was in Paris, studying French and design, living with a local family who did not involve her in their family life. Not even meals. She was no more than a "roomer".

We housed a high school exchange student from France for a couple of weeks years ago, and it was quite interesting. We went out of our way to do very "American" things with him.

Even though it was in the spring, I cooked a Thanksgiving meal for him, using as close as possible authentic foods. It was the first time he'd ever eaten corn!

But, as someone mentioned, the best way for Americans (not only males) to see the world is the U.S. Armed Forces.

My husband has not just visited, but lived in Korea, Germany, and Japan. He had plenty of time to visit many other places.

I wish I'd met him before he retired!

One of my daughters, one son, and two of my sons-in-law are/were in the Army or Air Force.

Another great way to see the world is to work for Halliburton :-)

Chip Ahoy said...

I studied a broad. She had norks like you wouldn't believe. Couldn't take my eyes off her. She goes, "Hey Perv! My eyes are up here! " I'm all like, bloody wow, she does have eyes.

Sofa King said...

As usual, The Onion covered it first.

TosaGuy said...

Studying abroad is very popular with white people

David Walser said...

I wonder if daddies are more willing to pay for a daughter's semester abroad in Paris than they would be for a son?

Yes, daddies are more willing to pay for a daughter's education (including a semester abroad) than they are for a son. At least that's the case for this daddy. It must be genetic, because that's the way my dad felt, too.

It really bothered me that I had to pay my own way through school while my younger sister had all her expenses paid. (I was told, "You'll get more out of it if you pay your own way.") I swore I'd treat daughters and sons the same way in this respect. Then, my daughter went away to school and was offered an on campus job that would require her to walk home after work -- alone, late at night. I told her, "Daddy will pay the bills. No, it's not a burden. No! You're not taking that job..."

My son? He's paying his own way through school. Since he's paying his own way, he's much less likely to consider a semester abroad. My daughter's mentioned the possiblity. She can go -- if she earns the extra money herself.

No, the late night job is not an option.

Quit asking.

Well, maybe I could cover a part of the extra costs...

gbarto said...

I spent a semester in France. I learned that living in France as an American whose major expenses had already been taken care of is a blast. I recommend it highly.

During my time in France, I opened my mind to many new ideas and experiences. But I also found some places where the way we do things in the good old US of A makes a lot of sense. In a way, I became more American, not less, for living abroad. That seemed to be the case with a lot of my fellow students as well - we learned how to play the French game but we didn't become French. I think that's a healthy thing.

Seven Machos said...

And once study abroad is perceived as something women do, men may avoid it.

Pastor Jeff is right. This is a feature, not a bug, for straight male college students.

Seven Machos said...

After reading through the thread, I guess I see the point of all the women wanting foreign boyfriends. I saw that happen when I studied abroad.

However, in my experience, the opposite holds true as well. Foreign women want to have a little fling with the American who will be gone in a few weeks, anyway.

Also, there is a certain sexual dynamic that develops within the entire group of Americans you are with. You go to the bars together' you travel on the weekends together. Hookups are inevitable. And any American male in college who doesn't prefer a hookup to a girlfriend situation is, in my opinion, sad and silly.

So, go abroad young American college-aged males. Get some.

AlphaLiberal said...

Oh, I don't know. I've known a lot of guys who like to study a broad.

Mr. Smarterthanyou said...

Women often go to college for the experience of going to college. They also take stupid majors like languages and art history. Men go knowing they need to pay back their loans and support a family. They tend to get degrees in engineering,technology and business.