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Study abroad draws female participants

March 9, 2012

A recent article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that the ratio of male to female students participating in university study abroad programs has been at a steady low for more than two decades.

In the 2009-2010 academic year, women accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 270,600 American students going overseas to participate in study abroad programs, according to the article. Findings from the 2009-2010 Open Doors report show that out of the 353 UW-River Falls students who studied abroad, 249 were female, which was just over 70 percent.

“Our current notion of education abroad has evolved from cultural tours of Europe that were directed at female university students so, historically, there has always been a greater participation amongst female students.

Today, students studying in the humanities have higher participation rates in education abroad than, for example, students in the STEM fields,” Wisconsin In Scotland Program Coordinator Kelsey McLean wrote in an email. “Across these disciplines, there tends to be more female students studying the humanities than STEM fields so, consequently, you have higher numbers of females participating in education abroad.”

STEM fields include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Global Connections has been using previous research findings surrounding the imbalance of male and female involvement to help bring attention to the issue of low male participation in study abroad programs.

“Some of this research suggests that the way education abroad is talked about can have a strong impact on whether males or females are attracted to it. Global Connections has tried to use this research to ensure that our messages about education abroad are as inclusive as possible,” McLean said.

UWRF had 260 female participate in study abroad programs in the 2010-2011 school year, compared to only 122 male participants.

When asked if this gap of male to female participants plays a role in the overall study abroad experience, Brent Greene, UWRF director of international education programs, said that the experience can slightly change the group dynamic.

“This is just anecdotal, no research to back this up. I think it’s the same as an on campus course or other experience, if it’s a mono-gender program/experience it’s missing the ever important impact and contributions of the opposite gender which is always a highly valuable and instructive affect,” said Greene.

UWRF senior Zach Johnson participated in the International Traveling Classroom program in the spring of 2010, traveling with a group that had 15 male and 13 female student participants.

“I always knew I wanted to study abroad. My experience could have been different if there were less guys. Every time we were in a different city with our group, we had room assignments. With fewer guys I wouldn’t have been able to room with as many different people. But besides that fact, I don’t think my experience would have changed,” said Johnson.

Senja Melin, a senior who was also in the same ITC group as Johnson, credits the low male participation in study abroad programs to the lack of ambition and desire in males that can be seen in females.

“I think females have a better ability to see their goals and obtain them. Studying abroad will make them a better rounded person and give them some sort of life changing experience that they can take with them so they decide to take the step forward and study abroad,” Melin wrote in an email. “I don’t think that males look at it that way, perhaps they are content with the person they are and don’t feel like a life changing experience is necessary to make them a better person, even if they feel that need at all.”

More information about UWRF study abroad pro- grams can be found at www.uwrf.edu/GlobalConnections/ or by contacting the Global Connections office at (715) 425-4891.

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