Party Hard, Study Harder

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Summers

The stakes are getting higher for U.S. college students in programs abroad--and it's not just about going wild overseas.

"In every study-abroad program, you're going to find students who just want to drink and sleep around," says Jonah Newman, a senior at Northwestern. "But people traveling to the Middle East, to parts of Asia, to places that are on the world stage--where interesting things are happening--you're going to find more serious students."

Newman, who spent the fall of his junior year in Morocco, should know. He's the editor of The 195, a thriving website where more than 100 Northwestern students have chronicled their semesters overseas--studying obstetrics in Chile, TV news in China, Arabic in Jordan. Their tales show that American college students, eyeing an uncertain job market, are turning to study-abroad programs to prepare them for a global economy, in which new cultures, languages, and ways of doing business are critical.

As the number of U.S. students going overseas has doubled in the last decade, the comfort-zone countries--the U.K., Italy, Spain, and France--still draw the most scholars, about 40 percent of the total. But emerging-economy locales like Argentina, South Africa, Chile, and South Korea have seen double-digit growth as destinations, according to the Institute of International Education, which has tracked data through the 2008-09 school year. In all, 15 of the top 25 study-abroad countries are now outside Western Europe. African nations are up 16 percent. (One outlier is India, which has seen a 15 percent decline despite being a coming economic powerhouse.)

China in particular is hot; it now draws more students annually than Australia, and is the fifth most popular destination overall. Several big programs there emphasize work experience, like Columbia University's Summer Business Chinese and Internship Program in Shanghai. Students of advanced Mandarin get six weeks of intense language instruction that teaches office jargon and workplace behavior; then they intern for a month at Chinese corporations. "I think students recognize that in today's workplace they need to have specific overseas experience to show that they are citizens of the world, that they have cross-cultural competencies that will help them have more options down the line," says Michael Pippenger, the school's dean of undergraduate global programs. …