Record numbers choosing to go abroad, survey says

The results are in: More college students are using their passports and foreign tongues than ever before. The number of students at U.S. colleges and universities choosing to study abroad increased 8.5 percent over the past academic year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Institute of International Education. This is a 150 percent rise compared to 10 years ago, the survey said.

In addition, student enrollment in foreign language courses at colleges and universities has increased 13 percent, according to a study by the Modern Language Association that was also released Tuesday. The study surveyed approximately 2800 colleges and universities that regularly teach languages.

The first survey, Open Doors 2007, is an annual report of the study abroad activities of over 200 universities. The study also reported an increase in the diversity of the countries in which students are choosing to study.

Nationally, student travel to Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East increased by 26 percent, 19 percent, and 31 percent, respectively.

Europe continued to lead the way, accounting for just over 50 percent of the students’ choices of destination.

These trends are clearly seen in the Carnegie Mellon data.

According to the Office of International Education, the number of students studying abroad has increased from 215 to 260 since 2002, and by 10 students in the past school year alone.

The most popular destination continues to be Western Europe.

“This is a natural place for many of our students to go,” said Lisa Krieg, director of the Office of International Education. “It is often English-speaking, within a student comfort zone, and historically popular and well-known.”

Although few students choose to study in the Middle East through external programs, the exchange program with the Qatar campus has increased the number of students studying in the area.

Krieg also said that international students often choose to study abroad in countries other than their country of origin.

Students are enthusiastic about their choice to study abroad.

“I can’t imagine not going anywhere over my four years,” said Alexa Beaver, a sophomore chemical engineering and Hispanic studies double major. “It’s just such a great opportunity that you’ll never get at any other time in your life.”

Beaver plans to study in Spain this summer.

According to Open Doors, summer study and periods of less than eight weeks are the most popular type of program nationally; at Carnegie Mellon, most students opt to go for a semester.

While study abroad has its appeal for many, others choose to exercise their foreign language skills on campus.

An estimated 1347 of roughly 6000 undergraduates are enrolled in a foreign language class this semester, according to the modern languages department.

This percentage is reflective of national trends reported by the Modern Language Association.

“I can’t imagine not knowing another language in today’s world,” said Beaver. “I feel like we have become so global that knowing how to speak in just one other way is invaluable.”

The number of students studying foreign languages has increased, particularly for the 10 most popular languages, according to the MLA study.

Spanish and French, the two most popular, increased by 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

However, the biggest changes included Asian and Middle Eastern languages.

According to the MLA, the number of students studying Arabic, Chinese, and Korean increased 127 percent, 31 percent, and 57 percent, respectively. This year, Arabic broke into the top 10 most popular languages for the first time.

Carnegie Mellon students’ language choices deviate slightly from the national picture.

While nationally, more students take Spanish than any other language by a 40 percent margin, the language just rounded out the top three at Carnegie Mellon.

At Carnegie Mellon, with 386 and 276 students apiece, Chinese and Japanese are the most popular languages, followed by Spanish and French at 228 and 162, respectively. Arabic is not offered at the university.

The most popular languages studied, such as Chinese and Japanese, coincide with the foreign countries that the greatest number of students call home.

According to university data, the undergraduate student body is 20 percent Asian-American and 11 percent international students, many of whom hail from Asia.

“I think that having a sizeable international population affects everyone at the university,” said Aaron Ong, a junior electrical and computer engineering major and president of the Singapore Students Association. “It creates a lot more awareness on international issues, and also educates everyone on cultures and languages from around the world.”

However, Krieg reminded students that these statistics are just “pieces of the pie” of the university’s globalization.

She cited international student population, study abroad, and the language program as just a few of the many aspects that make our university unique.

“For me, when I think of our ‘global’ university, I think first of our innovative and entrepreneurial faculty,” said Krieg.

An estimated 650 foreign researchers and faculty come to Carnegie Mellon every year both to interact with students through teaching and to study in individualized research fields.

“What really fascinates me most,” she added, “is that because of our globalization, our school is more generally more known outside of the U.S. in India, Korea, and the other countries from which our international students originate.”

Ong believes that Carnegie Mellon has become truly globalized.

“There are so many cultural events that are around the school,” Ong said. “We don’t just see internationals at these events, and that says a lot about our school and its international values.”