Women prove twice as likely to go abroad


Visitors of the University's study abroad Web site will find pictures of women smiling among fog-shrouded mountains in Ghana, palaces in South Korea and cobblestone streets in Spain.

A 2009 University of Iowa study found that women are almost twice as likely to study abroad as men. The study analyzed data from about 2,800 students at 19 four-year and two-year colleges and universities.

The most common explanation of the difference is that women tend to major in the humanities, and curricular requirements in humanities facilitate study at schools and universities overseas, Study Abroad Dean Stephen Reinert said.

"Conversely, men tend to major in fields like the sciences, engineering and business, where it traditionally has not been encouraged or even permitted for students to study at overseas schools and universities," he said.

Yet this may not necessarily be so.

The gender gap is sometimes assumed to simply mirror the prevalence of women in the humanities, but the reality is it exists even in male-dominated majors, such as engineering and the hard sciences, according to the study.

School of Environmental and Biological Sciences International Programs Dean Lily Young said it can be harder for science students to fit a study abroad experience into their schedules, but the school is addressing the issue.

"We are working with our faculty to identify specific science programs at an international location that students can participate in and still fulfill all necessary course requirements," she said.

School of Environmental and Biological Sciences students can participate in summer abroad experiences, and the school is providing international summer scholarships to promote study abroad, Young said. The school also encourages science faculty to teach a science-related course in the summer so students can have greater flexibility when scheduling classes.

Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy Dean Christopher Molloy said the school's six-year curriculum requires the majority of its courses and does count study abroad courses towards credit. The school is considering offering curriculum-relevant, shorter study abroad experiences during summer and winter break periods.

School of Engineering Dean Tom Farris said the school encourages students to participate in study abroad and, assuming a match of course content, allows overseas courses to count as part of its curriculum.

The disparity here is consistent with the national pattern, Reinert said. In the 2008 to 2009 academic year, women comprised 63 percent of the students in study abroad programs, according to data from Reinert.

Women who have highly-educated parents appeared to be more likely to intend to study abroad, according to the study. Men were not influenced similarly.

Also, the more time men spent interacting with their peers, the less likely they were to study abroad, according to the study. Women were not influenced similarly.

Reinert said the difference is not easily explained.

"Overall, it's a very interesting question, but in truth I don't think we have the depth or sophistication of research right now to be able to clarify the basis for this gender gap," Reinert said.

School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Courtney Shaw said women have made sure to seize opportunities as they have opened up for women over the years and remembered her male friends scrambling to send out applications for study abroad at the last minute.

"Women take advantage of a lot of the opportunities that the University offers that men don't always use," she said.

Kevin Hsu, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said one of his female friends studied in London. But two male friends interested in similar programs never applied.

Hsu said he enjoys traveling but did not participate in a program due to financial concerns.

Boston College graduate student Andrea Caloiaro studied abroad at Stetson University in Florida when he was an undergraduate at Oxford University.

At schools where the majority of the population is women, the ratio can be explained by sheer numbers, increased competition and maturity, he said.

"They're responsible, and that correlates to them being independent," Caloiaro said.


Greg Flynn

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