Why aren’t more guys participating in study abroad? It’s hard to say

Max Brudvig felt that studying abroad “was necessary for a complete college experience.”

Currently a senior majoring in political science and history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Brudvig spent the spring semester of his junior year in Brisbane, Australia.

He says the most rewarding parts of his experience were “the friendships and memories you build by being thrown into new situations with strangers.”

For Brudvig, the choice to go abroad was never a difficult one. “I have been told by multiple people that they wish they had traveled while they were young, but put it off and never got the opportunity.”

But, among his peers, he represents a minority.

At UW–Madison, which is ranked the sixth in the nation for the number of students sent overseas, males are far less likely than females to study abroad during their college career.

According to campus-wide data compiled by International Academic Programs (IAP), UW–Madison’s largest study abroad office, 1,404 female students studied abroad in 2011-12, compared to 745 males. That breaks down to 65.3 percent to 34.7 percent of the university’s total, even though the campus ratio of male to female is roughly 1:1.

The gender gap in study abroad has remained consistent over the years, with females outnumbering males by approximately two to one.

This disparity isn’t limited to UW–Madison. According to the 2013 Open Doors Report – an annual report on American students who study abroad and international students at U.S. institutions – 64.8 percent of U.S. students who studied abroad in 2011-12 were female and 35.2 percent were male.

The benefits of studying abroad are numerous, from enhancing a student’s resume to expanding on global knowledge and personal development, according to IAP Director Dan Gold, who views “study abroad as an integral part of the undergraduate academic experience.”

So why aren’t more males participating, compared to females?

“It is difficult to say for sure what accounts for the difference in participation, though a variety of theories and suggestions have been made,” Gold says.

“It’s kind of like the million-dollar question,” says Jessa Boche, an IAP advisor. “People kind of have their theories, but it seems like no one really has a solid theory where they’re willing to say, ‘This is it!’ and have the facts to back it up.”

As an advisor, Boche talks daily with students – from those considering whether to go abroad to those going through the application process.

She says that people have speculated that males are less inclined to participate because they have more rigid schedules within their courses of study, are less willing to speak a language other than English, and are more averse to taking risks. However, she cautions against making such general assumptions based on gender.

“Sometimes it just seems very stereotypical, so we definitely have to investigate these theories,” she says.

What do guys say?

What do male students have to say about not studying abroad?

Matt Huppert, a junior majoring chemistry major at UW–Madison, says “moving and change” deter him from wanting to go overseas.

“I have no reason to study abroad,” Huppert says. “The jobs I’m looking for don’t have to be international. I can find jobs easier nationally than maybe [other majors].”

Jake Smasal, a junior majoring in strategic communication and history, says he would have liked to travel to Italy or Greece while in college – because he’s “always been fascinated with the classical world”  – but he says that several factors have discouraged him from doing so.

“I believe it is now too late and I don’t think I can afford it,” Smasal says. “I never seriously thought about studying abroad because I didn’t feel I could do it and graduate in four years. I also felt I would be at a disadvantage for not knowing either [Greek or Italian].”

Focus on addressing general concerns

Even with the lack of a clear explanation, those who administer study abroad programs should be aware of the gender gap, according to Boche. “This, I think, is so nationwide and it’s happened for so many durations in a row that there is something going on,” she says.

Instead of trying to deal with this imbalance directly, IAP has focused on addressing general concerns about studying abroad with the aim of increasing overall participation by all segments of the student population.

“I think if we go back to even some of the general myths about study abroad, whether it be funding or you have to speak a language or like those kind of basic facts,” she says, “it’ll draw just more students in general.”

“An eye towards inclusivity in promotional efforts is important,” Gold says. “By continuing to strive towards that goal for students of all majors – and making study abroad as accessible as possible – we should see the population of students studying abroad more closely mirror the population of students on campus as a whole.”

— by Haley Henschel