Women study abroad more than men, UI research shows


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UI junior Maggie Roque spent her past summer in the thin, crisp air of Cusco, Peru, a lively city thousands of feet up in the Andes.

Of the 13 people accompanying her during the eight-week stint in the former center of the Inca Empire, the vast majority were female.

And though she doesn’t know why the ratio was so skewed, it’s a trend seen across-the-board in the worlds of study abroad.

More women than men have gone overseas since studying abroad first became an option — in fact, only 32 percent of UI students who went to other countries last year were male.

The reasons for such a trend have often been overlooked, but research recently completed at the UI gives some insight into possibilities for the disparity.

Researchers found sex plays a significant role when people make decisions, showing they are influenced differently by their academic environments, social interactions, and backgrounds.

Women’s decisions are more likely to be affected by influential authority figures and the educational content behind the Study Abroad Program, for example, while men seem to be influenced by personal values, experiences, and peer influence.

Janis Perkins, the director of the Office of Study Abroad, said it’s common to see female students focus more on academic aspects of a program.

And most study-abroad programs are geared toward majors that are more popular with women, such as the humanities, she said.

“We try to make sure we have broad array of programs to offer students,” she said.

Graduate research assistant Mark Salisbury, along with two professors — Michael Paulsen and Ernest Pascarella — based their analysis on data collected from around 2,800 first-year students at 19 colleges and universities participating in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts and Education, a study to investigate factors that affect liberal arts education.

The students were surveyed about their plans to study abroad shortly after beginning their freshman year in the fall of 2006 and again toward the end of their freshman year.

Results showed peer interactions were much more influential on men than women in choosing to study abroad.

These peer interactions had a big effect on UI sophomore Jordan Komendowski, who decided where to study abroad with his roommate.

“We both had the idea to study abroad, so we kind of just matched up places and decided on Florence together,” said Komendowski, who plans to go abroad the next spring. “I think it would be more fun to have someone there whom you know.”

But UI senior Alex Chiang, who studied in London and Italy earlier this year, said he didn’t know anyone in his study-abroad programs previous to the trips and made the decision on his own.

“I wanted a change of pace and surrounding,” he said. “The culture is much more relaxed. It was a change to the extremely fast pace of my [previous school years.]”

Though the ratio has been a trend for years, Perkins said the office is trying to increase the number of male participants by trying to expand its selection to more fields of study.

In addition, males tend to prefer programs shorter in length, such as during summer or winter breaks, another goal the university is working toward.

“We are trying to identify and address the issues to make the programs more appealing to everyone,” she said.

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