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Out of the [Abroad] Box

News & Features | February 15, 2011

The journey begins in Dowling Hall. The prospects are endless: A European metropolis? An African village? Language intensive? English speaking?  You have 91 days and only one choice… Go.

It is no secret that cultivating a commitment to the global community is among the many hallmarks of a Tufts education. Here in Medford and Somerville, students take full advantage of the resources that allow them international engagement on campus.  But the general consensus among upperclassmen is that being abroad is what solidifies that sense of globalism.

While many of Tufts’ peer institutions such as Cornell, UPenn and Brown send less than 10% of their student body abroad, Tufts boasts an overwhelming 45-50% of students who have spent at least one semester in another country by the time commencement rolls around, according to Tufts’ Study Abroad Office.  Altogether, nearly 265,000 American students study abroad annually .

The broad array of cultural and linguistic outlets on campus might make it difficult for students to choose where to spend these few, transformational months. So what is it that draws students to particular destinations?  Recent trends suggest that more and more students are straying from the classical route, opting for a less conventional program during their semester abroad.  While Western Europe has served for decades as the most popular host site for US students, cities like Zhejiang, Amman and Legon are starting to challenge their French and British counterparts.

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Forum on Education Abroad, the percentage of American college students studying abroad in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is on the rise.  Of the 238 campuses surveyed nationwide, 54% cited an increase in travel to China, 49% to other locations in Asia and 41% to the Middle East and North Africa.

International Relations major Hilary Ross, also a junior, is preparing to spend her spring semester in Vietnam.  Ross will be based in Ho Chi Minh City with eight other students on an SIT Program for development and social change.  She contemplated spending the time in France, but decided the European route was not for her.

“[It sounds] cliché, but I think it’s important to make an effort to really understand other cultures. Experiential learning is more powerful for me,” Ross said.

Tufts junior Sarah Carpenter  recently returned from an unconventional semester in Central America where she participated in the OTS/Duke University Global Health program in Costa Rica.

“I got to live in field stations in the middle of the rainforest, spend a week living with indigenous communities, and travel all around Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” Carpenter said. The program synced well with Carpenter’s Tufts major, a self- designed combination of Global Health and Human Rights.

Aside from the extensive opportunities for fieldwork research, Carpenter spent time educating locals about how to prevent the spread of tropical diseases and helped them take measures to ensure healthier lifestyles.

What is contributing to this development? The sophistication associated with traveling in Europe does not seem to have faded in the past twenty years. What has changed is the importance of globalization in the workforce.  More and more students in the US are scouting out more remote and exotic destinations to keep with the pace of today’s increasingly global society.

“International experience provides key skills needed by American graduates to succeed in the global workforce,” said IIE President and CEO Allan E. Goodman in a statement.

While this offers one explanation for the growing trend, it seems that Tufts students also have another goal in mind: active citizenship. Rather than stepping into the shoes of a tourist, they prefer to don the hat of a native and get their hands dirty.

For many, the Tower Café and library roof are sufficient landmarks. But nearly half of the students at Tufts grow restless in their third year; they hear the sirens of communities around the world and are itching to respond. Eager to embark on a semester of insight, culture and service, they arm themselves with their Tufts’ acquired knowledge and fly, far away from Medford/Somerville.