Why are fewer males studying abroad?

Nottingham became my Champaign while studying abroad last spring. Nottingham is about two hours away from London by train, and Champaign is about two and half hours from Chicago by car. Both towns are close to a major city with rich histories.

When I first got to Champaign, I did not think there was anything too special on the surface about it. Same goes for Nottingham. But eventually for both, I found the little things that made each town another place I could call home.

However, an interesting thing I noticed while abroad was the lack of males in my program. I studied abroad in Nottingham, England, and I stayed at a dorm where all the exchange students were put into one building. There were nine rooms that had six people in it. Of those nine rooms, only one had the full six males and another room had three males in it. Where are all the males?

According to the University’s Study Abroad department, more females have been studying abroad than males between the years of 2006 to 2011. From 2010 to 2011, 1,942 students studied abroad. Of that total, 694 were male and 1,248 were female, which breaks down to 64 percent female and 36 percent male. From 2009 to 2010, 1,939 students studied abroad and 60 percent were female and 40 percent were male.  

This is an interesting phenomenon that is not isolated to just the University of Illinois. I have heard of this issue before from students that attended different universities. My sister went to Tulane University in New Orleans and while on her study abroad trip, she noticed a discrepancy in the ratio of males to females in her program as well. A high school friend that attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale pointed out to me a lack of males in her summer study abroad program too.

The lack of males did not have the biggest impact on my experience but it made me wonder what the reasons could be. Are males more ignorant to traveling and learning another country’s culture? I know I used to be and most of my close guy friends never seemed interested in studying abroad. If my friends were not really into it, it was difficult for me to be interested — peer influence.

My thoughts were America has everything I need. It has great metropolitan cities, relaxing beaches on both coasts, mountains to climb and of course Disney World. Why go anywhere else? And to be honest, I was nervous. Do males get more nervous when thinking about studying abroad compared to females? I am not the most responsible person, so what if I messed up abroad and got into trouble?

It was not until my sister went abroad to Athens, Greece and she told me about her experience that I truly realized the impact study abroad could have on a person’s life. So the answer to this issue must lie elsewhere, and one common answer I found was curriculum.

One interesting theory is that males tend to major in subjects with strict curricula such as engineering or business. According to the National Science Foundation’s Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report, in 2009, 44.1 percent of college freshman males planned to major in science and engineering compared to 33.3 percent of females.

These majors do not give the flexibility to fit in a semester abroad. On the other hand, majors like humanities, social sciences or foreign languages  place an emphasis on learning other cultures and international affairs. These majors have may have less constricting schedules and might offer more freedom to study abroad for a semester.

The curriculum theory might have been a legitimate reason at some point before, but now there are so many programs offered abroad that could allow even people with the strictest of schedules to go. Two students here on campus, Brett Wallace, senior in LAS, and Tim Lalla, senior in Engineering, were able to study abroad. And while abroad on their respective programs, both Brett and Tim did not notice a discrepancy in the ratio of males to females like I did. When I asked Brett what his opinions on the matter were, he was about as unsure on it as I was. Tim, however, believes that maybe there are more girls that study abroad than boys because girls tend to study abroad with friends. He personally had a lot of female friends that did just that.

So, to prospective male study abroad-ers: Go study abroad. The statistics are against us; the data verifies that more females are studying abroad. But lets prove the numbers wrong. Studying abroad should be an experience that is equally shared among both sexes. It truly is an experience that cannot be matched. It might seem like I was easily persuaded, but coming into college, I was very disinterested in studying abroad. Find your Champaign abroad like I did and you will not regret it.

Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]