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Study abroad offers students an opportunity to sharpen a variety of skills

April 10, 2013

Over 270,000 American students studied abroad during the 2010-2011 school year, up 1.3 percent from the previous year according to the Institute of International Education's (IIE) Open Doors report. Taking a year of study in a foreign country has been gaining popularity in the U.S. with three times the number of students participating in study abroad programs now then were 20 years ago. 

Despite the dramatic gains, study abroad numbers for American students are still low. In any given year only one percent of U.S. students are carrying on their education outside of their native land. Only 14 percent of 2012's graduating class had studied abroad at some point during their undergraduate career

Broadening horizons 
"It's a myth that study abroad is only for foreign language students," Jeff Palis, Georgia Southern University's associate director of International Studies, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "There are some majors where it's obvious; if you're a Spanish or international relations (IR) major, it will certainly help you with language skills. When you're living where you have to use that language, you gain more confidence. Speaking and hearing it every day makes a big difference."

The benefits of education with an international flavor may be obvious for students of  language or IR but they are also present for those planning careers in other fields. 

Paige Buchanan was a hospitality major during her student days, reports the Arkansas Traveler.  She noted that her experiences as an exchange student in in Europe with people from a variety of backgrounds prepared her for the realities of working in travel. 

"The hospitality industry is hard to learn in a book," Buchanan told  the Traveler

Students are also increasingly using exchange programs to prepare them to work in the marketplaces of the future. According to the IIE report, China has been the fifth most popular destination for Americans studying abroad, while other nations with rapidly expanding economies like Brazil, India and South Korea have all seen significant increases. 

Call for more American participation in study abroad programs
Though more American students are studying abroad, the rates of those doing so dramatically lag behind their foreign counterparts. Over three quarters of a million foreign students matriculated in American university in 2011-2012, according to the Open Doors report. 

PolicyMic reports study abroad is on the rise in other countries as well, China sent 23 percent more students to foreign lands in 2011-2012 than they did in the previous academic year. 

Students concerned about being far away from family and friends during a stint abroad can pick up an international calling card and be only a short dial away from loved ones. 

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