Since joining the Office of Overseas Study at Indiana University (IU) in August of 1999, I have assisted in sending more than 2000 students abroad for varying lengths of time. Of those, just shy of 20% of the students studied in London, England. For instance, in the 1999-00 academic year 187 students of the 947 total studied in London, which is 19.7%. Of the 187 students, 68 studied for six weeks in the summer, 114 for an academic semester or quarter, and five for the academic year. I was amazed that nearly 20% of our study abroad population was participating on programs in London. IU has a strong history of study abroad, as well as strong language departments, and the sheer number of students doing English-speaking programs came as a shock.
In 2000-01, 229 of the 1116 students studying abroad were in London. That equals 20.5% of our total study abroad population. Eighty-eight students participated in a summer program, whereas 138 took part in a semester or quarter program. Only three students studied in London for the academic year. Overall, the numbers of Indiana University students studying in London has drastically increased in the past five years by 136%, something I will discuss later.
When students return from London, they sometimes visit the office, and when we engage in informal conversation, they often mention things that concern me in regards to their study abroad experience, such as the occasionally heard comment that their time abroad did not have a cultural impact on them. Regarding their study abroad program, they said such things as:
1) “I never had a substantial conversation with a British person who was not a faculty member or a staff member.”
2) “I did not make British friends.”
3) “London is a global culture so finding British culture was challenging.”
4) “I could not meet British peers.”
In short, they seem to have spent all of their time with their fellow study abroad participants (nearly always other United States citizens). Yet, the study abroad experience was, in their words, “a great experience!”
If students were spending the majority of their time with fellow Americans, limiting their interaction with the local culture, what were students experiencing that made their time abroad incredible? My living and traveling experiences abroad have been most memorable for the time that I have spent with people from that country, not other Americans. The conversations that have taken place, the stories that have been shared, the insight they have provided about their own culture are what have made my times abroad rich.
The experience my students report is quite different. If they were going to Britain to get to know the culture and people, what they were reporting did not lead them to achieve their goals. They were indicating that they had positive experiences abroad, but their positive experience was obtained under circumstances drastically different from mine and their comments led me to question if the outcome of their time abroad was also different.
Weting, Paige M., "Impacts on participants of an island study abroad program in London, England" (2002). Capstone Collection. 205.