U.Va. Ranks High for Study Abroad Participation

November 14, 2008
November 17, 2008 — For the second year in a row, the Institute of International Education has ranked the University of Virginia 14th in the number of students who study abroad. U.Va. sent 1,807 students overseas in the 2006-07 academic year.

The New York City-based institute's "Open Doors 2008" rankings placed U.Va. ahead of  much larger schools such as the University of Southern California, which sent a total of 1,680 students overseas, and Arizona State University, which sent 1,487.

U.Va. was also ranked 6th among doctoral institutions in the number of students who participated in short-term study-abroad programs, up from 19th in the last survey. It also improved its standing among its peers in the percentage of undergraduates who studied abroad in 2006-07

"This is great news," said Marina Markot, U.Va.'s associate director for study abroad. "We did a lot of hard work."

Study abroad by U.S. students rose by 8 percent, to a total of 241,791 in the 2006-07 academic year, according to the report, which is being released today. Virginia institutions saw an increase in international study of 10.2 percent.

Dudley Doane, interim director of the International Studies Office, noted that President John T. Casteen III, along with many faculty, employers and government leaders, believes that overseas study is not a luxury, but rather an essential part of a 21st-century college education. 

"International experiences are valued as a means to broaden knowledge and to prepare for life, not only as a professional in the global economy, but also as a global citizen," Doane said.

Overseas study also gives students an opportunity to view life from different perspectives and to better examine foreign cultures and see how they work.

"This generation of students and future leaders will not live in an isolated country," Markot said. "It is critical for students to experience different cultures, ones with which they are not familiar but still work. They need to understand the common humanity so they can perform confidently in an interconnected world."
Foreign study was emphasized in the University's 2020 report, Markot said, and the University has invested resources in the effort, including $75,000 annually from the provost's office for scholarships, particularly for the summer programs. One of the initiatives from the Commission on the Future of the University emphasizes U.Va.'s international reach, Doane said.

The Open Doors rankings account for both graduate and undergraduate students, but may still underrepresent U.Va.'s presence in the world.

"Open Doors only collects statistics on U.S. citizens and permanent residents going abroad," Markot said. "A U.Va. student from China going on our program in Morocco will not be counted."

U.Va. offers students plenty of study abroad opportunities, including eight 2½-week week January Term courses and 30 nine-week summer courses. The summer courses include language immersion programs in China, Jordan and France, among others. The short-course destinations include venues such as Tibet, Morocco, Peru, China, Jordan, South Africa and Ghana, as well as a variety of European destinations. Faculty experts lead all course trips.

"Our Rome program in art and architecture is led by Francesca Fiorani, an eminent art historian, and also a native of Rome," Markot said. "She literally makes Rome the classroom; every day the class meets at another spot."

The group, she added, takes a two-day trip to Naples and to visit Pompeii, where U.Va. art history professor John Dobbins, who also teaches in the program, has an archaeological dig.

Faculty members must justify why a course has to be taught in a foreign country. Markot cited the example of teaching a course on James' Joyce's "Ulysses," which takes place in Dublin, Ireland, on one day in 1904. Students would be able to walk the routes taken by the characters and see many of the sights they read about in the book.

"It brings the characters to life in a three-dimensional way," Markot said.

Because of scheduling difficulties and requirements for their majors, Markot said some students, particularly in the sciences, eschew more traditional semester abroad options, feeling the more intense, shorter courses are better suited for them.  

"We have a full spectrum of courses," Markot said. "We have a summer program for engineers to go to Germany and see how engineering is taught and applied there."

The high U.Va. numbers also are a result of integration of education abroad into academic programs. The McIntire School of Commerce and the School of Architecture have been particularly successful at this kind of curriculum integration, Doane said.

About 65 percent of students in overseas programs are female. Markot said there are multiple reasons for this, including career and family goals, with no single one being dominant.  

While there has been a steady increase in interest in the short program during the past 10 years, she said, there are signs the trend is plateauing, in part because overseas programs can be expensive for the students and out of reach in harder economic times.

For information, visit www.opendoors.iienetwork.org.

Leading Institutions by Short-Term Duration of Study Abroad and Institutional Type, 2006-07

 1. Michigan State University 2,239 students
 2. University of Georgia 1,759
 3. University of Texas-Austin 1,504
 4. University of Delaware 1,377
 5. University of Florida 1,363
 6. University of Virginia 1,338
 7. Ohio State University-Main Campus 1,267
 8. Arizona State University 1,150
 9. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 1,127
 10. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 1,103

— By Matt Kelly