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Travel abroad strong despite 9-11 and Mid-East turmoil

With the aftermath of Sept. 11 and conflict in the Middle East, one might suspect that U.S. students would choose to stay at their universities instead of spending time abroad. But at many universities, including U-M, this is not the case.

"Study abroad has gone up since Sept. 11," says Carol Dickerman, a program director in the Office of International Programs. "This is not just happening in Michigan. It is a national phenomenon."
A group of study abroad students from U-M climbs one of the mountains in New Zealand used in the movie "The Lord of the Rings." (Photo by Joshua Ellstein)

Dickerman says there is more interest in study abroad than there has ever been. "Applications were up 5 percent for last winter and are up 15 percent over last year for this winter," she says.

Sarah Gutin, a student who spent six months in Australia during winter semester last year, says she never thought twice about going abroad after last Sept. 11. "I was going to stick to my plans and do what I wanted to do—threat or no threat—but that's just me," Gutin says. "My strong feeling is that you can't live your life in fear."

A new trend in study abroad, Dickerman says, is that students are considering alternatives to such mainstay study abroad destinations as Great Britain and Australia, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Africa. The countries that attracted the greatest number of students before Sept. 11 still attract the largest numbers, but students are more serious about going abroad and more thoughtful about their destinations, she says.

New trends and increases in study abroad since Sept. 11 can be attributed to a couple of elements. "There is an increased awareness that we need to learn about other countries, to get a sense about how they perceive us and why," Dickerman says. She says students are aware that Americans can be ignorant about countries outside U.S. boundaries, and that there is a sense that it is important to know more about other countries than many Americans currently do. In addition, Sept. 11 may have taught Americans some humility, she says. "It is not that the rest of the world is unsafe. People can be as unsafe here as in France or Britain or Italy; there are risks at home as much as abroad," Dickerman says.

As for the future of study abroad programs, Dickerman says that Sept. 11 and other conflict-related worries are taken into consideration. Reaction to any potential threats in the future, however, will have to be considered based on the location of the event and the United States' involvement. "Study abroad numbers plummeted after the Gulf War and have been climbing throughout the 90s," Dickerman says, "but I suspect that if we go to war with Iraq the numbers would plummet and they would stay low for a longer time than they did after the Gulf War."

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