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More Americans are Studying Abroad, but Not in the Mideast

A new reports indicates that Americans are studying abroad in record numbers. Some non-English speaking countries are seeing increases in students from the United States, but the number of Americans going to study in the Middle East has dropped sharply since the terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago.

In the first study to survey the flow of American students abroad since September 11, 2001, the Institute of International Education, or IIE, has found that the number of American students enrolled at foreign universities for credit increased four percent over last year, to almost 161,000 students, the highest number ever. The total number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than doubled since 1991.

Allan Goodman, head of the Institute of International Education, says the report shows that Americans' interest in learning about the world is consistently on the rise. "What we've been seeing for the past several years is young Americans discovering the world, discovering that part of what it means to be an educated person is to have the experience in living and studying in another culture beyond your own," he says.

Most American students studying abroad - 63 percent - continue to choose Europe as a destination. Britain is the most popular country, followed by Spain and Italy. However, China, Japan and Thailand all saw upwards of 20 percent increases in American students over the previous year. Mr. Goodman says English-speaking countries are less in demand than in the past, at least in part, because of the global marketplace. "They realize that the chances of them working in enterprise or in a research lab with someone who is born in China or born in India or born not in Britain, Canada or Australia is very, very high," he said. "And they're going abroad to get a set of life experiences that helps them cope with a diverse world, a diverse workplace."

In contrast to the findings that more American students are going abroad, earlier this month, the IIE released another report that showed the number of foreign students in the United States is increasing only slightly, and at a slower-than-usual pace.

According to that study, many Middle Eastern countries saw a steep reduction in the number of students enrolled at American institutions. The decline is likely due to tighter immigration controls adopted after September 11, 2001.

According to the IIE's latest study, there is also a sharp 21 percent decline in American students going to the Middle East. Mr. Goodman says it's too early to draw any conclusions, but says many academics would like to resume the exchange between the Middle East and the United States.

"It's a trend that none of us hope continues, because we need more Americans studying in the Middle East. And we need more people from Islamic societies having an opportunity to see our country and to meet Americans as people rather than as abstractions," says Mr. Goodman.

The study also finds that more American students are staying abroad for shorter periods of time. Seventy-three percent of students surveyed chose either a summer abroad or one semester at a foreign university.