A Washington-based educational institute says the number of university students who study abroad is on the rise. The Institute of International Education reports a 60 percent increase in the number of students studying outside their native country since the year 2000.
Carolyn French says studying abroad changed her worldview - and for the better. She studied in Spain, Argentina and Brazil. She says learning foreign languages is essential.
"That is really important for me because having a masters degree in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies doesn't mean much without having the skills in Spanish and Portuguese to be able to communicate with other scholars in Latin America," French said.
She is one of a growing number of Americans choosing to study abroad. The Institute of International Education said at a briefing that the number of Americans heading overseas to study rose by eight percent in 2008, and has increased four-fold in the past two decades.
Judith McHale, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, approves.
"We believe this type of growth is essential in helping our students understand, navigate and thrive in a global economy," McHale said.
The briefing revealed that the number of international students doing coursework in the U.S. also jumped in 2008 - by eight percent, fueled by a 21 percent rise in undergraduates from China. India leads the pack in sending students to the U.S.
International students coming to the U.S. mainly study business management, engineering, science and math - in that order. The Institute says the majority of those students support themselves with family or personal funds, and are now contributing more than $17 billion to the U.S. economy.
Peggy Blumenthal is from the Institute of International Education:
"We are not just educating them in their fields and specialties but in American values, American business styles and American culture so that when they go back home and become leaders in their societies they will have a much better understanding of America," said Blumenthal.
She says most American students who go abroad still head to Europe or Latin America to study the social sciences. Up by 20 percent are those going to China and India.
Wherever they study, Carolyn French says they're in for important lessons.
"We need to increasingly come to a realization that the United States is only one country within so many different cultures and so many different ways of looking at the world and we need to become more competitive in the global marketplace," French said.
The institute says that more than three million students are being educated outside their home countries today. By 2025, that number is expected to top eight million.