Men are the Minority— Why Men Aren’t Studying Abroad

In popular discourse, men have historically not been part of the minority dialogue – except, of course, when they are being asked to check their patriarchal majority privileges. However, in the realm of study abroad, men can finally claim minority status as they are vastly outnumbered by their female counterparts.

To understand more, I asked two male friends on the Argentine Universities Program for their thoughts.

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Motivation for Studying Abroad

Logan “always found foreign languages to be extremely interesting,” so he declared a Spanish major in college and is now fulfilling both the study abroad requirement of his major and his long-held desire to genuinely get to know a Spanish-speaking country. He chose Buenos Aires because he thought that it would be the best place to help him with the work he does at an immigration law firm for Latin American immigrants to the U.S. Looking towards graduation, he plans to use his time in Argentina to bolster his Spanish-speaking skills in reality and on his resume in order to pursue a law degree and dive full-time into the field he interns in now.

Juan got the idea from hearing about “everyone else doing it,” he hadn’t really thought about study abroad until he heard his friends discussing it. As an already bilingual literature major, he wanted to spend study abroad digging into the local literature and academics instead of immersing himself in a foreign language, so he chose Argentina for its rich literary tradition. He is hoping to use this experience abroad to network with professors and academics from a different context who are interested in the same material he is.

From the many other female students I’ve talked to over the course of this semester, I have heard similar reasoning – most students from the U.S. are engaging primarily with the language immersion element of the program, hoping to hone their Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country for various career ambitions. Or, like Juan, they are interested in the academic experience abroad – for almost all of us, this is the first time we have studied in Argentina and we want to experience and learn from the cultural differences. At least for these two male students, the desire and motivation to study abroad doesn’t seem to have much gendered variance.

 

The Influence of Social Context

 I wanted to know how men react to the study abroad decision in case that could give me any clues as to what excites or doesn’t excite men when it comes to studying abroad, so I asked Juan and Logan how their male and female friends reacted to their decision to spend a semester in Argentina.

Both Logan and Juan described fairly equal support from friends across genders – being a good friend evidently is not a gendered thing. However, Logan qualified that “[his] female friends…were more often the ones who talked about their own prior experiences in programs abroad that are taught in a foreign language…the few male friends of mine who have studied abroad studied primarily in Europe and attended programs that were taught in English.”

 

Feeling Outnumbered

Several students on our program remarked on the gender imbalance within the first couple days of the program, so I decided to ask Juan and Logan how they felt about it – did they feel surprised or bothered in any way by being so significantly outnumbered?

This resulted in a resounding and emphatic no from both boys – at least to the “bothering” end of the question. Logan found the imbalance to be romantically in his favor, in fact. He also described himself as “honestly surprised to see the amount of men here that there are. Within Spanish classes back home, men have never constituted close to a quarter of the students in my classes.”

Juan explained that “[he’s] always mostly felt more comfortable around women than men, particularly during college because I don’t really identify with a large group of males that appear at private colleges…they have a very particular way of socializing which…I feel a bit uncomfortable around. I mostly spend time with women or groups that don’t enforce that idea of male patriarchy, so [the gender imbalance on our study abroad program] doesn’t bother me at all.”

Clearly the gender imbalance is something they are both already accustomed to and comfortable with. Perhaps, then, they would feel less comfortable if they were used to being surrounded by other men or unused to relying on female friendship. It seems to me that the gender imbalance might have started long before the study abroad experience, then – both boys are already used to classes and cohorts made up of primarily women leading up to the choice to study in Argentina.

 

Why Men Aren’t Studying Abroad

 According to Logan, “I think men study abroad nearly equal to women, but my guess is that programs taught in foreign languages are the ones where men are a bit harder to find. I honestly do not understand why men do not study foreign languages or study abroad more, I guess women are just generally less scared of transplanting their lives for a few months. Must be hard to leave your frat bros for less than 20 weeks, I don’t know.”

Juan was very uncertain but he offered this theory: “…I’d say it’s because study abroad is often perceived as a ‘break” — not as challenging or as productive as your home university, so for men it’s more looked down upon if you take a break or don’t follow the structure that’s already in your host school. For women, it’s sort of more normally seen when they take time to relax and enjoy experiences. It does depend on the school, because at mine taking a semester abroad is sort of a fundamental experience, everyone is expected to study abroad. It’s becoming part of the experience and not just an extra thing that’s looked down upon.”

To genuinely understand why men aren’t studying abroad as much as women, I would need to interview the men who aren’t studying abroad – Juan and Logan are the exception and they already see themselves as somewhat distinct from “other men” through other avenues including the way they view the patriarchy, friendships with women, and how they fit in at their home universities. And perhaps that’s the problem: to study abroad, you have to be or become a certain type of man before you can become one of the distinct few men who are studying abroad.

 

Bethany Catlin is an English and International Studies major at Macalester College and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program, Buenos Aires in 2017. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.

 

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