Cindy Woods got a sneaking suspicion her bus was headed in the wrong direction.She was trying to meet a friend near the airport in Peru during a trip to study abroad last spring.

Woods, then a junior at the University of Oklahoma, turned to the woman sitting next to her to ask if she was on the right bus.

The woman said yes, but Woods had a feeling she didn’t understand the question.

Woods was on her third study trip abroad.

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Directors at OU and Oklahoma State University said students are getting more adventurous with their choice of study destinations. More students are opting to study outside of Western Europe, where English is not a primary language.

After studying in Mexico, then Spain, Woods decided to go to Peru, where she found herself stuck on the wrong bus.

Woods, an international security studies and Spanish student from Garland, Texas, said her earlier trips gave her the confidence to go to a less-traditional location and brave the “crazy buses.”

A wild ride

The bus rides in Peru were daunting, even without being lost.People packed together like sardines, and music was always blaring.

A man stuck his head out the window and barked destinations for people on the street and then yelled at them to hurry as they boarded.

Schedules were confusing and buses moved fast, swerving in and out of lanes. It was easy for Woods to get lost.

When she was in Spain, Woods could turn to most strangers on the street to ask for help. That was comforting, but it also had some drawbacks.

Many people who discovered Woods was from the United States wanted to practice their English with her, while she was trying to gain Spanish-speaking skills.

In Peru, it was rare to find someone who understood English, Woods said. Sometimes that was difficult, like during the trip to the airport.

Unsatisfied with the woman’s answer, Woods made her way to the front of the bus.

The music was loud, like usual, and the driver looked like he didn’t want to be bothered, but Woods mustered her courage to ask him for help.

It’s a good thing because her suspicion was right — she had taken the wrong bus. With the driver’s help, Woods got moving in the right direction.

Those wild bus rides became one of her favorite parts of the trip, which she described as the highlight of her life.

“You really learn to be confident,” Woods said.

Significant growth

Not only are students choosing to study in more exotic locations, but more students are choosing to study abroad in general. OU and OSU officials reported significant increases during recent years.About 16 percent more students from the University of Oklahoma studied abroad between 2008-09 and 2009-10, said Jack Hobson, director of Education Abroad.

About 756 students studied abroad for credit last year, compared with 652 students the year before, Hobson said.

Projections for the spring suggest the growth likely will continue to increase, Hobson said.

In 2008, OU President David Boren issued a challenge for the university to double the number of students who study abroad during the next few years, Hobson said.

The university also has worked to diversify its programs and offer more short-term programs.

OU has seen significant growth to its programs in China, Chile and Turkey.

OSU has had a 17 percent increase in the number of students studying abroad, from 487 in 2008-09, to 571 in 2009-10.

Gerry Auel, Study Abroad and National Student Exchange coordinator at OSU, said President Burns Hargis and Provost Robert Sternberg are big supporters of internationalism. The university recently created a new position, associate vice president for international studies and outreach.

Administrators, faculty, students and staff also are holding international experiences on campus, which helps spark interest, Auel said.

OSU has programs in Romania, Morocco and Egypt and other places.

“Those are places you wouldn’t have seen people going to in the past,” Auel said.

“ … I think students are becoming more adventurous. The first step is just to accept the idea of studying abroad at all. The next step is to think of studying abroad in a more unusual, less traditional site.”

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By Darla Slipke,

Every year, the Open Doors report provides a snapshot of foreign study – both students coming to the US and US students heading abroad. Among the interesting nuggets this year:

  • For the first time in the 25 years that data has been tracked, the number of American students studying abroad fell slightly, down 0.8 percent to 260,327 – a decline attributable mostly to the recession, and one that Ms. Blumenthal says has already started to turn around, based on preliminary numbers.
  • The top destinations for US students remain the same – Great Britain, Italy, and Spain – but those countries are declining in popularity as more students head to less traditional destinations. Peru, South Korea, and Chile saw the biggest increases. Others hosting more American students include China, Argentina, South Africa, Denmark, and the Czech Republic. US students are also studying a more diverse range of fields abroad, notes Blumenthal – so public health students may head to South Africa, or environmental studies students to Costa Rica – encouraging a broader array of destinations.
  • Together, the top five countries sending students to the US – China, India, South Korea, Canada, and Taiwan – account for more than half of all foreign students studying here.
  • For the most part, foreign students in the US study business and management or engineering; those two fields account for almost 40 percent of all the foreign students.
  • The institutions hosting the largest number of foreign students (all with more than 7,000) are the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and New York University.

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By Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor

 American students are increasingly studying abroad in nontraditional destinations like Chile and Peru, while U.S. universities are hosting a growing number of students from China, according to a report released Monday.

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Nearly 128,000 Chinese students studied in America in 2009-10, a 30 per cent increase over the previous academic year, the annual study by the Institute of International Education found.

Chinese citizens comprise about 19 per cent of the international students in the U.S., the highest percentage of any country. India and South Korea are next, accounting for 15 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

“A global education prepares them to become leaders in their own countries and societies,” Ann Stock, assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, more than 260,000 U.S. students studied abroad in 2008-09, a slight dip over the previous year and likely due to the recession, said Peggy Blumenthal, the institute’s executive vice-president. Researchers expect the number to rise again next year, she said.

While most Americans study in Britain, Italy and Spain, those nations have declined in popularity since 2007-08. Countries with the biggest increases include Peru, South Korea and Chile, followed by Argentina and South Africa.

The growing interest in nontraditional destinations is partly because students with a wider variety of majors are deciding to travel, Blumenthal said.

Public health majors can go to South Africa to learn about the AIDS crisis, while business majors could travel to China and environmental majors might study in South America, Blumenthal said. Some of those countries are appealing because of their lower cost of living, she noted.

Also, the fact that English is more widely spoken makes it easier for Americans to study in more places, said Allan E. Goodman, the institute’s president and CEO.

“Ten or 15 years ago, you couldn’t go to France or Germany unless you were fluent,” Goodman said. “English has opened the world up.”

The U.S. hosts more international students than any other country — 691,000 last year, up 26 per cent in the past decade — which experts say shows the appeal of the higher education model here.

Most foreign students study business and management, followed by engineering, physical and life sciences, and math and computer science.

Overall, they contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy through tuition, room and board, and other expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The top U.S. institutions hosting international students — with more than 7,000 each in the 2009-10 academic year — were the University of Southern California, University of Illinois and New York University.

About 9 per cent of the freshman class at Bryn Mawr College is from China, an increase from 6 per cent last year, said Jenny Rickard, the school’s chief enrolment and communications officer.

Rickard travelled to China last fall to promote the elite women’s college near Philadelphia. She said having a diverse student body “enriches the educational opportunities we are able to provide.”

“It really helps us grow as an institution as well,” Rickard said. “By bringing in different perspectives, you learn a lot about yourself.”

The Institute of International Education is a New York-based non-profit whose Open Doors 2010 report was produced with support from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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By Kathy Matheson, opendoors

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