Are Foreign Students Integrating into American Culture?


Studying abroad and foreign exchange programs have grown massively within the past few years as more students are looking to expand their horizons and take advantage of living in another culture, despite the fact that online education is booming with various courses available. It is possible to enrol in anything from a photography course to digital marketing certification training courses at a click of a button. Still, foreign study programs are some of the fastest-growing sectors in community colleges, universities, and even high schools as students look to expand their world views.

As more students arrive from other countries, some wonder whether they are indeed taking advantage of the opportunity to study in another country. A more global society means that travel and studying abroad has become more common, but whether students are really having cultural experiences while away from home is another question.

“Studying and living abroad is a must,” comments Alain Benichou from the American Chamber of Commerce in France for an article for Forbes. “Not just to acquire language skill, but to become truly bi-cultural. In a global economy, even if the business is done with fewer boundaries, the culture remains local.”

It seems that the first step toward determining whether a student will integrate into another culture is to encourage studying abroad in the first place. While the idea of bi-culturalism is not new, opportunities for an average student to have access to studies abroad has become more and more common.

In fact, American students are the least likely to take up a semester or year abroad. Many times it is because they are so rooted in their own culture that they have difficulty with the idea of taking part in another. “Many school degree programs do not offer an international component in the curriculum, and international study is not encouraged in general. The benefits that international study can bring to one’s career are not fully understood,” states Maritheresa Frain in a Forbes article.

While many institutions of higher learning might worry about whether international students are successfully integrating into their American systems, it seems as though they should be more concerned about whether American students abroad are entirely taking advantage of their time abroad. Many students choosing to study in the United States have already taken steps toward making their time away from home successful by taking English classes online or communicating with American pen pals.

These foreign students already tend to know the advantages that come with studying abroad and how living in another country can help to further their careers down the line. “The Erasmus Student Network found that an average of 92 percent of employers prefer transversal skills in their employees, which you learn when studying abroad,” writes Kayla Matthews for the Huffington Post.

This is why many foreign students make an extra effort to gain knowledge about American culture and to participate in making new friends, becoming fluent in English, and adding activities outside of their necessary studies. The results tend to pay off: “According to the University of California, 97 percent of students who studied abroad found a job within 12 months after their college graduation. By comparison, only 49 percent of college graduates who did not study abroad were employed within 12 months,” reports Matthews.

For many foreign students, the extra effort put toward integrating can help them find better job prospects outside of their home countries, leading to a higher salary, the opportunity to create new contacts, and a chance to find a job in an industry with a better employment rate. Even still, some might be skeptical about whether the limited amount of time a semester or year offers can make a difference in a student’s life.

Calvert Jones writes for the Washington Post, “We are used to thinking about nationalism and internationalism as mutually exclusive; people who are highly nationalistic are often assumed to lack the cosmopolitan mindset of a ‘global citizen.’ Yet study abroad returnees were both more nationalistic and less prone to see other nations as threatening.”

Studying abroad has become more ubiquitous for young students, though only 10 percent tend to make the leap and spend some significant time in a foreign country. Experts claim that while although the benefits of going abroad are clear, American students tend to be the demographic who takes the least advantage of their time away. Some even encourage Americans to stay within their own culture and attend a university on the other side of the country other than to go abroad.

For many foreign students choosing to study abroad in the United States, it seems as though it is worth the effort to integrate—and that they tend to do a much better job of coming away from experience learning valuable lessons. As more students look to go to another country for their educations, perhaps American students could learn from their foreign peers and delve deeper into their adoptive culture for a semester or a year.

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