Mexico is study-abroad favorite

by Nancy Ngo

When selecting a country in which to study abroad, more University students prefer crossing the border to hopping the ocean.
“It’s particularly the Latin American component that’s high,” said Chip Peterson, coordinator at the University’s Institute of International Studies, which compiles annual national statistics and designs programs for overseas study.
Among University students, Mexico has been the most popular study destination for the last five years, edging previous leader France, which had dominated since 1982. But University students’ preferences don’t match up with the rest of the nation’s favorite destination.
According to a report by the Institute of International Education in New York, the most popular destinations for college students are countries in Western Europe. The United Kingdom tops the national study with at least 19,410 students per year. France follows with 7,872, and Mexico comes in fifth with 4,715 students.
But at the University, some years the number of students in Mexico nearly doubles the enrollment for those studying in France. The 1995-96 academic year, the latest period for which there are study-abroad statistics, shows 100 students studying in Mexico, while only 76 went to France.
Holly Zimmerman-Le-Voir, program director of Spanish Programs at Global Campus, which designs study abroad programs, said that most students who study in Mexico enroll in the Cuernavaca program and while there are several reasons for this, one in particular stands out.
“Price. It’s the least expensive program that we have. Also, it’s familiar. People, for their first trip, tend to go places that are familiar,” Zimmerman-Le-Voir said.
Students study in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca and study Spanish for one or two quarters. Zimmerman-Le-Voir said many students choose the Cuernavaca program to meet the language requirement at the University. A student can fulfill three of the six quarters of University second-language requirements by spending one quarter in the Cuernavaca program.
Anna Bullock, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, participated in the Cuernavaca program this winter. She said she participated in the program with the intention of filling the language requirement, but the experience affected her academic goals.
Bullock now wants to teach English as a second language to native speakers of Spanish. But her strongest influence didn’t necessarily come from her time in the classroom, but from spending time with friends in Mexico, as well as her host family.
“When I was in Mexico, I was teaching people English. And I found I had a lot of patience for that,” Bullock said.
The fact that more students study in Mexico doesn’t mean that there are fewer students studying in France, said Peterson, because the tally is measured by percentage of students.
Because more students are studying abroad overall, France has decreased in percentile but has remained fairly consistent in the number of students that study there per year. Since Mexico gained the larger percentile in 1992, France has managed to remain consistent, between about 65 and 85 students per year. About 80 to 100 students study in Mexico per year.
In addition to Mexico, another rising percentile is the number of University students traveling to the developing world, said Peterson, including such countries as Ecuador, India, Kenya or Senegal.
“There aren’t many opportunities like this. It’s fairly unique,” said Gerald McIntosh, director of the Minnesota Studies in International Development program.