When Jessica Rigby headed off to China to teach English to elementary school kids earlier this year, she had no idea the celebrity presence she would have there.One girl asked if she could have one of the hairs off of my head,Rigby said.I laughed and gave her one, and she kissed it and put it in her pocket. Later, I saw her showing it to all of her friends.
In the remote small town of Linchuan, she remains one of only five fluent English speakers surrounded by folks who had never seen a white person outside their TV set before. College-age Americans packing their bags and heading off to remote locations like Linchuan is nothing new, but it's becoming increasingly common. Study abroad programs have more than tripled in the past 20 years, according to the Open Doors Report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), one of the largest institutions over international student exchange between the U.S. and other countries. In addition to that increase, more students are expanding their horizons even more, to places like China and Central Africa and even India, which had a 44 percent increase in students studying there from 2008-09. A total of 14 of the top 25 destinations were outside of Western Europe in 2010, according to the same report, and that is a huge change, according to IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman, who said in past years the only destinations students wanted to visit was in Europe.
The world really is flat economic in cultural terms,Goodman said.America is the world's leading superpower. We have global responsibilities. You can't do that unless you speak other languages and are familiar with cultures beyond our borders.One school making huge strides in that expansion is Brigham Young University, which the Open Doors Report ranked as having the 15th largest study abroad program in the nation.The people of Utah are a little bit ahead of the game because missions take place abroad, and they play a very important part in a young person's development, Goodman said.
The director of BYU's study abroad programs, Timothy Elliot, said at BYU more faculty and students have shown interest in visiting remote locations compared to years in the past. He also said many instructors on location with the students are even more dedicated to not only getting students to new places but also giving assignments that force the students to get outside their comfort zone and talk to locals.Initially the coursework on the program is designed to give them incentive to get out and be involved," Elliot said. "They have to do research or practice language or discover cultural aspects.