By Rachel Vinciguerra
Although OWU is considered “the opposite of ordinary,” since their inception in 2009-2010, travel-learning courses reflect national trends in female-dominated study-abroad programs.
Darrell Albon, the director of international and off-campus programs, echoed this consistency with national trends as well as a contributing factor of a gender imbalance of enrollment.
“Here at OWU more women than men apply to participate and participate in the Travel Learning Course program,” Albon said. “The same is true of semester-long study abroad. This reflects national trends and is magnified just a bit by the fact that there are more women than men enrolled at OWU.”
The Institute of International Education found in 2008 that women enrolled in colleges nationwide were about twice as likely as their male counterparts to take part in study-abroad opportunities. And although OWU’s study-abroad opportunities tend to be more numerous and involved than those of many comparable universities, one-half of the student body is missing the boat.
Sociology Professor John Durst said in his experience with travel-learning he has found this national trend to be true.
“In the travel-learning I know, in the course connection I am coordinator of, there is no question whatsoever that there are overwhelmingly more female applicants.”
Durst said he is uncomfortable with the gender bias in travel-learning courses.
“It bothers me,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about this notion of extending the university beyond the walls of Delaware, Ohio and to interdisciplinary course connections that we’re missing.”
Albon said there are many factors that he has seen contribute to students’ decisions to study abroad in some capacity.
” Choice of major and minor programs, participation in inter-collegiate athletics, and participation in on-campus co-curricular activities (for both genders) are factors in the choice to study abroad for a semester,” Albon said.
But admitted that more women do utilize study-abroad opportunities than men, although he said he does not have exact data on those trends at this time.
Durst said he is not bothered by the fact many women are taking advantage of these travel opportunities, rather, he said he is bothered by the lack of male interest.
“I don’t think these are bad guys,” Durst said. “It just seems to be that we’re not reaching them as well.”
Senior Margaret Argiro is currently enrolled in a travel-learning course, called “The Sociology of Knowledge”, which will travel to England and Scotland in May. She said her class is entirely female.
“I think it could alter the experience,” she said. “Having such a female-dominated group might dictate what you do or how you interact with the people and culture you study in.”
Argiro said she studied abroad in Tanzania her sophomore year and experienced the same phenomenon. Her program was made up of ten women and two men.
“It was still a really good experience,” she said. “But it’s the whole idea of wearing a wedding ring in a bar. Sometimes it is helpful to have guys along.”
Argiro said she thought the biggest impact of having only a few men in travel-learning courses, and other study-abroad opportunities, was that it could add expense to the trip.
“It’s harder to accommodate the one outlier,” she said. “If there are ten women and one man you have to get an extra room for that guy and figure out how to plan for gender in that sense.”
Senior Matthew Hill was part of the “British Images” travel-learning course last semester. There were three men and eight women on his trip. He said he agrees with Argiro that rooming is one of the biggest issues that arise with gender discrepancies like this.
“The only area where it really had an impact was rooming while we were on the trip,” he said. “While the women were able to change their roommates over the course of the trip, we men always had to room together.”
Hill said he didn’t mind the rooming situation because he got along well with the other men, but said he could see why that might be a concern.
Hill said he was interested in travel-learning courses because they allowed him to study abroad without devoting an entire semester to the experience. He also said this course related directly to his studies.
“It seemed like a natural decision,” he said.
Jill McKinney, associate director of the Center for Global Education at Butler University, said in an interview in 2008 that she found three main reasons that women studied abroad more than men: motherhood, age and safety.
She said she found that women who were planning to have children at some point in their lives sought opportunities for travel at a younger age than men. She also said that men tend to be more adventurous with traveling on their own, whereas women actively seek opportunities for organized group travel for increased safety.
This begs the question, do more men seek to use the more individualized TIPIT program to fulfill their study abroad desires?
The answer seems to be: only slightly. In the cycle last fall, ten of the sixteen TIPITs were awarded to women as primary proposers of the projects, that’s 62.5% female.
Durst said perhaps part of the reason for the gender discrepancy might be historical gender differentiation.
“I think a lot of the professors involved in travel-learning are coming out of departments that in-and-of-themselves tend to be dominated by female majors.”
Durst said he is not concerned women are missing out on these opportunities, but wants to reach out to the men.
“I have no loss of sleep about the women,” Durst said. “They travel, they’re involved, they participate. They get the notion of active-learning expanding beyond the classroom. They get it. My fear is, there’s an experience being missed, and a connection being missed by most of the males and that is sad.”
As representatives of his own social demographic, Durst said that white males don’t seem to be picking up the ball as much as they perhaps should. He said it has become a goal of his to figure out ways to make sure that group, in particular, can become more involved.
“One idea would be aggressive recruitment,” Durst said. “The other issue with the program might be design. Maybe I need to sit down with my course connection’s male students and ask, ‘What would interest you?’”
Although travel-learning courses are fairly evenly taught by male and female professors, the gender imbalance in students continues to be significant.
“Socially and statistically, it is a significant difference,” said Durst. “It’s not just a little bit, it’s a major difference of involvement. So I guess I’m throwing out a challenge to males to some degree.”