Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Study Abroad and the ‘Civic Generation’

USA Today leads its Life section today with a story on the civic mindedness of the current generation of undergraduate students. Why are today’s students so much more interested in helping others than any generation since the 1960s? Study abroad programs get much of the credit.

Reporter Andrea Stone writes that today’s undergraduates have more “global connections” than any other generation in history:
Because of the Internet, social networking sites such as Facebook, the growth of study-abroad programs and ethnic diversity, the Millennials are closely attached to the world and want to make it a better place.

Whether it’s teaching English in China or building a well in Africa, Millennials are “in tune” with global needs, says Philip Gardner of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. He says many who study abroad — 70 percent of students at four-year colleges have traveled outside the United States — “get the bug to go back internationally, and one of the fastest ways … is to do volunteer projects.”

Amanda MacGurn studied in Belgium, taught English in Chile and interned with Doctors Without Borders. Now 26, the Southern Oregon University graduate leaves next month for Romania to work for the Peace Corps.

“I want to devote my life to international service work,” says MacGurn, who lives in Eugene, Ore. “This is a great opportunity to serve both my country as an ambassador and also the international community.”
Study abroad doesn’t get all the credit. Other factors: global uncertainty after Sept. 11; a struggling economy; a growing number of high schools, colleges and universities that require some kind of service as a condition of graduation; and what Stone calls the “Obama effect” that inspires a group of students that voted for the new president by more than a 2-1 margin.

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