Educators are thrilled to see more American college students venturing abroad — perhaps 300,000 this year alone.

American colleges and international programs are pressing students harder to get out of their comfort zones. It’s happening in popular destinations as well as more exotic spots in Asia and Africa, where there are fewer Americans, but language and culture barriers make them even more tempted to stick together.

About 260,000 American college students studied abroad in 2008-2009, the years measured in the latest annual survey by the Institute of International Education. That was a small dip from the previous year, likely caused by the economy. Otherwise the numbers have been rising steadily for 25 years and that’s expected to resume.

 

In short, study abroad is following — a few decades behind — changes in higher education itself. Once reserved for a wealthy and adventuresome elite, it’s now reaching a wider, more diverse population which often has less travel experience.

Historically, most study abroad has taken place in so-called “island” programs, where Americans live, study and often party together. U.S. colleges like keeping a close eye on the education side of the experience, particularly if they’re awarding course credit.

Island programs, educators say, remain popular and valuable for many students — particularly those new to study abroad.

It is observed that  students who aren’t so driven also,  learn something about both themselves and their host country once they opted for an study abroad programme .