Increasing U.S. student mobility to Japan faces many of the same challenges as mobility in the reverse direction (see Factors That Keep Japanese Students from Venturing Overseas). It also has some distinctive factors, however, not the least of which is that while there was a moment (1994-96) when Japanese students were the largest single group in the United States, Japan has not yet been a major destination for U.S. students. Mobility stands at 2% of U.S. students studying overseas in 2012-13 (with 50% going to European destinations).
Sorting this out requires examining the general factors keeping U.S. students home and the specific factors that limit their study in Japan.
In terms of general factors, a NAFSA Task Force identified four major institutional barriers that discourage U.S. students from studying abroad:
- Unmotivated Faculty, who do not integrate study abroad into curricular offerings and requirements
- Demanding Curricula, which leave students little room for study abroad
- Financial Constraints, especially programs that are very expensive for the ever-broadening student body at U.S. institutions
- Lack of Diversity, with non-traditional and minority students disproportionately underrepresented in study abroad programs
As in Japan, the economic crisis of 2008 exacerbated the financial constraints many U.S. students faced in studying abroad, a circumstance directly connected to a decrease in rates of growth in study abroad numbers since then.
Two studies of U.S. student perspectives and decision-making with respect to study abroad have largely confirmed the institutional barriers identified by NAFSA. The Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa analyzed data from 4500 students at various colleges, while Knox College surveyed its own students. This research upheld the findings that students are concerned about the following factors:
- Cost of study abroad
- Its possible interference with courses they need to take, hence delaying graduation
- Its perceived irrelevance to their course of study
- Its pursuit primarily by White, scholastically well-prepared, affluent students
These studies and a few others have also added some other, very important factors in study abroad decision-making:
- Perception of study abroad as not very academic, more of a vacation experience
- Concern, especially by non-traditional students, about their ability to adapt to a setting overseas
- The less exposure students have to diversity in their courses or co-curriculum, the less likely they are to study abroad
- Their knowledge of the world outside the United States is very limited
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on exciting experiences at their home campus
This leads to the specific factors that present challenges to increasing U.S. study abroad to Japan. Surveys have shown that Americans have a generally positive perception of Japan, especially in terms of work ethic, quality of technology and other products, art, video-gaming, anime, film, and martial arts. A 2015 Gallup Poll showed Japan to be among the five most favorably viewed nations in the U.S.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show, however, that less than 1% of U.S. students take courses specifically about Japan (see Insufficient Language Competence on the Part of Students). Their knowledge of Japan and ability to speak Japanese are limited, something reflected in their low levels of study abroad in Japan. The rise in U.S. study abroad numbers to Japan over the last 15 years simply reflects the rise in U.S. study abroad more generally. Throughout this time, study abroad to Japan has held steady at 2% of total U.S. study abroad.
Certain patterns are clearly emerging with respect to the increase in U.S. study abroad numbers, both to Japan and more generally. As is the case for Japanese student mobility, short-term stays are most common; 60.3% of U.S. students now spend eight weeks or less overseas. Only 3.2% go for the full year. Also, 62% pursue some form of research, internship, or community engagement as part of their program.
As in the case of increasing Japanese students in the United States, there is room for optimism. Japan has long been near or at No. 10 as a destination for U.S. students. Last year’s growth rate in students studying in Japan (9% increase), however, surpassed all other countries in the top ten (which averaged only 0.5% growth). If this new surge continues, the number of U.S. students in Japan will double in ten years.
Ways to build partnerships for greater U.S. student mobility
Many of the ideas for maintaining growth in the number of U.S. students in Japan are the same as those offered for enhancing the rate of Japanese students coming to the United States, modified to fit the U.S. situation.
- Embed study abroad opportunities deeply across the institution and curriculum, encouraging faculty and students to see them as integral, rather than auxiliary, to student learning and avoiding delays in time to graduation (see Curriculum Integration)
- Provide opportunities for students to engage with Japanese partner institutions, without traveling to Japan, through online formats, visiting faculty, and presentations by visiting students, thereby intensifying interest in Japan and study abroad there (see The COIL Center, Student Networks and Zemis, DePaul and Ritsumeikan)
- Increase course offerings and co-curricular programming that bring greater attention and understanding of Japan to the home institution, providing the professional development opportunities that faculty and staff need to do this
- Map out detailed course articulations to make transfer credit easier (see Differing Accreditation Systems)
- Develop short-term as well as full-year options
- Develop programs that use internships or service to connect to career development (see Research, Internships, The Many Forms of Experiential Learning)
- Provide opportunities for students to initiate or improve their ability to speak Japanese, while also seeking out programs that provide at least some of the learning in English (see Insufficient Language Competence on the Part of Students)
- Develop outreach activities to draw in students beyond those who have historically pursued study abroad
- Develop financial models that make study abroad feasible for more students (see Finances and Tuition Differentials)
- Use returned study abroad students as well as Japanese students on campus as ambassadors for encouraging U.S. students to study in Japan, stressing what students will miss out on if they do not go (Fear of Missing Out – FOMO)
- Stress the distinctive advantages of studying in Japan and the growing U.S. trend in this direction