It was a shock to me when I first knew the fact that men are the minority among those who study abroad, making up only 35% of all study abroad students. I thought more men would study abroad in U.K. for its travel adventures, sports teams, things that are usually related to masculinity, but the male students I have talked to showed very different reasons and interests. I interviewed with two male students at Queen Mary, University of London: Raunak Siroya from Babson College and Daniel Shaheen from Wesleyan University to discuss their unique experiences and perspectives on studying abroad.
Study Political Science from Another Perspective
One of the goals Daniel has for studying abroad is to explore things that might not be an option at Wesleyan. As a Government major, he wants to understand the American government from another perspective. Especially in his geopolitics class, the way the class approaches different issues has a more global and holistic perspective, addressing global political powerhouses that people wouldn’t even think of back home in America.
Discomfort with Heteronormativity Abroad
The extracurricular activity Daniel has put most time and effort in is a co-ed business fraternity, from which he experienced many aspects of professional development that are not currently offered back home. For example, he visited the Salesforce Tower, interviewed with higher-ups in different companies, and attended alumni banquets. He has benefitted from learning a lot of practical and professional skills from joining the business fraternity. However, “There is definitely a sense of masculinity in the frat.” There could be a different understanding of masculinities in U.K. and in America, but as a queer student, he finds the heteronormative nature of the fraternity uncomfortable. It’s awkward for him and his American female friend to hear some comments that might be considered as wrong, inappropriate, or sexist in America. Even though it’s unfair for him to endure such discomfort while abroad, it worth learning that masculinities can be perceived differently in different countries and cultural contexts.
Genders and Sexualities in the Classrooms
Raunak, a male student of color who is originally from Mumbai and Dubai, studies abroad at Queen Mary this semester. He decided to study abroad to obtain a change from his monotonous college life in Boston. In a more cosmopolitan and global city like London, he can get the best of everything.
“Interestingly, there are much more men in the Business and Finance classes I’m taking, around 70% and 80%, but the Drama class I’m taking has more women.” He also briefly enrolled in an English class where he was the only male out of 20 students. It didn’t make him uncomfortable at all being the only male in the classroom, but his unfamiliarity with the subject made him decide to drop the class, because he wanted to be able to contribute more in his classes. Something else he has noticed in his Drama and English courses is that there is a diversity of sexualities and non-binary gender identities, but in his Business courses there is almost none. It seems strange to Raunak that most of the business students here are straight, competitive, and they would almost never discuss the topic of gender and sexual orientations in business.
Being an International Student of Color
As an international student, Raunak shared that back in his home school there is a stigma among international students that “if I’m already abroad, there is no need to go abroad again.” People have already gotten used to and comfortable being in America. However, Raunak believes that “it’s good to have more changes and more experiences to explore” because “studying abroad is not confined by only being in America.” Especially now the world is getting more global and connected, it’s important to understand each other’s cultures. As a student of color, he has never faced any challenges or disadvantages in London, because it’s a really diverse city. Even if he had faced scenarios with racism or micro aggressions, “London is the place to speak up.”
Both Daniel and Raunak have very different yet fruitful experiences being abroad in London. While we encourage more men to study abroad, I believe it’s hard to cater towards male students’ needs without making generalizations. But my friend Claire Rivkin, a female student from Harvard University who also studies abroad at Queen Mary, added that “it could be a self-perpetuating thing.” Men don’t see as many men studying abroad because it’s hard for them to find other male students on images or publications of studying abroad to relate to or share anxieties with. However, when we do see more male students’ abroad experiences and voices being represented, more men will be inspired to study abroad. After all, it’s one of the best decisions that most people have ever made.
Unique Wenxuan Xue is a Theater major at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary University of London in Spring 2018. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.