With 82% of UCSB students in the 2022-23 school year hailing from California, the UC Santa Barbara Education Abroad Program offers the opportunity to further expand their horizons and embrace entirely new dimensions of cultural enrichment. 

Since it was established in 1962, the UC Santa Barbara Education Abroad Program (EAP) has grown to over 170 programs that span across over 40 countries, offering students the opportunity to complete academic coursework and experience life at different campuses across the world. They can be frequently seen around campus spreading the word about studying abroad. Each year, more than a thousand students embark on this transformative journey — choosing to study in diverse destinations. According to the data provided by the UCSB Gaucho Credit Abroad website, a database that lists past study abroad courses that UCSB students have taken, 58% of the EAP course offerings are in European countries.

But why?

EAP expands on the UCSB experience — introducing students to new people and places — and tests the boundaries of who they are and what they can achieve. 

Lauryn Smith, a 2023 UCSB graduate and Black studies and communication double major, participated in the Made in Italy, Florence program in the fall of 2021. She took classes about entrepreneurship, language and culture, marketing and the history of photography and cinema while abroad, visiting different on-site locations to learn about her major through a different lens.

“I wanted to have that global immersive experience for myself because prior to studying abroad, I had never gone out of the country on my own. I wanted to find myself, as cheesy as that sounds,” Smith said.

Afterward, she was motivated to be a source of help for people that may find the planning process overwhelming, and upon her return to UCSB, she started working as a peer advisor for the Education Abroad Program.

Meyers, a 2023 UCSB sociology graduate, studied at the University College Utrecht in the Netherlands during the winter and spring of 2022. 

She took classes about Dutch history and culture, the history of the Cold War and urban geography, exploring a neighborhood for a research project on urban planning for the latter course. Living in a place where the people she could usually turn to for help were unavailable due to time differences helped her become more independent and confident that she can be anywhere in the world.

After enjoying her time abroad and wanting to encourage others to experience it themselves, she also decided to become an EAP peer advisor after returning to UCSB.

Studying abroad requires extensive planning to make sure that students are still able to graduate on time. One resource that is frequently recommended is the previously mentioned UCSB Gaucho Credit Abroad. On the website, students can filter for a particular country or major and receive a list of courses that satisfy these conditions. 

“The website was very helpful when you’re trying to figure out what classes are being offered in your program and what classes other people have taken in the past,” Smith said. 

However, some majors may have upwards of hundreds of options across different countries, making the large list of courses difficult to navigate. 

This heatmap depicts study abroad course offerings at UCSB across all majors. (Tracy Sun / Daily Nexus)

This heatmap depicts the study abroad course offerings across all University of California schools. Both maps show a clear dominance in the popularity of programs in Europe and Asia. (Tracy Sun / Daily Nexus)

Most UC students studying abroad tend to gravitate toward European countries, with England, Italy and Spain consistently favored in particular. Some non-European countries, such as Korea, Japan and Australia, also get strong attendance, but participation in programs in Asia and Oceania pales in comparison to Europe. Most programs in African and South American countries rarely get any visitors. (Tracy Sun / Daily Nexus)

Smith said that more students may be mainly interested in Europe due to comfortability from popular depictions in media or any prior experiences visiting Europe. 

“I think people know what to expect out of Europe a little bit more, and that’s why they tend to be like, ‘Oh, I want to experience it to a higher degree than I have in the past,’” she said. Smith noted that people may be drawn to locations farther from the Americas to get a bigger contrast in experience but assured that they can get that anywhere that’s outside the United States.

Professor Juan Campo, the 2022-23 EAP faculty director at UCSB, corroborated this idea.

“There are a lot of romantic films that take place abroad in European countries such as ‘Midnight in Paris,’ ‘Three Coins in the Fountain,’ and the James Bond series, so there’s a lot of publicity given to those countries in mass media,” he said. Campo said that more students are inspired to go there to experience what they have seen for themselves given the increased positive exposure these countries receive.

He also cited the initial demographic makeup of American colleges and, thus, their study abroad programs as a reason for this bias. 

“Part of it is due to cultural heritage, given that America traditionally consists of Anglo-Europeans. Many of those white Anglo-Europeans were more well-to-do and able to send their students to college,” he said. “Study abroad programs in college were first set up in the latter part of the 20th century, and due to these students’s interest in Europe, these countries kind of got built into the fabric of studying abroad.”

Despite the large bias towards studying abroad in Europe, Campo expressed that this trend may be in the process of changing. 

“We have more students from other backgrounds that are helping to reshape the dynamics for where students are going, especially for Asian countries. A lot of students want to go to Korea because they are interested in K-pop, or Japan because they studied martial arts,” he said. 

As mass media begins to encompass countries outside of Europe, it is very likely that similar interest may arise there. Additionally, students’s increased comfortability with Europe may actually contribute to the study abroad program, functioning as an initial exposure to the daunting experience of living in a foreign country and possibly leading to future study abroad programs that expand beyond the continent. 

Another contributing factor to the relatively smaller study abroad participation outside of in Europe is the complicated process of making study abroad programs in other countries available to UC students. 

“Whenever a country comes up for consideration at a program site, we look for something where students can get something that’s up to par with a UC course, and UCEAP staff review the course qualities as well as the university’s academic reputation,” said Campo. 

Universities may fail to meet these standards or have other problems ranging from incompatibility with the UC academic calendar to societal complications in certain countries such as “gender discrimination, health issues or political conflicts.” 

On top of this is the underpinning factor in a new program’s success: student interest. “We used to have short-term programs in Vietnam and Indonesia, but we never got enough students to make them viable,” Campo said. To address this, UCEAP has conducted several surveys to gauge what countries students may be interested in going to, which has helped in opening up some new options.

When it comes to which majors tend to study abroad more, Campo observed that there are certain majors that tend to be more inclined to go abroad. 

“It’s clear that people in the social sciences like global studies, communication, psych & brain sciences and environmental studies [often study abroad],” he said. In addition, students in the language departments will often go to countries where they can interact with native speakers of their language of study. 

Students that have a double major have each major counted separately. Of the top 10 majors that studied abroad in the 2022-23 school year, six were within the humanities discipline. Letters is an interdisciplinary category that covers subjects such as history, literature and philosophy. (Ryan Sevilla / Daily Nexus)


Students that have a double major have each major counted separately. Students with unknown majors are excluded. The interdisciplinary studies major is counted in its own category to account for students that integrate both humanities and S.T.E.M.-related fields into their programs. (Ryan Sevilla / Daily Nexus)

Indeed, humanities majors tend to participate in study abroad programs more than S.T.E.M. majors. Campo noted that the underrepresentation of the latter may be attributed to their requirement of specific courses that must be taken in sequence.

However, the difference isn’t as big as one might expect, averaging out over the last seven years to a ratio of about five humanities majors to every four S.T.E.M. majors. 

“I think getting more students from the S.T.E.M. areas would be great,” Campo said. “Currently, majors such as global studies, environmental studies and our religious studies department are very active in promoting EAP. Some departments even have a list of pre-approved study abroad courses that count for credit on their websites.” This significantly increases the exposure of the programs and draws in further student interest.

From 2016 to 2023, the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, the two right before the COVID-19 pandemic, had the highest participation numbers in the UCEAP. (Ryan Sevilla / Daily Nexus)

In the 2020-21 academic year, in the midst of COVID-19, the number of students studying abroad across the UC schools dropped precipitously from the steady five to six thousand of the preceding years to less than a hundred, with most of them having chosen to extend their foreign stay from the previous year. 

“Initially, we were really worried about how we would survive COVID,” Campo said. “But once the vaccine came in and people started going back to work and coming on campus, it was really just a matter of us trying to promote EAP to students and letting them know what the safe countries to go to are.”

When asked about the current status of the study abroad program, Campo expressed his optimism. “I think we’ve done really well, though we’re not a hundred percent back to where we were before COVID. I’m really happy that we were able to bounce back,” he said. As a result of the increasing use of virtual environments that resulted from the pandemic, the office decided to begin holding both online and in-person meetings, which has given students more flexibility to access the program. 

The students who ended up going abroad in the 2020-21 academic year also had to face challenges from how their respective countries responded to the pandemic. Due to the rise in cases in the U.S. around December, the Dutch government required Meyers to quarantine upon arrival, register her vaccine records and quarantine for even longer than her arrival quarantine period after she caught COVID-19 herself. 

“That wasn’t very fun for the first couple of weeks,” she said. “It did get better from there, but the pandemic definitely made things a little bit more difficult.”

However, given how the 2022-23 academic year suggests a resurgence of interest in EAP as its participation was double the amount of the preceding year, the EAP peer advisors are optimistic that participation levels will return to how they were before, if not higher, now that the pandemic is over. Meyers believes many people from the classes of 2023 and 2024 may have been more hesitant to study abroad to avoid losing more time at UCSB. 

“The current freshmen and sophomores never had their college experiences impacted by COVID, so they have no problem going abroad,” she said. 

Smith said that many incoming freshmen are already expressing interest, stopping by the office to start figuring out the logistics. Time will tell once EAP makes its full recovery.

Overall, studying abroad offers a unique opportunity to enhance students’ learning and cultural experiences, but students should not wait too long to decide or they will miss their chance. 

“In order to find the best program and time it right, it’s really to your advantage to start planning early,” Campo said. Meyers added that living abroad is much more difficult to do after college, so students are encouraged to take advantage of EAP as an easy and safe opportunity to meet new people and grow.

Students looking to go abroad to popular countries, such as England and Italy, or major in common fields, such as social sciences and foreign languages, are likely to find someone to learn from before they leave. However, a country’s or major’s lack of popularity and pre-existing references should not discourage students, as less popular programs could gain more exposure if more people are willing to explore them. 

“Explore options that are outside of your comfort zone because you never know what you can get out of that,” Smith said. With the multitude of countries and programs that EAP has to offer, a valuable experience could be obtained virtually anywhere.