Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Seven-Day Weekend, Part Ein

When people talk about all the great opportunities study abroad offers to students, there is an elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Much like the elephant I almost crashed my motorbike into because the sun went into my eyes as I came over a hill and prevented me from seeing said elephant.

This is a thing that occurred AFTER I'd pulled over to take this picture.
That elephant is activities that occur abroad that interfere with the study party of study abroad, specifically the over-use of alcohol. Not to be confused with the scene in Dumbo when the titular character becomes intoxicated. Nor is it to be confused with Chang beer from Thailand, which translates to “elephant” and prominently features an elephant on the label.
According to a random British expat I met, if you drink too much of this stuff, you'll wind up in the "Monkey House".
It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has studied abroad that drinking, for better or worse, has ingrained itself into the study abroad culture. Today we’re going to look at just why this phenomenon has occurred. In a later post, I’ll discuss how to cope with the pressures to over-indulge while studying abroad, and in yet another I’ll discuss other such “distractions.”
There was a study released in 2010 that revealed that students consume up to twice as much alcohol when they study abroad as opposed to studying on campus. This is an astonishing amount of alcohol, because have you been to a college campus lately? The study revealed that where students study had a big impact on drinking, with Europe, New Zealand, and Australia being among the biggest destinations for alcohol consumption. Furthermore, the study revealed that students drank more after returning from abroad than before leaving, with no association with turning 21. Lastly, that article states “those that intended to drink more while abroad fulfilled those goals.”

Yeah goal setting! Yeah college!
The article mentions location as a factor of alcohol consumption, so I’ll begin by discussing what it is about some places that make people want to drink more. The first major factor is the ease of drinking in many places compared to the United States. One of the most significant factors in regards to that is the lower drinking ages abroad. The United States has the highest drinking age of any developed country, so many students find themselves suddenly able to legally purchase alcohol when they study abroad. In most countries, the drinking age is 18 years old. However, in some countries beverages like beer and wine can be purchased as young as 16. Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, countries that UW-P students frequently study in, are among the countries with notably relaxed alcohol laws.
Alcohol is often more accessible abroad. Beer is more commonly served in restaurants in some countries. Even McDonald’s serves beer in Germany (Do I see a post about McDonald’s menus abroad in the future? Signs point to yes.) In addition, with no open-container laws in many countries, students are free buy a beer at, say, the local convenience store, and drink it wherever it’s not specifically prohibited. Some countries have a standard beer bottle size much larger than that of here in the US, which could encourage over drinking. Finally, while there are indeed countries with more expensive prices for alcohol than the United States, in many popular study abroad destinations the price is actually cheaper. With a limited budget, many students will happily take advantage of the opportunity to indulge in cheaper drinks.
Another factor that could encourage students to drink more abroad as opposed to at home is the ease of public transportation in most developed or even developing countries compared to the United States. Here in the States people usually, hopefully, stop drinking before they become intoxicated if they know that they must drive home that night. However, in other countries, trains, buses, and taxis are more available, better maintained, and occasionally cheaper. In addition, students don’t normally have any sort of vehicle when they study abroad, so they have no choice but to use public transportation to get to wherever they will be indulging in the night. This leads to an attitude wherein students believe it’s okay to get as drunk as they can, as they won’t have to worry about how they’re getting home. Of course that’s unwise, there are all kinds of reasons to worry about how to get home, but have you ever met a drunk person? They’re not the most reasonable lot.

                Speaking of reasons, what reason do students have to drink in the first place? Just because something is easy, that doesn't mean people will do it, right? Personally, I’ve had ample opportunities to jump off bridges or drive my car over a cliff, but I have yet to do so.
Tempting, but no.
We here at the Education Abroad office often talk about how smart it is to study abroad, because we’ve all studied abroad and we love to toot our own horns, as it were. But also because it really is the intelligent thing to do, as it greatly enhances one as a person. Surprisingly, a study has suggested that intelligent people, the kind of people that know how awesome study abroad is even before the do it, are also the same people that are more likely to indulge in alcohol, and begin doing so earlier in life. Apparently, intentionally drinking alcohol is considered in the animal kingdom to be “evolutionarily novel”. Note that the study does not say that binge drinking is a particularly intelligent thing to do, just that intelligent people do it a lot. Clearly smart people often do stupid things.
Another major factor encouraging alcohol consumption is the environment of study abroad. Studying abroad in a new country is much like starting college for the first time, only much more intense. Studies definitely confirm that students drink more upon starting college than in high school. One reason is a student’s desire to find new friends, for support and intimacy, and whatever else people needs friends for. They are also working to develop their own identity as college students. They’re worried about how they’re perceived by others. Finally, they receive support and encouragement from peers to binge drink. Here’s a list of different reasons that I stole.
·         Breaks the ice: 74.4%
·         Enhances social activity: 74.4%
·         Gives people something to do: 71.7%
·         Gives people something to talk about: 66.6%
·         Allows people to have more fun: 63.1%
·         Facilitates male bonding: 60.1%
·         Facilitates a connection with peers 61.7%
·         Facilitates sexual opportunities: 53.0%
·         Facilitates female bonding: 28.8%
·         Makes women sexier: 28.8%
·         Makes food taste better: 22.7%
·         Makes me sexier: 20.4%
·         Makes men sexier: 19.9%

Many of the reasons are intensified in study abroad. For example, much like when a student enters college for the first time, they are dealing with a new environment. In study abroad, it’s not just a new school, it’s an entirely new country with an entirely new culture. This is incredibly stressful, and increases that need for friends to provide support and intimacy. With so many people reporting that alcohol helps them “break the ice” and “enhances social activity”, it’s no wonder it is so popular when studying abroad.
Compounded on to this is the reputation study abroad has as a partying experience. Some students go abroad for academic and cultural learning experiences, and drink heavily because they feel it is part of the experience. Some go primarily in order to drink and party, with the “study” part a mere afterthought. I’ve met both kinds. These are the peers a study abroad student has, and if he or she wants to make friends and have intimacy, they might very well engage in the very same behavior, whether or not they particularly planned to engage in it, or particularly enjoy it. Thus study abroad’s drinking reputation becomes self-perpetuating.
Picture unrelated.
Study abroad has a well-deserved reputation for allowing one to experience new things, but from what I’ve gathered it also seems to have a reputation for allowing one to experience new people. In an intimate way.
I’m talking about sex.
Sex and alcohol often go hand-in-hand, and for many so do sex and study abroad. It does make sense. They’re far from home, and thus feel far removed from the consequences of their actions. They’re also far from many of the people that would judge them for how often and with who they engage in sexual activity. There’s the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mentality, wherein a student may feel that a particular sexual encounter “doesn’t count” when abroad. In addition, as with everything abroad there’s a heightened sense of exploration, meaning students often feel they need to explore new people. This is compounded by the fact that people outside of one’s home culture are typically considered “exotic”.
So what I’m getting at is many students really, really want to engage in sexual activity abroad. Not all, and many control themselves, but yeah, it happens. I’m not going to get into the positives and negatives of that, as it’s beyond the scope of this weblog post, but it does have repercussions for student alcohol use. In the list from earlier, more than half of students reported drinking alcohol because it makes sexual opportunities easier. In addition, some reported that it makes themselves, or others, seem sexier. So the desire for sex leads to an increased use of alcohol, which combined with an increased sexual appetite from the study abroad experience, leads to a lot more drinking.
Pictured here not actually helping the lady in front.
So, what have we learned today? When people study abroad, there are tremendous internal and external pressures to indulge in alcohol. That’s not yet even taking into account America’s arguably immature drinking culture. In a future post I’ll talk about that, and go into detail on just what the consequences of binge drinking abroad are (HINT: There are many!) and how to avoid them (HINT: It involves moderation!)

But next for me on the blog: Durian! The world's smelliest fruit!

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