Western Europe was the most popular destination among study abroad students, with the United Kingdom being the most popular, followed by France, Spain and Italy.
The number of students studying abroad dropped by more than half in 2019 and 2020 for both UCEAP and Travel Study programs due to COVID-19.
Various factors such as cultural exposure, financial aid, fulfilling requirements and travel destinations influenced students’ decisions to study abroad.
Immersing in a new culture, learning a different language, and exploring global opportunities – studying abroad can be an exciting opportunity during one’s college journey. Due to the pandemic, however, the suspension of numerous study abroad programs and travel restrictions prevented students from pursuing these experiences.
In this article, the Stack explores UCLA’s study abroad programs, students’ experiences and factors to consider before making a decision. There are two main programs through which UCLA students study abroad: the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) and the UCLA Travel Study Program. UCEAP is a UC-wide study abroad program that allows students to take classes abroad through a local university while Travel Study allows students to take courses taught by UCLA faculty during the summer while abroad. The Stack compares these two programs in terms of the different programs they offer and the proportions of students enrolling in each program to provide an overview of study abroad experiences at UCLA.
How many students are studying abroad each year?
The bar chart above shows the number of UCLA students who studied abroad each year from 2009 and 2022 through UCEAP and the Travel Study programs.
Over time, the popularity of UCEAP programs has steadily increased, peaking during the 2018-2019 academic year with 1,266 study abroad students. However, worldwide travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the UCLA International Education Office suspending all summer study abroad programs in February 2020. The number of UCEAP students fell by nearly two-thirds in the following academic year.
Which countries are students studying abroad in?
The heat map below displays the number of UCLA students who have studied abroad within each country since 2009, broken down by the total number of UCEAP students and Travel Study.
Since 2009, Europe has been the most popular study abroad region, hosting over 75% of all UCLA study abroad students. Within Europe, the UK was the most popular country with a total of 4,269 students, around 21% of all study abroad students. France, Spain and Italy follow with approximately 15%, 10.5% and 7.7% of students, respectively.
The chart below details the number of UCEAP and Travel Study students in each of the top five most popular study abroad destinations since 2009.
Over the past 13 years, the UK has consistently remained the most popular UCEAP destination, hosting over a quarter of all UCEAP students in that time period. Due to the pandemic, however, all programs had a significant drop in study abroad students, with some having over a 50% decrease from pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, the number of UCEAP students fell from 304 to 64 between 2018-19 and 2019-20, resulting in the largest drop of UCEAP students since 2009.
Since the loosening of international travel restrictions, the number of students studying abroad in some countries has returned to normal levels when compared to the pre-pandemic numbers. In contrast, other countries such as the UK have yet to recover from the significant decline in students.
One factor that contributes to Europe’s popularity is the availability of programs in the region, with over half of all UCEAP available programs being located in Europe.
Compared to Travel Study, UCEAP offers a broader selection of programs and countries where students can elect to study. However, the Travel Study program offers students the ability to study in some countries not offered by UCEAP, such as Austria, Belgium, Cuba, Greece, Peru, Puerto Rico and Slovakia.
Among UCLA Travel Study students, France was the most popular destination from 2009 to 2019, followed by the UK, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. Combined, these five countries were hosts to 2/3 of all UCLA Travel Study students.
Making the Decision to Study Abroad
For some, making the decision to study abroad can be easy. However, deciding which program to enroll in can be a daunting task.
“I always knew I wanted to study abroad, but I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go or when … I just wanted to go out of the country and experience an environment I’m not used to,” said Wolfe Pickett, a third-year statistics student who studied abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.
With a plethora of available programs, making the decision of where to study abroad can be difficult. In order to make this decision, some study abroad students consider numerous factors of varying personal importance.
One significant factor in making this decision for some students is financial aid. With extra costs such as travel insurance, airfares, transportation and food, study abroad programs can be particularly expensive, especially for out-of-state students, with some costing over $40,000. As a result, funding study abroad programs may be a concern for some students.
For students receiving financial aid from UCLA, both UCEAP and Travel Study programs allow students to carry over and apply their financial aid packages. In addition, both Travel Study and UCEAP offer general merit and need-based scholarship opportunities that students can apply to as well as other program-specific scholarships.
“I did get financial aid, and I got a lot more than I expected. … That really eased my mind,” said Brandon Soung, a third-year political science student who studied abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul.
The factors that lead to making this decision can vary significantly from student to student, making this process a personal experience. For some, a major factor in this decision can be their own cultural background and the opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture.
“I’m originally from China, and I’ve been to countries around there, but never South Korea. Learning a culture that’s similar to mine, but not really at the same time, was really interesting,” said Pickett.
Being in a new environment, however, can lead to unforeseen challenges such as unaccustomed weather conditions and differences in conventions.
“When I went to Yonsei University in the summer, it was the monsoon season. The weather was a very harsh switch up from California. … In South Korea, it was very humid, plus rainy,” Soung said.
For some, language barriers can act as a notable obstacle when interacting with others.
“It was more difficult for me to get around just because I didn’t know as much Spanish. But because I had other students with me, we were all in the same situation, so we could help each other out if we were struggling or didn’t know how to say something,” said Sachi Bopardikar, a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student who studied in Spain.
Another challenge for some students is finding programs offering major-related or transferable courses.
“The main reason I chose it (the program) was because I wanted to study Spanish to fulfill my foreign language requirement. … I really liked the program because it did help me with my requirements because I know it is really difficult to find study abroad programs, especially for STEM majors,” Bopardikar said.
However, depending on one’s major, finding applicable programs can be easier for some students.
“A lot of the courses that they offered would have transferred really easily. … I was able to take major-related courses for stats and also take on some fun, easier courses as well,” said Pickett.
Overall, many students find it especially important to be aware of the effects of studying away from UCLA for an extended period of time.
“It is very time sensitive, and I feel like sometimes it does kind of derail you or distract you from your priority or major plan,” Pickett said.
Many students have found studying abroad a particularly rewarding part of their college experience.
“I got a lot out of the experience. I was able to learn about a new culture and travel to a country I’d never been before. I was able to make a lot of new friends,” Bopardikar said.
Beyond exploring new cultures and making new connections, studying abroad can provide an opportunity for personal growth.
“All in all, I think I gained more global awareness and mindset,” Pickett said.
In the end, choosing to study abroad can be a great opportunity for those that have the ability to.
“If you have the time, money, and if you plan out your courses well, I think study abroad is a great opportunity if you really want to expand your horizons and just meet new people and go to a different country,” said Pickett.
About the data
All data visualizations were created using the public data provided by the UCLA Global website, which reported the number of students who have studied abroad in different countries. The data was filtered by the UCEAP program and the Travel Study program, sorted by each academic year from 2009 to 2022.