Asian study abroad gets overlooked

Performers participate in a lion dance at Ditan Park to mark the first day of Chinese Lunar New Year in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Millions of Chinese began celebrating the Lunar New Year, which marks the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese zodiac. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

For Baylor students studying abroad, Europe offers familiarity: similar languages and cultures. But many students do not know that Baylor has a wide range of scholarships and accommodations available for Eastern countries, such as China and Japan.

Instead, students study abroad in western European countries more than they do in any other part of the world. Bobby Leis, the Baylor exchange program and study abroad adviser, has theories of why this is the case.

“I think inside of us, a lot of Americans are heritage seekers,” Leis said.

Students whose great grandparents emigrated from Europe, or who have relatives living there, may choose to stick to the West to learn about their heritage.

However, Eastern programs can accommodate students studying abroad as well. Hong Kong Baptist University, a study abroad destination offered by Baylor, is an English-speaking campus.

“Their courses are similar, their class hours are similar,” Leis said. Even the course titles are similar. So it gives students that sense of familiarity.”

But choosing to study in a country with different cultural background offers more than just scholarships or accommodations.

Beijing junior Jennifer Cheng said Chinese cuisine and the ability to get around on foot are her favorite things about home.

“People don’t want to step out from their comfort zones,” Cheng said. “They might have to change themselves to get used to that new thing. And most people don’t want to change, necessarily.”

Different food or means of getting around might be enough to keep some students from traveling East. A more obvious obstacle is the language barrier.

“Chinese is hard, even for a native speaker,” Cheng said.

The low numbers in students traveling east is not exclusive to Asia. Leis said he even has trouble convincing students to consider Eastern Europe.

“I would imagine every factor you can think of has something to do with it,” Leis said.

But some students show initiative. Leis cited the South Korean “K-Pop” music genre for creative students, or learning Russian as strategy for ROTC students as some of the reasons people might choose to travel East.

“Usually, if a student goes to western Europe, it’s because they want to go to western Europe. But when a student goes to Japan, it’s because they want to be in Japan,” Leis said.

For students who are considering traveling East, Cheng said it is best to know someone who already lives there.

“They might be that important connection to that country,” Cheng said.

For those that are undecided on whether they will study abroad or not, registration for both summer and fall semesters is due by March 15. Any additional information is viewable at

College allows for students to encounter new ideas and new people, while having some fun along the way. Studying abroad, especially to a country one does not know much about, offers much the same ­­— if not more.

“Traveling to East Asia, especially to a country with a long history, that is very fun,” Cheng said.