A recent study conducted by the University of Washington found that students studying abroad doubled the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed per week from four when at home to eight while abroad.
The survey consisted of 177 participants who answered questions before going abroad about how much alcohol they were consuming each week, how much they planned to drink while abroad and how much alcohol they believed other study abroad students were consuming.
“I would say my drinking was more casual than binge drinking,” said Jill Herscowitz, a senior nutrition major who traveled to France for an Introduction to Winemaking course. “There were obviously times where everyone in class wanted to have fun, but overall, the trip was learning about the different varieties of wine and being able to enjoy them with others.”
While consuming alcohol was an implied aspect of the course, Herscowitz never got in trouble for overindulging.
Study abroad students must sign a contract before departure agreeing to abide by the UC code of conduct, where violation would result in a referral to Student Judicial Affairs and possible suspension for one academic term.
“Because these are UC programs, the UC code of conduct still applies,” said Zachary Frieders, associate director of the Education Abroad Center (EAC) at UC Davis.
The EAC offers orientation programs and works with students before they travel abroad to prepare them for the differences in lifestyle they will experience.
“The Education Abroad Center takes all health and safety matters abroad very seriously and we have developed significant protocols and policy to help us manage any conduct issues, including excessive drinking,” Frieders said.
Eric Pedersen, a UW graduate student in psychology and author of the study, found data to support the theory that students under the age of 21, the legal drinking age in the U.S., take advantage of more lenient drinking laws abroad. The underage students in Pedersen’s study virtually tripled their drinking, whereas students over 21-years-old doubled their alcohol consumption.
Frieders said he would like to see further research regarding binge drinking versus social drinking. If a student had a glass of wine with lunch each day of the week this adds up to 7 drinks a week as opposed to having 4 drinks in a week at home.
“The fact that I was in France, a culture known so well for its wine, I was going to taste and drink more,” Herscowitz said.
According to Pedersen’s study, drinking behavior also differed according to where in the world the students studied. The students who traveled to Europe, Australia or New Zealand drank more heavily while they were abroad than those who were in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East or Africa.
It is important that students understand how alcohol is perceived in the country to which they are traveling, Frieders said. There have been problems with students drinking in public in countries where this is culturally not accepted.
“When students travel abroad this is often the first time they have been out of the country,” Frieders said. There is naturally a desire to explore those boundaries that regulate behavior at home in the U.S.”
The EAC offers a wealth of information for students preparing to study abroad to help ease the transition into a foreign culture. Students also have access to all the same UC student services while abroad and can look to the UC faculty for help.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded the study. Pedersen is now conducting research to uncover how study-abroad students pace their drinking during the week.
KATIE LEVERONI can be reached at email@example.com.