For many study-abroad students, there comes a shameful night when you find yourself walking home from a European capital's nightlife area at 3 AM, stumbling wasted past the very monuments you rhapsodized about when convincing your parents that moving to Paris for six months would be a "great cultural experience."
If the memory of getting unreasonably messed up in a foreign country isn't one of your shining moments— it was pretty dangerous, really, given your limited language skills and less than stellar sense of direction—perhaps you can take a bit of solace in the fact that you were not alone in making bad decisions in foreign lands. A new survey reports that people are likely to drink more and take new drugs when they are studying abroad.
In a survey released today by On Call International, a firm that assists travelers in foreign countries with medical and safety emergencies, half of the 1,000 current and recent study-abroad students they surveyed who drank alcohol said they drank more while abroad. Eleven percent said they tried a new drug, and another 11 percent said they were more likely to black out. Unsurprisingly, all of these habits lead to poor decision-making.
"But," he added, "I suspect the students probably haven't changed over the years."
The survey found that one in five students studying abroad accepted a car ride from a stranger who wasn't a professional taxi driver, and a hefty 32 percent had sexual or romantic encounters with strangers. Some people really get after it: 11 percent of students were detained by law enforcement.
For students under the age of 21, studying abroad in countries with lower drinking ages gives them the legal recourse to binge-drink. And when what you're binge drinking is some weirdo herbal liqueur that, holy shit, is like 120 proof, disaster and hangovers can ensue.
Alex Wilson (not his real name) studied abroad in London and found he was more likely to booze hard while across the pond.
"I think there's this perception of 'study abroad' that pervades the entire experience, that you're supposed to be doing things you haven't done before," he said. "It's a snapshot in time, you're away from your regular peer groups—it's like vacation from reality. You can do stuff that has zero impact on your social standing. It's like a reset button when you go home, and you have an openness to experiencing new things."
For Wilson, that led to "getting really drunk watching the Tour de France" and trying to race a double-decker bus on a bike.
"That little stroke of genius earned me a first-hand look at the inner workings of a single-payer health care system," he said. "Most study abroad programs are not academically rigorous, and they build in all sorts of time to go explore the city. So as a result, you can be a total fuckup and it's not going to affect your grade."
"These students descend upon Europe in hoards, convening during the week in American bars and on weekends in Amsterdam and Oktoberfest for debauched European-themed Greek life," said Matthew Kotzin, who studied abroad in Paris and said the experience cultivated his passion for wine.
And it isn't just students who embrace the freedom of being on the road with reckless abandon. An On Call International poll from last year found that one in four people said they binge-drank while on trips for work, 11 percent said they have picked up a stranger in a bar, and 4 percent said they had been detained by law enforcement. On Call International chief security officer Hutton then, too, had the job of commenting on Americans behaving badly abroad.
"While it certainly appears that the allure of a one-night stand without the constraints of being close to home is tempting to many business travelers, letting one's guard down in an unfamiliar setting can easily lead to dangerous situations for an individual," Hutton said in a press release. "This includes assault, robbery, and otherwise avoidable accidents leading to serious bodily injury—not to mention reputational damage for the employer."
The statistics paint a somewhat sobering picture, but it's doubtful that any warnings beyond what college students already get from concerned parents and college study abroad officers are going to significantly sway behavior. But be careful out there—it's a big world, and that bottle of French absinthe isn't a Bud Light.