September 2, 2014

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UWash study reveals heavier drinking patterns amongst students who study abroad

Courtesy Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun/MCT

Everyone knows that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but does the saying apply for every country in any given school’s study abroad listings? A recent study done by the University of Washington indicates that drinking habits that students develop while studying abroad tend to stay with them when they return to the states.

Eric Pederson, a graduate student at the University of Washington, conducted the survey. Most of the 177 students were abroad for three to five months, and Pederson found that in that time span, participants’ drinking habits doubled or tripled.

Students who are younger than 21 tripled their drinking habits, whereas students over 21 doubled their habits, the study found.

“Our data suggests that the students who drank the heaviest while abroad returned drinking at slightly higher levels when they came home (about two more drinks per week),“ said Pederson. “This may not be particularly concerning, but it does suggest an increase.“

Intoxication can lead to minor implications such as hangovers or a few missed classes. But this can also lead to more serious consequences such as fights and sexual experiences. The laws are different in other countries and students often times do not understand that an action that does not get them into trouble in the United States could get them into trouble in a foreign country.

“Discussing responsible drinking would likely be helpful,“ said Pederson. “I think it would be helpful to discuss the potential negative consequences that can result from taking it too far.“

However, some students disagree with the surgery. University of Massachusetts senior Ryan Casey found that he drank less while he was abroad. An engineering major who studied in Ireland at University College Cork last spring said that even though he was in a different country, he still had the same college budget. “It was more casual drinking in pubs, than drinking at a party with the expectation of getting drunk,“ said Casey. “Additionally, pints were generally five euro (about the equivalent of seven dollars), so watching your budget also meant watching how much you drink.“

“Now that I‘m back, I‘d say that I probably drink more, though I would attribute this more to the fact that I‘m in my senior year and living off-campus with my best buds,“ continued Casey.

Casey, who turned 21 one day after arriving in Ireland, thinks that a potential reason that students hit the bottle harder across oceans is because they generally take an easier class load so they have more time for traveling.

“The classes I was taking over there were not the most intellectually challenging, he said. “They were mostly gen-eds, and all were non-engineering classes.“

Another difference that Casey observed in Ireland was that European pints are close to one-fifth larger than American ones.

“A U.S. pint is about 83 percent of a European pint by volume. I know this is by no means doubling the drinking habits, but by the time you think you‘ve had your usual amount of alcohol, you may have just passed your tipping point,” said Casey.

Though the UMass International Programs office could not be reached to comment on thoughts regarding the study, Casey said, “IPO made it a point to tell us to definitely find out local laws. The IPO office of UCC definitely did.”

European countries are generally the most popular for study abroad, though Pederson has no actual data to support the idea that students generally choose to study in countries that usually have more lenient drinking laws. “I‘m not sure if a student really thinks about it, because the large majority of the countries students go to do have more lenient laws.“

Drunk or not, study abroad generally positively effects students learning and personal experiences.

“I don‘t really feel much different,” said Casey. “I guess I appreciate being home a little more, and love the idea that we live on a huge planet that should be further explored by everyone. It was definitely a nice change of pace for a semester though.”

Ashley Berger can be reached at aberger@student.umass.edu.

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