Exchanging drinking habits abroad

According to University of Washington study, students on international exchange double their alcohol consumption

Melana Roberts, ArtSci ’11, says she noticed a different drinking culture in England where she went on exchange.
Melana Roberts, ArtSci ’11, says she noticed a different drinking culture in England where she went on exchange.

Going on exchange can lead to higher rates of alcohol consumption, according to a University of Washington study. Led by psychology graduate student Eric Pederson, the study found that exchange participants more than doubled their drinking while abroad and most maintained their elevated levels after returning home.

The study, called “When in Rome: Factors Associated With Changes in Drinking Behavior Among American College Students Studying Abroad”, looked at the drinking habits of 177 American students on exchange in five different regions; Oceania, Asia, Europe, Latin America and non-traditional exchange destinations like South Africa, India and Jordan.

Pederson had participants fill out surveys about demographics, drinking behavior and perceived drinking behavior of peers one month before leaving for exchange and one month after returning. The results showed that students on exchange in Europe or Oceania drink more than students abroad in other regions or even students who stay home.

The study concluded that students increased their drinking from an average of four drinks at home to eight drinks per week while abroad. Students on exchange in Europe drank more on average than those in other regions, but upon their return, these students brought their drinking habits back to their pre-departure levels. By contrast, students who go on exchange to Latin America tend to continue to increase their drinking levels, even after returning home.

Students who intended to drink alcohol while abroad and had higher perceptions of student drinking behavior abroad were predictors for increased drinking.

Tara Cater, ArtSci ’11, said her 2010 exchange in New Zealand was like an extended holiday.

“It’s a mindset when you’re an exchange student, where everyone feels like you just want to have fun,” she said, adding that there was an overwhelming drinking culture at the University of Otago where she studied.

“Watching a movie you would often do with a bottle of wine,” she said. “Or at dinner it was usually bring your own beer.”

According to the study, the side effects of binge drinking can range from missing class because of a hangover, to more severe consequences like violence, arrest and sexual assault. The study acknowledged these effects are also felt when students study at their home university, but effects while at home are much better documented than the effects felt while on exchange.

According to the study, this is the first time anyone has measured the frequency of drinking as abroad as opposed to at home. But, Pederson was unable to correlate the increased number of drinks with risky behavior or even binge drinking. “We can’t really say if this is risky drinking or not,” he told University of Washington News. “This could be a drink a night [or] a glass of wine at dinner over the course of a week.”

The Queen’s University Administrative Coordinator for the International Programs Office, Jenny Corlett, said she hasn’t heard of a correlation between excessive drinking and going abroad.

“To my knowledge we don’t have any issues of this nature with our incoming exchange students,” she said. “We have also not heard any issues from our own students who go out on exchange.”

Corlett said this could be different for American students.

“I could see where this might be an issue with US students going abroad because depending on where they are going to, they will be the age of majority and permitted to drink alcohol where as they may not be at that age in the US,” she told the Journal via email.

According to the study, participants under the age of 21, increased their alcohol consumption to a greater extent while abroad and upon returning home, when compared to students who were over 21.

Melana Roberts, ArtSci ’11, said she drank equal amounts or less on exchange than she did at Queen’s because of the higher workload she experienced at the University of Warwick.

“I was the only person on exchange [taking third-year classes] and lived in the largest party residence,” she said. “Everyone else who was on exchange from Canada were taking second year courses so they didn’t have as much work to do and went out more … my third-year friends went out a lot but to things like concerts ... [but] it wouldn’t revolve around drinking.”

She said the study may reflect the fact that in England drinking is more integrated into everyday life.

“I think there is a big drinking culture in the UK,” she said. “But it’s more casual like drinking every meal, or going to the pub, not necessarily drinking to get wasted like [at Queen’s].”

Kira Zanyk Davey, ArtSci ’11, who went abroad to Ghana University, also chose to limit her alcohol intake.

“Part of the reason I didn’t want to go and party the whole time was because I wanted to immerse myself and learn something,” she said. “But part of the reason as well is it is so hot and the hangovers are brutal. It actually impacted my choice to drink because it was 40 degree weather.”

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