Study Abroad in Africa: 2002-2011

Megan Lee
Megan Lee

Megan is an international educator, traveler, and writer. She has led study abroad programs in China and the South Pacific.

Africa has grown fast (192%) over the past decade, but still makes up less than 5% of US students abroad. Rapid growth from 2004-2010 cooled in 2011 due to slowdowns in the popular destinations of South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya. Central and East African nations continue to see strong growth, even if their overall numbers are still small.

What’s been happening:
  • Western Africa, with the exception of Ghana, has generated less student interest and hosts fewer U.S. students studying abroad than the rest of the continent.
  • Of the top 5 countries in Africa hosting U.S. study abroad students, 80% cite English as a national language, indicating foreign language acquisition is not a prime motivator for these students.

* Note: For the purposes of our study Egypt is included in the Middle East region.

Ian Hefele, MENA and North Africa Counselor at

“As many African countries gain stronger democratic governments, they are going to be in better positions to accept study abroad students from the States, so I expect an upward trend of student enrollment. Africa holds so many diverse locations that can appeal to a broad spectrum of American students. It has a very 'raw' aspect to life that many study abroad students haven't seen before.

Political tensions are easing, communications are improving - even to the remotest parts of Africa, and Africa is getting noticed more from American media. As revolutions and civil wars happen-especially in the north of the continent-student populations shift and will continue to shift. Unfortunately, I think social fads such as Kony 2012 also have an influence on the situation. In the end, Africa's best asset is her people and how they communicate with the rest of the world.”

Linda Raven, Program Director at the

“College is a good time for developing critical thinking skills, questioning the assumptions you have about the world, and learning to look for the deeper story behind what appears to be true at first glance. My personal experience is that there are a lot of misconceptions about the continent of Africa. By visiting one or more countries on the continent, staying with host families, forming friendships with people from here, it provides a perfect context for honing those critical thinking skills.

You are able to ask yourself, "What did I assume about this place before I arrived?" "What did I assume was happening my first few days here?" and as you get to know the people and the country on a deeper and more intimate level, more layers of complexity will continue to be revealed to you. I've lived in Namibia for 9 years and still don't "understand" what's happening, but I have a much better understanding than before I came. Its a large diverse continent, where many of the things you assume about it based on various media images are both true and not true. Its deep complexity makes it an amazing place to challenge your assumptions about Africa, the world, and yourself.”

Blessing Shingi Mavima, Executive Director at

“The popularity of African study abroad destinations seem to (not surprisingly) correlate to their economic and socio-political stability. While different regions on the continent have undergone and continue to go through their periods of tribulation, there appears to be a well-distributed regional representation in top study abroad destinations. South Africa remains a prime destination. A young democracy, post-apartheid South Africa continues to blossom economically and socially, despite going through challenges typical to the continent.

Their cosmopolitan areas rival the finest in the world, the national institutions still run pretty well, and the FIFA World Cup held 3 years ago was nothing short of a success- both in itself and in its after-effects (tourism, revenue etc.) In Northern Africa, Morocco's star shines as bright. Its proximity to Europe (8 miles away from Spain), Middle Eastern culture and African location makes it just an intellectual and tourism feast. While the Middle East/North African region was recently shaken by the 'Arab Spring' (possibly explaining Egypt's decline in popularity as a study abroad destination despite being a prime spot in the past), Morocco was noticeably unshaken, and thus cemented its place as the go-to nation in the region.

While the North/South top destinations have historically been go-to places, the eastern and western destinations are more representative of Africa's new face. on the Western Coast, Ghana has found recent popularity as it provides a perfect balance between the necessary social and political stability and the raw parts of Africa that foreigners enjoy (wildlife sanctuaries, strong indigenous communities.) On the East, Kenya and Tanzania seem to mirror Ghana's economic and social merits, but provide visitors with an even more scenic environment, boasting some of the world's finest wildlife parks. Furthermore, students often get the opportunity to work hands-on with local communities on cutting edge scientific and social projects.”

Source: Institute of International Education. (2012). "Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2000/01-2010/11." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Report Methodology

Analysis and graphics for this report were created by Leaf and Square Consulting, a data-consulting firm helping companies get the most out of their data through advanced analytics and visualization. Learn more at

Data for this report came from the 2012 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange and the National Center for Education Statistics.

We tried to stay as true to the IIE report methodology as possible, but in some instances it was necessary to modify our approach or aggregate data in a different way. A few notes:

  • "Years" in our report refer to the academic year ending.
  • In general, for countries that changed names or political boundaries during the time period covered in the report, data from years prior to the changes were updated to match the most recent assignment from IIE for consistency.
  • Exceptions: Egypt was reassigned from Africa to the Middle East. Turkey is assigned to the Middle East for the global report and shown regionally in both the Europe and Middle East reports.
  • Students traveling to multiple destinations, a significant group, were excluded from our report due to a lack of detailed destination information.
  • Students classified as "Unspecified" to a particular region in the IIE report were spread proportionally to the countries in that region.
  • Data and reports may be downloaded as a Tableau Packaged Workbook by following the link underneath the charts. Further inquiries about the data or methodologies may be directed to [email protected]