In the recently released Open Doors report, the Institute of International Education (2015) issued an overview of changes in the study abroad population since the turn of the twenty-first century. At first glance, the numbers are encouraging in many ways: More than twice as many American college students study abroad today compared to fifteen years ago. Those who study abroad come from more diverse academic disciplines and are themselves more diverse, with the number of minority participants having nearly doubled since 2000. Moreover, their destinations are far more heterogeneous, including places previously less traveled by American students, such as China and the Middle East.
Many of these changes seem to indicate the often-sloganized beliefs about the twenty-first century: diversity, a flattening world, and ultimately, globalization. Indeed, the time we live in is characterized by unprecedented mobility—of goods, capital, information, ideas, and here we must add, people—at the global scale. Intensifying globalization processes have facilitated a sustained proliferation of American study abroad programs and have created discourses that legitimize, motivate, and mediate study abroad. These discourses, like globalization itself, are a complex—and potentially contradictory—blend of economic, political, cultural, and philosophical interests and ideologies that the papers in this special issue will address and problematize in detail.