A recent study by researchers at the University of Washington revealed students who study abroad — especially those in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia — often double their alcohol intake, increasing from a weekly average of four beers while at home, to eight while on exchange.
Evan Donnelly, a third-year commercial aviation and management student, spent last winter enrolled in the European Business School in Oestrich-Winkel, Germany.
Germany, he surmised, has a beer culture, and while he didn’t think his drinking necessarily doubled, he admitted it definitely increased.
“Beer basically became water,” he said. “There was no tax on alcohol. So when the cheapest wine is two Euros for a bottle, you’re going to grab two, and you’re going to drink one today, and one tonight.”
Donnelly shed some light on why students experience such a spike in their drinking habits, noting he often combined the North American practice of binge drinking at parties with the European culture of casual drinking at mealtime.
But Tania Batista, an engineering student who spent her exchange at the University of Freiburg, said she quickly grew tired of the excess drinking.
“Even if we weren’t really in the mood for beer, we’d go ahead and have one at lunch because we’d use the ‘I’m on exchange/vacation in Germany’ excuse,” she explained.
“I turned 22 — that’s three years of being legal. It just doesn’t have the same excitement,” she continued. “[Alcohol] was just so available — grocery stores, McDonald’s, vending machines, cafeterias. The excitement wore off within a couple of months.”
She found that many Germans also shared this mentality.
“You don’t see the same level of inebriation at the bar as you would at Jack’s, for example. The only pukers I witnessed the entire year were a couple of American exchange students who had been allowed to go to the bars for the first time,” Batista shared.
Bibiana Alcala Valencia, an international exchange co-ordinator at Western, noted the University does provide students with a pre-departure workshop, which covers issues like culture shock and touches on drinking.
Mireya Folch-Serra, associate professor in the department of geography, said cultural differences and attitudes towards alcohol affect drinking overseas.
“In Europe, drinking wine and beer is a natural thing. Wine is traditionally served at dinnertime. Here you don’t serve wine every day, but in France, Italy, Spain, etc., you have a jar of domestic wine. Even the children have a little glass of wine with water or lemonade,” she said.
She also explained the European bar scene was more commonly a family affair, where children are accompanied by their parents. Additionally, at restaurants, wine and beer are often included in the price of the meal.
Folch-Serra observed that while wine and beer may be common fixtures in the family home, spirits are rare.
Donnelly’s experience reflects this lifestyle. He acknowledged that while his drinking didn’t substantially decrease when he returned to Canada, he switched from drinking beer to hard liquor.
But Europe’s drinking culture left longer lasting effects on some. Tania Batista expressed that after her time on exchange, she pretty much quit drinking.
“After Oktoberfest, I never wanted to see beer again.”