Studying abroad can be one of the most enriching experiences of your life, and there are tons of scholarships to make it no more expensive than your current tuition. If you’re going to spend the time and the money to move abroad, avoid the familiar and go to the place with the most culture shock that you can handle and the more experience will help you in the future. Even if you do choose a popular destination like Italy or London, remember to limit your time with other foreigners and try your best to integrate yourself in the local culture. You’ll make connections that will last a lifetime.
The prospect of spending a semester enjoying “La Dolce Vita,” or “the good life” indulging in the Mediterranean diet, and learning Italian in the arms of a local lover is all quite enticing, and the schools are good, too. Take Rome, the Eternal City with over 2,000 years of history. Milano, the fashion capital of the world. Florence is also known as Firenze, the birthplace of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and all of the other Ninja Turtles. But if you want to go deeper, consider these universities: Bologna, Padua, Naples, or Turin in the north. These are some of the oldest universities in the world, and they’re off the tourist trail.
For English speakers and English students, the U.K. is an understandably popular destination. Synonymous with sophistication and full of dream schools like Oxford, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. If you haven’t traveled much, the U.K. is a really great first-time destination. London is the obvious choice with plenty of prestigious schools, loads of students and no shortage of things to do in your free time.
In Northern England, you have Manchester, home to the top-ranked University of Manchester with a music scene that produced bands like Joy Division, Oasis, and The Smiths. In Scotland consider studying in the gorgeous capital of Edinburgh, a historic hilltop town with loads of students, great nightlife, and a castle. It’s basically the closest thing you’re going to get to study at Hogwarts.
Spain, which will teach you that there’s a lot more to being a student than just studying. Leisurely lunches, conversations over the cafe, and all-night parties will make you never want to go home. Also, it’s a great place to learn Spanish with the proper Castilian accent. Madrid is the obvious choice, as is Barcelona. Both are great cities to study in, but there are tons of foreign students, and it’s easy to get lumped in with the rest of the Guiris.
Dive deeper by studying in Salamanca, the university town in Castilla Leon, the heartland of Spain. Also, consider San Sebastian or Bilbao in our beloved Basque Country. You can also check out Santiago de Compostela, the holy city in Galicia, not to mention Sevilla, Granada, Malaga. There are so many beautiful cities in Spain, and all of them have great universities. If you already speak Spanish, why not challenge yourself to learn some of the local languages like Basque, Catalan, Gallego.
With over 3,500 years of written history, it is the oldest continuous civilization on earth with the widest spoken language and the second largest economy in the world. In short, China matters and studying there is probably a good call for your future career. Hong Kong is the softest landing for many westerners because it’s a former British territory that speaks English and blends east and west like no other place on earth. But if you plan on learning Mandarin, you might want to choose Beijing or Shanghai because in Hong Kong the primary language is Cantonese.
Shanghai is another solid choice for China. Like Hong Kong, it’s a global financial hub full of expats, locals, and students alike. If you’re trying to beef up your resume, it’s hard to think of a better place to do it than Shanghai. Beijing, China’s massive capital, is ideal for those of you looking to dive into the deep end. With over 21 million inhabitants and over 3,000 years of history, Beijing is the beating heart of rising China, and it would be a great place to study for a semester.
Singapore, a prosperous city-state founded by the British that today, is a global hub of finance and trade with some really great schools to match. The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technical University are both in the top 40 worldwide.
Beyond that, the population is a mixture of Chinese, Indians, and Malay, which creates a very unique cultural experience, not to mention the food is incredible, its location right at the tip of Southeast Asia makes it the perfect places to base yourself to explore more of the region including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, all of these countries are a hop, skip and a jump away from Singapore.
France, a classic choice since the Days of the Enlightenment because Paris is always a good idea, especially when you consider schools like the Sorbonne and Science Po, and H.E.C. Business School, just to name a few. In terms of learning a language, French is still a really great choice, not as popular as Spanish or Chinese, but spoken by 220 million people worldwide. Very handy for getting around Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.
If you want to get beyond Paris, check out Bordeaux in the southwest, wine country, the Mediterranean melting pot of Marseille, the student city of Montpellier or Grenoble, a skier’s paradise nestled in the Alps.
Another great place to learn French is Montreal in Quebec, a bilingual city home to the excellent Mcgill University and the Université de Montréal. It has more post-grad students than any other city in North America. In short, it’s smart, sexy, and sophisticated, and a great place to live for a while.
Another alternative is Vancouver, Canada’s third largest city nestled in the beautiful forests of coastal British Columbia. Vancity is a great place to be, and it’s within striking distance of Whistler Blackcomb Mountain, one of the world’s best ski and snowboard destinations.
The United States still has some of the world’s best universities and unparalleled student life. Take Boston, quintessential New England, home to Harvard and M.I.T. and some epic nightlife. New York, packed with great schools, tons of young, single people and things to do, also plenty of great ethnic restaurants that are so cheap, they won’t break your bank, even if your rent does.
In California, the Bay Area has Berkeley, Stanford, and many others. While in Los Angeles you have UCLA, one of the top destinations for international students. Lastly, Boulder, Colorado, not only one of the most educated cities in the country but also some of the wildest party life and incredible surroundings, the Rockies.
The Netherlands, which has a large English- speaking population. If you’re going to learn Dutch, it’s actually the closest related language to English. In the Netherlands you can literally bike everywhere, not to mention it’s extremely well connected to Europe via trains and airports. Amsterdam is great and has plenty of universities, but the oldest in the Netherlands is the University of Leiden, not to mention Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
If you speak English or want to learn it, Australia has some great options. Sydney combines the best beach vibes with the urban sophistication of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. Melbourne, Australia’s bohemian second city, is consistently ranked one of the best places in the world to live. And Brisbane with three major universities, two million people, and one of the highest student ratios of any major city in the world. It’s also the gateway to the Gold Coast, which is a great option for sun seekers.
New Zealand, which is perfect for those of you who feel like a more chilled version of Australia and those of you who love nature. The student life at the university was great at Otago. There were tons of parties, tons of great people, and it was located very close to explore lots of wild nature in the South Island. The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s top school in the largest city. But consider the University of Victoria in Wellington, the coolest little capital in the world.
Austria, home to Vienna, one of the world’s great intellectual cities. Vienna is absolutely gorgeous, very safe, and it’s been consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the world. It’s also at the center of Europe just a short train ride away from Budapest, Prague, Italy, and the Alps. Also, Vienna invented coffee houses as we know them. So when it comes time to study, you’re going to have plenty of coffee to keep you going.
It is a great place for students because it’s not on the Euro and beer is literally cheaper than water. It has been home to creative such as Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera, and it still is a great place for young creatives. Also, it’s centrally located within the continent of Europe, which means all of that money you’ve saved on your fund, you can use to travel to other places.
Budapest, which like Prague is not on the Euro and therefore one of the cheaper places to study in Europe. It’s got a long intellectual history, some beautiful people, great nightlife and not to mention over 200 natural hot springs in the middle of the city. So when you get tired from studying, go check out one of in it.
I will highly recommend that you study abroad in Ireland because Ireland is one of the favorite places to travel, period. The Irish have incredibly good vibes. They are welcoming, friendly and fun. The countryside is absolutely gorgeous. You have the ocean, mountains, pretty damn good food, not to mention Guinness.
If you’re going to study abroad in Ireland, consider Trinity College in Dublin, a revered center for learning and home to the incredibly famous Book of Kells. Dublin itself is a Unesco city of literature. As pretentious as that sounds, it’s actually pretty awesome. Dublin has created some incredible writers and their legacy is visible all over the city. Some would say that Galway is a better call. It’s much more low-key located on the western Atlantic side of Ireland. It’s a great music city, also you have the Cliffs of Moore and most of the Wild Atlantic Way within day trip length from the city.
For Spanish speakers, I recommend Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires where they’re nine reputable and relatively affordable universities, also so much more that this South American center can teach you. The lifestyle here is great: parties that go all night, dinners of asado washed down with some malbec, not to mention plenty of mate tea for when it comes time to study.
But, if you are coming to learn Spanish, just keep in mind that Argentinian Spanish is the most distinctive all Spanish dialects. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something that people will notice as you speak Spanish outside of Argentina for the rest of your life.
If you want to learn more neutral Spanish, learn it in Mexico, which is the widest spoken dialect of Spanish, and it’s understood across the continent. Mexico City is one of the world’s great cities, full of history, culture, incredible architecture, great food, and pretty amazing nightlife.
For Americans, it’s not technically overseas. But building relations with our neighbors south of the border is always a good call, and I guarantee you it will help you find a job when you move back to the USA.
India is one of the most stunning countries on earth. The colors, the smells, the taste, the food, all incredible. Not to mention, English is widely spoken. Locals are super curious about foreigners, and it’s guaranteed to push you out of your comfort zone. There are schools all over India, but Mumbai has it all. It’s the most globally connected city in India with great schools and plenty of things to do.
For those of you interested in Africa, the most logical place to study abroad is Cape Town and with good reason. English is widely spoken and also if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere, Cape Town and South Africa are in the Southern Hemisphere. So if you were to study abroad, say your winter semester, you technically have two summers.
Safety can be a concern here so you do have to have your wits about you. But the standard of living is the closest you’re going to get to North America or the European standard of living in the continent of Africa. Lastly, South Africa’s history has a lot to teach all of us. From the struggles of colonialism to apartheid to the post-apartheid world, it has a lot of lessons that all of us can learn from.
Also in Africa is Accra, Ghana which has become increasingly popular with African American students looking to connect with their West African heritage. There’s also a growing community of African-American expats, a law known as the “Right to Abode”, which gives people of African descent the ability to obtain permanent residence to start a business.
So after graduation, you’ve got the great startup idea, this might be the place to do it. Beyond that Ghana is one of the more politically stable and safe countries in the region and a great gateway to a continent that a lot of students overlook.
Although, I can’t promise you’re going to get a lot of studying done because this country is seriously fun. That being said the top-ranked school in Latin America is the Universidad de Sao Paulo, and not far behind is a Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro. Portuguese is a great language to learn, and it’s really fun if you do it through activities such as capoeira, Jujitsu, surfing, football, or just learning how to dance the Samba.
Semester at sea
It’s a floating university on a cruise ship that docks in 8 to 15 countries on two to four continents, including destinations such as Russia, Morocco, Cuba, and Ghana. Semester at Sea definitely has a lot of positives, a lot of variety, a lot of partying, and from what we hear..a lot of romance.
But there are also some drawbacks. First of all, it’s not cheap. You’re on a cruise ship for an entire semester. You’re also surrounded by foreigners most of the time, so it’s less about cultural immersion than a cultural buffet. In sum, it’s not for everyone, but if it’s right for you and you can afford it, go for it.