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As home to many of the best universities in the world, Europe has plenty to offer for those interested in studying abroad. Because of the relatively small size of its many nations, the geography of Europe makes it very easy to travel between different countries. Whether you're gearing up for a weekend trip or a multi-month holiday, there is a new country (boasting a brand spankin' new culture) always within reach. In fact, when traveling between countries within the European Union, you don't even have to get your passport stamped! While this might make your passport look more boring that you'd like, it is super convenient and allows you to explore more and stress less.
Despite the physical proximity of Europe's different countries, the local culture will drastically change as you cross a border. This fact alone makes it difficult to speak of Europe as a whole. Instead, people often refer to four separate regions of Europe: northern, southern, eastern, and western. Whatever your flavor, there's a country in Europe batting it's eyes at you - take the hint!
If you're planning on hitting up lots of countries while in Europe, have no currency-exchanging fear! All of the countries in the European Union use the euro as currency! But if you head beyond the EU path (say, to Budapest, Prague, Switzerland, or even the UK), you'll need to find a currency exchange center. If you find yourself in these places with only some euros in your pocket, you'll usually find plenty of exchange centers right around the train stations, busses, and airports. Don't make it a habit, though! Their exchange rates and surcharges cater to tourists (read: they're a bit of a rip-off).
As a rule, it is going to be much more expensive to finance a living in a European city than if you were to move further afield in the sticks. For those who are extremely budget-conscious, we recommend steering clear of Switzerland and basically all of northern Europe, whose high costs of living can translate as a low savings account. In particular, Copenhagen, Geneva, London, and Oslo might make your wallet quiver; however, even if you're not up for financing a whole semester in these cities, they're still worth a weekend jaunt!
The Global Property Guide has a really useful and snazzy graphic displaying the cost of living in different European countries for all you visual learners out there. You'll note that the further east the country is located, the more affordable the destination is (generally speaking, darn you Portugal!!). Our most money-savvy students will look for study abroad opportunities in Istanbul, Prague, and Budapest, which consistently rank as some of Europe's cheapest cities.
Language is a very large portion of how different European countries celebrate and maintain their cultures. As such, it is an extremely important element, offering widespread variety across the continent. The large majority of the languages spoken in Europe are of the Indo-European language family. Russian is the most widely spoken language, followed closely by German (the official language of 5 countries).
The European Union alone recognizes 20 different official languages, and many European countries have two official languages. French and English comprise the 3rd and 4th most commonly spoken languages on the continent. Many Europeans speak English, particularly in the west and the north. It is not uncommon to meet European citizens who are versed in multiple languages, sometimes up to 4-5.
The United Nations separates Europe into four regions. Northern Europe includes the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Scandinavia, to name a few. Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Greece are four of the Southern European countries, while France, Germany, and Switzerland are classified as Western Europe. Lastly, Eastern Europe consists of the Cold War's Eastern Bloc, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Poland.
Generally speaking, European countries are predominantly modern and westernized. Each region of Europe has something exciting to offer different types of students. Business minded folks will want to stick to European powerhouses such as London and Geneva, whereas history buffs may be more drawn to Italy or Poland.
Ancient Europe was the birthplace of Western culture, which is heavily influenced by rationalism, humanism, and Enlightenment theories.
"Upon the pagan cultures of aboriginal Europe, the foundations of modern European cultures were laid by the Greeks, strengthened by the Romans, stabilized by Christianity, added to by the rest of Europe, reformed and modernized by the fifteenth-century Renaissance and Reformation, and globalized by successive European empires between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries" - Wikipedia
Since the countries within Europe are so diverse, culture can vary across borders quite significantly. In recent decades, the European Union has been working hard to identify strictly European culture and values. Of course, it has proven a difficult task and not all parties are particularly thrilled with what proposals have been suggested thus far. However, one common note has been the European's more cohesive view of the government compared to the more individualist culture of the USA.
If we're talking food, it is easy to make some clear distinctions between continents. When compared to Asian cuisine, Europeans place more emphasis on meats, seasonings, and dairy in cooking. Bread, pasta, and potatoes are popular starches across Europe. Even the cuisine differs from region to region and between countries. Borscht and pierogi are typical Eastern european dishes, while Southern European cuisine has more of a Mediterranean influence.
Studying in Europe means taking advantage of world-class higher education at a typically reasonable price (if you discount the cost of living). Europe's multicultural environments paired with its long, rich history, particularly in the fields of education, make it an ideal destination for studying abroad.
Students with fields of interest across the spectrum will find a university that fits their educational needs and goals. Although many universities will teach courses in English, it is possible and encouraged to take advantage of learning opportunities in a different language - after all, you have nearly 48 languages across the continent to choose from!
According to Forbes, the top five universities in Europe are Oxford University, University of Cambridge, Imperial College of London, all of which are in the UK. Fourth place is ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland, and fifth is University College London, also in the UK.
If you've read this far, you probably already know that living in Europe can be expensive. Luckily, you can take advantage of lots of scholarship opportunities! European countries are often really excited to have international students come to their campus. As such, many European universities, study abroad providers, private organizations, and government agencies offer scholarships for students studying in Europe. Some well known scholarship and financial aid providers are the Fulbright scholarships, Gilman scholarships, and International Education Finance Corporation (IEFC). This helpful website allows you to search a database of offered scholarships by entering your specific needs and information.
Europe is an absolutely fantastic place to study abroad--the education, culture, and travel opportunities seem endless. Since different areas of the continent can vary so much, you should definitely ask yourself some questions before settling on a specific study abroad location: How large of a country would I like to live in? What other countries would I like to be near? What language would I like to learn? Do I want to live in a rural area or a city? Which countries have the best schools for my interests? What kind of accommodations would I like -- homestay, apartment, dormitory? Once you have an idea of the sort of place you're looking for, you'll on your way to begin this awesome adventure in no time!
Emma is a senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Cognitive Science. Since she studied abroad in Utrecht, Netherlands, she has been itching to travel more. When she isn't in school or working at Go Overseas, she loves to dance and browse Pinterest.
Photo Credit: Andalucia, Spain