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The dominance of the United States often gives others the perception that North America refers solely to USA. But this is not true! A study abroad experience in North America will certainly show you this. North America is an extremely diverse continent - while certain countries do indeed have strong American influences, you will find that many still remain untouched.
The greatest appeal of studying abroad in North America is probably the incredible and diverse cultures and experiences you will gain. Every country has its little quirks - this means that whatever your preferences, you can be sure to find a country suitable for you!
In general, North America is a good place to live in for the budget-conscious. Cost of living is generally much lower than in the United States - for example, consumer prices in USA are 60% higher than that of Mexico and 17% higher than Costa Rica. Because of the diversity in countries however, the difference in cost of living varies greatly from country to country.
Nicaragua offers the lowest cost of living in Central America while Belize is the most expensive country in Central America, yet one of the least expensive in the Carribbean! Conversely, Canada's consumer prices are 17% higher than that of USA. Confused? As a general rule, the further south you go, the cheaper your living costs will be (plus you will be able to travel cheaply and easily from one low-cost country to the next!)
North America can be split into two parts - the southern North American continent and Northern America. The southern North America is composed of Central America and the Caribbean, whereas Northern America generally refers to Canada, USA, Greenland, Bermuda, and St. Pierre and Miquelon. Culturally, you will find that there is more unity or common history for countries in Central America and the Caribbean as compared to Northern America.
Central America and the Caribbean have some of the world's most diverse wildlife, and a plethora of Mayan, Aztec and other pre-Columbian ruins to top it all off. With its lush, animal-filled rainforests, unspoiled beaches, tasty food and a history steeped in rich heritage and traditions, you will definitely find yourself thrust into a completely new and different environment. Don't be surprised to see people walking around barefoot or to have chickens and roosters roaming about the streets.
The multi-cultural influences on Central America and Caribbean identity gives these countries a colorful and vibrant scene, and you can be sure to have plenty to see and do! You will likely find certain customs new, confusing, and even bewildering. Take a look around you to see how others behave. Regardless of your destination country, it is critical that you not offend the locals by resorting to certain behaviors you wouldn't think twice about back home! Learn to observe others for the culture's dos-and-don'ts, do a little background research before travelling, and keep a lookout for affronted glares from locals!
On the other hand, Northern America is a little more similar to the United States. Canada and Greenland certainly have their own little quirks however. The Canadians' love for ice hockey, poutine and their special brand of humor will certainly still give you an experience that is different from that in USA. The beautiful Canadian landscape also presents opportunities to ski, hike and partake in other outdoor, adrenaline-inducing activities! Conversely, majority of Greenlandic people descended from the Inuit. This means that people still go ice-fishing and annual dog-sled races are held. While Greenland has become more touristy these days, there is no doubt that you will have an extremely unique experience in Greenland.
In general, because of the dominance of the United States, North America is usually perceived as being a homogenous, 'American' continent. However, the other countries that make up North America have their own identity and culture as well. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, American pop culture is not that prevalent in these countries. For those seeking a unique, completely different study abroad experience, this should come as good news to you!
Learning a new language is tiring and time-consuming; sometimes, you would rather spend that time pursuing other interests. As such, one of the great things about studying abroad in North America is that you need not worry too much about being in a foreign-speaking land! English is widespread in most of North America and where it isn't, Spanish and French take over as the dominant language. Being able to immerse yourself in a foreign culture while in an English-speaking environment gives you the best of both worlds! This may not seem that important or desirable, but it certainly makes classes and travelling more convenient and will relieve you of a large amount of stress.
Besides, if you think that studying in an English-speaking country hits too close to home, worry not! North America is home to a large number of language families and some language isolates. The languages of North America reflect this continent's indigenous peoples and their cultures - you can be sure to still be exposed to different languages and cultures!
According to the Times Higher Education World University rankings, as of 2012, the top 5 universities in Northern America (excluding USA) are the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Montreal and McMaster University. As can be seen, these universities all located in Canada. If you aren't interested in studying in Canada however, other great universities include the National Autonomous University of Mexico and ITESM in Mexico.
From Mayan history to Canadian Law and Economy, students will be able to pick from a wide range of courses and translate classroom discussions into reality. Central America, in particular, would be pure heaven for History, Archaeology, Environmental Studies and Cultural Studies majors. The beauty of studying in North America is that classroom discussions translate into reality the moment you step out of school. Most universities teach courses in English, however, some universities teach courses in their native language so be sure to pick classes where you are comfortable with the medium of instruction. Regardless of which university or country you pick, you can be sure to have a world-class education against a backdrop of pulsing modernity interweaved with rich heritage.
With its rich heritage, colorful scene and little quirks, North America is guaranteed to offer you the experience of a lifetime! The opportunities to create unique and timeless memories are uncountable, and you can be sure that it will be nothing like what you currently experience at home. Studying in North America means taking advantage of a world-class education against the backdrop of a modern society interweaved with traditional values and customs.
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 be on your way to begin this awesome adventure in no time!
Check out these great scholarships to offset your costs when studying abroad in North America next semester.
Photo Credit: Mayan Pyramids, Mexico