When it comes to selecting a study abroad location, it can be helpful to first narrow your selections down to a continent or region -- after all, with so many wonderful program choices spread throughout the globe, the world is your oyster!
Perhaps lesser known than the continents of Asia or Europe, Oceania is a continental grouping in the Asian Pacific. While Australia and New Zealand are the best-known countries in the region, Oceania is also home to thousands of islands. These islands are grouped together in three sub-regions -- Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia --, and the countries here are full of diverse and thriving cultures.
I may be a bit biased myself as I studied abroad in Australia, but when it comes to a continent for study abroad, Oceania is ripe with benefits for students spending a semester or year abroad. For me personally, my choice to study abroad 'Down Under' transformed me and enriched my life in many ways that continue to pay off in my current life and career.
While many tribal languages still exist on the other islands in Oceania and in parts of Australia and New Zealand, English is widely spoken throughout the region. For many students, merely living abroad will come with its own set of challenges, so removing the language barrier can make it easier to adapt to a new country, make friends, travel and of course, enroll in classes you’ll need to graduate.
Oceania also offers adventure-seekers some of the best access to nature. From the rich, red sands of Australia’s Outback and crystal-frosted fjords of New Zealand to the dense highlands of Papua New Guinea and of Fiji, the diversity of landscapes in this region just beg to be explored.
And, of course, living in Oceania offers students the opportunity to live a different pace of life, and, with any study abroad destination, be immersed in a new culture.
If you’re considering studying abroad in Oceania it can be difficult to know what the best cities to study abroad are. I know this first-hand as I hadn’t even heard of the city of Melbourne before learning about the Australia exchange program offered by my journalism school at the University of Maryland.
Are you convinced of Oceania’s wonders yet? Let’s take a look at the 10 of the best cities to study abroad in Oceania.
1. Melbourne, Australia
Full disclosure: I studied abroad in Melbourne and loved my experience, so in my opinion, this is the best city to study abroad in Oceania! Lesser known than Sydney, Melbourne is driven by a strong local culture, making it an ideal city to truly immerse yourself in the Australian way of life. With diverse and walkable neighborhoods, the vibrant city’s landscape makes for an exciting backdrop to study abroad.
Melbourne is famous for its many laneways, or small side streets that often hide enclaves of artistic graffiti, funky and elegant coffee joints, like my personal favorite: the Hopetoun Tea Room. An “iced chocolate” is a must-order here.
Melbourne is also a mecca for universities with more than 10 universities that call the city home. The student population in Melbourne is truly booming. Three universities -- RMIT University, Monash University, and Melbourne University -- have student populations of more than 50,000. RMIT University is especially known for its technology programs.
2. Sydney, Australia
There’s no greater icon in Australia than the gleaming white sails of the Sydney Opera House, jutting up over the ships and waters of the Circular Quay. With a population of 4 million, Sydney is the country’s largest city. With such international notoriety, to study abroad in Sydney is perhaps the most obvious choice when it comes to Australia.
Needless to say, Sydney is very cosmopolitan so city-lovers will feel right at home here. However, unlike other cities that are wall to wall concrete, nature is never far away. Take a day escape to Bondi beach, paddle out from the waters of Manley beach or cuddle with some of Australia’s most lovable creatures such as koalas and kangaroos at city wildlife parks.
The University of Sydney is Australia’s leading higher education and research University. It ranks as the 50th best university on an international scale. Due to this international nature, Sydney is also a popular choice for students looking to study politics or economics.
3. Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s capital city may lack the jaw-dropping landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The city is a gateway to the rugged nature of the north, including the Coromandel Penninsula, Bay of Islands and Waitakere Ranges. Maori culture also heavily
Students may find the urban setting of Auckland to be very convenient for student life. Though the city is the largest in New Zealand, the compact city center is easily navigable and public transportation abounds. With a population of 1.3 million, there’s plenty of energy in the city and the nightlife scene isn’t topped anywhere else in the country.
4. Suva, Fiji
An archipelago comprised of more than 330 islands, the nation of Fiji is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the South Pacific. By choosing to study abroad in this country, you’ll get beyond the tourist trek and come to understand the true culture as you live among locals.
Though there are several campuses at the University of the South Pacific, the largest is in Suva, set on the island of Viti Levu, one of the largest islands. This capital city is one of the most cosmopolitan settings in all of the region and has one of the most advanced universities. Students can study a wide range of topics here from economics and technology to science and art.
If there’s one thing to know before you study abroad in Fiji, it’s bula, a common greeting that you’re bound to hear day in and day out of your semester overseas. Look forward to swapping fast-paced city life for serene nature as you immerse yourself in Fijian culture by day and island hop on the weekends.
5. Perth, Australia
Perth is a unique city in Australia -- the most isolated capital city in the world, Perth is closer to Indonesia than it is to Sydney, so the vibe here is distinct. Located in Western Australia, the largest state in the country, Perth’s undiscovered mystique make it particularly trendy with millennials at the moment as students who study abroad in Perth will walk away with an unconventional Australian experience.
From enjoying the free city views in Kings Park, to cafe hopping on Wolf Lane to touring the historical sights of Fremantle Harbor, there’s plenty to do in the city itself. Take a quick peek at Instagram however and you’ll find top posts center on the sea of pink frothy sunsets, blue waters and white sand beaches that are found not far from the city center.
Perth’s off-beat nature attracts creative types, so the city is a great place to study art, creative writing or other liberal arts fields. The University of Western Australia is the biggest university here and well known for its state-of-the-art research. Those interested in working with some of the world’s top technical and scientific minds will benefit from studying abroad here.
6. Dunedin, New Zealand
For those looking to get as far off the grid as possible (while still studying at a top rate university), look no further than Dunedin. Known as the “Edinburgh of the South,” Dunedin is located towards the very bottom of New Zealand’s South Island. Surrounded by dramatic coastal landscapes, miles of rolling hillsides and crystal blue lakes, Dunedin is the gateway to glorious nature that welcome hikers, cyclists and artists.
If ever there was a place seemingly built for student life it would be Dunedin. In the city itself, one finds a thriving student community -- in fact, the majority of the population is students. The city is also known for gorgeous Victorian architecture and a celebration of the region’s Scottish heritage.
Many study abroad programs in Dunedin partner with the University of Otago, the country’s first university which was founded nearly 150 years ago. This world-class university is home to more than 20,000 students and offers all varieties of disciplines. On a global scale, the psychiatry, pharmacology and ecology programs rank highest.
7. Apia, Samoa
The small (but mighty) island country of Samoa sits halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, setting itself apart with its unique beauty and spirit. From its dense jungles and volcanic craters to stunning beaches and coral coves, the island’s wonders enchanted creatives at Disney and served as the inspiration for the recent animated film Moana. The great beauty found is here is just one reason to study abroad in Samoa.
With a population of just under 200,000 people, there aren’t any major cities in Samoa. However, there is a large university in Apia, the country’s capital. The National University of Samoa accepts exchange students and partners with third-party program providers to offer select courses.
While a relatively new university (the first students to earn degrees graduated in the 1990’s), the access to nature in Apia and strong conservation values of the people of Samoa make the university an ideal location to study environmental science or marine studies. Students can also expect to have their cultural horizons broadened as they are immersed in Fa’a Samoa or The Samoan Way. This traditional way of life permeates all aspects of culture from society and politics to traditional values and the environment.
8. Gold Coast, Australia
Ask any Aussie where the best place to go in Australia is and they will respond “The Gold Coast.” Perhaps comparable to Florida, the Gold Coast is a popular tourist getaway thanks to its endless entertainment, sleek high rises, and miles of sandy beaches. For those looking to live the Aussie beach life they may have heard of, study abroad in the Gold Coast.
Situated in the Australian state of Queensland, the Gold Coast is a region that runs for more than 40 miles along the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to some of the best surf breaks in the world, including Surfer’s Paradise, as well as lush rainforests.
The two most popular universities to study at in the Gold Coast are Bond University and Griffith University. Bond University is known for small class sizes and modern campus features, while Griffith University ranks in the top 3 percent of universities globally. The proximity of the Great Barrier Reef also make the Cold Coast an unparalleled location for studying marine biology.
9. Christchurch, New Zealand
The nature-based city-hub of Christchurch has long been a bucket list destination for backpackers who seek thrilling adventure experiences in stunning natural settings. Study abroad in Christchurch to get a local’s perspective on this well-loved city and soak up New Zealand’s laid-back culture and way of life.
With a heavy British influence, many say that the city of Christchurch is reminiscent of England, so at times it may seem as if you’re in a charming English town instead of an island in the Southern Hemisphere. The city is also enveloped in nature with attraction such as the Avon River, Hagley Park, and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Of course, you’ll want to spend weekends hiking for the best vistas of the nearby fjords.
With several top-ranking universities, there’s no shortage of options in the classroom either. Interested in studying the Maori culture of New Zealand? Consider the University of Canterbury or Ara Institute of Christchurch.
10. Semester at Sea
Truth be told, there are far more islands in Oceania than one could explore in a lifetime. Given so many of the islands are remote and have low populations, more exotic locations in the region are seemingly off-limits for study abroad students as there are relatively few universities.
However, by spending a semester at sea, students can earn college credits as they lift anchor and sail through the highlights of Oceania. Scuba dive off the volcanic shores of Tahiti, sink your toes in the sand with villages in Fiji, discover World War II battle sites in the Solomon Islands and learn about tribal ways of life in Papua New Guinea.
Again, many of these places don’t have universities, so by sailing through you’ll circumvent the need for a home university to spend a whole semester in a single place.
This is my list of top cities to study abroad in Oceania, but don’t just take my word for it. Your peers can be a great resource as well to chose a study abroad program. Visit the full listing of study abroad programs in Oceania. Read through the programs offered to understand the full number of options available and be sure to check reviews for feedback from actual students who have participated in these programs in the past. In no time, you'll find the perfect study abroad program in Oceania for you and your semester abroad.
This article was originally published in April 2013, and was updated in March 2018.