When I finally stepped into my first study abroad fair, I did what we all do (and what we shouldn’t) and scooped up every single glossy-paged brochure I could and fell in love with all of them. How was I supposed to pick where to adventure?
It took me awhile but I did finally figure it out after going over many, many different possibilities and reasons. Here’s a few tips on how to figure out where you should study abroad.
What Partnerships Does Your University Have?
Most universities in the United States have partnerships with universities abroad. Usually, this means that you'll be able to go on a direct exchange program at the partner university (for example, a Berkeley student studying abroad at the National University of Singapore) with little or no hassle.
If studying abroad in a location where you can learn more about your major is the most important factor for you, you're probably flexible on where you study abroad.
Since it's pre-approved, it's easier to get transfer credit for your time abroad and, in some cases, you'll keep on paying tuition to your home university as normal (which is nice if you're going to an affordable State school or have financial aid that doesn't transfer). I'd suggest looking at these programs first, then use this article to help narrow your choices.
Study Abroad Somewhere Doing Something You're Passionate About
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Throughout college, my friend and I wrote this quote on our kitchen wall. It breaks down such a large concept into something more simple -- you have one life -- what do you want to do with it? This is such an incredible decision that will truly shape your future and it's so difficult to pick -- especially at the time when your other most important decision is what to select from the dining hall buffet (still can’t choose after this article? You know you can study abroad more than once, right? Questions to get you there:
What major are you studying?
Going overseas to a location that's more dedicated to your studies can bring your experience from awesome to an experience that will drive you forward in your education and you can leave with a more passionate abroad experience that really builds your career once you hit the “real world.”
If studying abroad in a location where you can learn more about your major is the most important factor for you, you're probably flexible on where you study abroad. That's great. Still, everyone needs a recommendation. A couple include:
- Biology: Costa Rica tops high on the list with incredible wildlife and biodiversity.
- English: You know you need to get back to those Shakespearean roots in England.
- Finance: Tokyo is one of the top three most important international centers of the world.
- Nursing & Pre-med: Programs in developing nations like Ghana, Thailand, Chile, or India will typically combine courses with actual hands on experience.
- Business: Australia, London, Singapore, Brazil, China, and Berlin are great places to learn more about international business.
- Music: Head over to Spain or off the beaten path in Senegal.
Lauren helps us out with this with her list of the best study abroad destinations for a few of the most popular majors. But just because you’re an art major, it doesn’t mean that Florence is going to be right for you! Consider factors like cost or whether or not your university has a partnership first. For students who want to learn a language abroad, more on that in a later section...
What are your non-academic interests?
While some students would like to study abroad to advance their academics, some want to explore other interests. Study abroad is a fantastic opportunity to do just this. A couple of suggestions:
- Adventure Travel: New Zealand. National parks galore, glaciers to hot springs bathe this country in awesome outdoor beauty. Costa Rica, Argentina, and Thailand are other good alternatives.
- Fashion: Paris, of course takes the cake for this one but London, Milan, and Florence are right behind it with lengthy fashion history and a ton of events throughout the year.
- Food: France and Italy are the historic culinary kings. But Thailand, Portugal, China, India, and Mexico will allow students to explore cheap, delicious, and new dishes.
- Sports: Head down to South America, Spain, or the UK.
How do you feel about being away from home?
If this is going to be your first time out of the country, you may feel hesitant and want to study abroad somewhere that's won't be a huge shock. For other students, who are up for an adventure, or have perhaps traveled before, by all means: challenge your boundaries and study abroad off the beaten path.
Easy newbie traveler spots
- New Zealand
Budget Friendly Study Abroad Destinations
England, Japan, and Australia are three of the most popular study abroad destinations. But they're not the most budget friendly.
If cost is a big factor in deciding where you want to study abroad, go somewhere with a lower cost of living. After all, if you're paying $1 for your morning coffee and breakfast and $150 per month on rent (rather than $5 for coffee and $700 for rent), you'll be able to stretch your money much, much further and, as a result, you don't have to save (or spend) as much. A few popular study abroad destinations where the cost of living is low include:
- China (especially outside of Beijing / Shanghai)
- Berlin, Germany
If you really want to study abroad in Western Europe, go outside the capital. Studying in France, for example, can be pretty affordable if you consider a city outside of Paris -- like Lyon. Want to go to Spain? Look at Zaragosa or Bilbao.
Although not a destination, studying abroad via direct enrollment can save you a lot of money on program fees. Alternatively, quite a few countries with au pair programs will also require that families help the au pair out with language lessons and living expenses -- meaning, if you're up for it, becoming an au pair could be an affordable alternative to studying abroad... that still lets you learn (though, this is best for students who want to improve on language skills specifically).
Regardless of whether or not budget is a huge factor in your destination choice, you can read more on how much it costs to study abroad to help you prepare.
Go Where you Want to Learn the Language
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
Language learning is difficult for many, and that’s why some opt to study in an English-speaking country instead -- which is just fine -- but for many study abroad students, language immersion is their top priority.
If you're one of these students, you probably have an idea of which language you want to study, but below are some ideas to help you pick where -- unless you're trying to study something like Swedish or Korean. In which case, you know your options!
|Language||Best Budget Destination(s)||Classic Destination||Off the Beaten Path|
|French||Dakar, Senegal||Paris, Lyon, and Montpelier, France||La Reunion|
|Italian||Torino, Italy||Florence, Rome, and Milan, Italy||Ascoli Piceno, Italy|
|Spanish||Guatemala||Barcelona, Madrid, and Granada, Spain||Cuba|
|German||Jena, Germany||Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, Germany||Dresden, Germany|
|Arabic||Jordan||Lebanon or Morocco||Oman|
|Chinese||Guilin and Chengdu, China||Beijing or Shanghai, China||Xi'an, China|
|Swahili||Tanzania||Nairobi, Kenya||Lamu, Kenya|
|English||New Zealand||Dublin, Ireland or London, England||Malta|
Get Off the Beaten Path
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
Being scared of taking off and living and studying somewhere else in the world is ok. It is scary! But you have so much to gain from studying abroad somewhere outside your comfort zone. So even though your friends might all be headed to Italy, France, or one of the other most popular study abroad destinations, if you really want to challenge yourself consider going somewhere few other students visit:
- Antarctica: yes, it is actually on the list of study abroad!
- Eastern Europe: Just as stunning as the more traditional European cities but without the crowds of tourism, Eastern Europe is an up and coming region for study abroaders.
- Sweden: Go north! And find yourself in a completely different culture where the style is currently rough around the edges and the political atmosphere is definitely not like at home (free college!) in many ways.
- Thailand: Radically different culture does not mean danger. Sometimes, they will think you're from the unsafe place! Thailand is safe, inviting, and one incredibly beautiful and culturally interesting places to go to get your toes into new waters.
- Peru: Learn Spanish or improve your knowledge of ecological conservation.
How I Chose My Study Abroad Destination
If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.
Fun fact: only two percent of Americans are actually from the United States of America. This is why many, including myself, start to look towards their roots for places to study abroad. This action actually has a name: Heritage Study Abroad.
This reality can be defined as a student that wishes to study abroad in another culture that they may have already experienced through generations of their families. This was my motivation to study in Italy after growing up with a great grandmother that yelled mangia (eat) anytime my foot hit the kitchen and she unfortunately had to deal with my childhood phase of not liking pasta sauce (whaatta ya meaannnaaa she no likea tha sauuuce?!?).
Studying in Italy was important for me because I believed a few things:
- I did not want to be the American that only spoke English
- My great-grandparents had immigrated from Italy and I wanted to learn the culture of my past, and to learn the language that should have been passed down to me from birth so I could then have children that are at least bilingual.
I also had a slight obsession with this fantasy where I’d meet an Italian and he’d say 'Ciao' real sexy and then I’d fall in love and stay forever... and, uh, that actually happened (but please don’t base your entire decision on this feature - I just got lucky).
Point being, there are many motivations that could drive your decision on where to study abroad. You do you.
Bottom Line: Go Where It'll Make you the Happiest
Now here is the part where I could get all cheesy and say even with all of this information follow your heart (cause I’m a sap like that and really do think that going overseas will dramatically change your soul for the better). So here it is: you should go where makes you happiest. Make sure you know your budget and your wants and don't give up!
Study abroad, regardless of where it is, and you will prosper. I guarantee it. Now, go choose where that flight is going to touch down.Milada Vigerova, Anna Morris, and CEA.