Africa is an incredibly unique place for study abroad students. As the most underdeveloped continent, the country faces quite a few issues including poverty, government corruption, disease, education shortcomings, racial tension, and malnutrition. Despite its problems, the continent is still rich with culture, greenery, ani mals, and natural beauty (be sure to visit Victoria Falls!)
Many study abroad programs involve interesting field work and close interaction with local communities. That being said, Africa can be a great study abroad destination for lots of different majors and interests: international development, anthropology, sociology, politics and public policy, environmental studies, biology or zoology (lions, elephants, and giraffes, oh my!), and many more!
Costs & Funding
Cost of Living
Cost of living varies throughout Africa. In countries soaked in oil, like Angola and Nigeria, costs are very high. Zimbabwe is also quite expensive. South Africa is relatively cheap for Americans, with goods costing about 75% what they cost in the U.S. Most of the other African countries are cheaper to live in. Prices in Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Ethiopia range from 50% to 30% of U.S. prices, respectively.
If you are planning on traveling while in Africa, you should know that currency generally changes as you cross borders, so make sure to change your money as necessary! Also, take note! Some currency exchangers only accept recent money for fear of forgery so make sure your U.S. bill’s date is after 2005 to be totally safe.
Check out this super cool chart from Global Property Guide to see an expense comparison of African countries.
Scholarships for Study in Africa
Though Africa is generally an inexpensive place to study abroad, it never hurts to have a little extra cash in your pocket. Try asking your school and the program you select if they offer any scholarships. Here are some other scholarships for you to check out:
- Amideast offers scholarships for study abroad in Morocco and Egypt
- The Foundation for Global Scholars offers U.S. and Canadian students scholarships of up to $2,500 for international study.
- Students studying a language can find scholarships through The Global Studies Foundation, and let’s face it, language option in Africa are endless!
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships
Planning Your Trip
Because of the number of indigenous tribes, it is estimated that over 1,000 languages are spoken in Africa! Some researches even put that number closer to 2,000. Colonization also brought languages non-African originating languages to the continent. The major languages include English, French, Dutch, Arabic, Swahili (in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda), and Afrikaans (in South Africa).
Culture and Customs in Africa
For all you anthropology buffs, Africa is the birthplace of the human race! That being said, there is far from one culture on the continent. There are thousands of cultural and ethnic groups throughout the continent, and their cultures can be quite different from one another. Because of its colonial past, Africa also has an interesting cultural blend of the indigenous cultures and of the colonial cultures--particularly European and Arabic. While many African peoples still hold onto their cultural roots, South Africa in particular is becoming more Westernized.
Throughout the various cultures, one thing remains: importance of family! Elders are highly respected for their wisdom. Schedules are not as strict in Africa, which is likely a result of the uncertainty of day to day life in many African countries. Crafting, beading, music, dance, and storytelling are also also large parts of African culture. Because of colonialism, sports like cricket, soccer, and rugby are quite popular.
Like language, popular grub changes depending on what area of Africa you’re in. Starches and root vegetables are pretty popular throughout the areas. Eastern Africa has Indian and Arabic influences (think curries, lentils, spices, cinnamon), while Northern Africa has a mediterranean flair. Ethiopian food uses this really cool spongy sourdough bread called injera in place of utensils to pick up the various stews characteristic of the cuisine. Barbeque (called “braai” by the locals) is very popular in South Africa, along with fruit and seafood.
The University of Cape Town, Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand, and Stellenbosch University in Matieland all rank on Times Higher Education World University Rankings. All three schools offer lots of opportunities in lots of disciplines.
Though South African universities tend to dominate international rankings, other African countries definitely have some awesome opportunities for study abroad. Egypt’s Cairo University has high quality medical and engineering programs, while American University in Cairo is modeled after liberal arts schools in the U.S. Other notable universities include the University of Botswana, the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, and the University of Ghana, which was founded as a sister institution of the University of London.
Health and Safety
In some African countries, illnesses like cholera or the black plague still exist. In most, malaria is a problem. And unfortunately, it’s a rare individual who spends a lengthy amount of time in Africa without ever once getting diarrhea, worms, parasites, giardia (which is transmitted through fecal matter), or other stomach issues. Generally, medicine is cheap and your program should provide you with contacts for a western-standard doctor in whichever city you are studying in, but prevention is more important.
Avoid this by consulting a doctor about antimalarials before you go, washing produces with bleached water, and sticking to freshly cooked street food. Most importantly though, don’t let the idea of getting sick scare you from studying in Africa. Usually, it’s nothing a few days of rest and some TP can’t solve.
Your study abroad program provider should brief you on safety measures for while you're in Africa. Take these seriously and understand the risks associated with the country you're in. Much like with the potential illnesses, don't let this dissuade you from studying abroad in Africa. Like anywhere, it has dangers, but there are reasonable measures you can take to keep yourself safe in most countries throughout Africa.
Many students coming to Africa have this idea that life will be rugged, almost like an extended camping trip. This results in a tendency to stuff suitcases with quick-dry t-shirts, zip-off pants, and other REI-esque outdoor wear. While some of this can be useful -– quick-dry clothes are great when you have to hand wash clothes in the rainy season –- you probably won’t end up wearing any of this on an everyday basis. Especially if you’re in an urban area you’re better off packing regular street clothes. Also, don’t forget that looking good is important in a lot of African cultures, so having a nicer outfit or two will show people that you respect their customs and help you immerse yourself.
On the other hand, some camping gear, like headlamps for frequent power outages, rain jackets, quick-dry towels, and Swiss army knives, are handy items to pack. Also, don't forget to bring lots of sunscreen if you want to avoid the higher prices it sells for in Africa.
Africa is a continent brimming with unique potential study abroad spots! Though it faces its issues, the continent is still budding with culture, animals, and natural beauty. Here are some popular study abroad destinations in Africa:
Johannesburg, South Africa
Affectionately called Jo-burg by the locals, Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa. Despite being the economic capital of sub-Saharan Africa, the city still has a nice balance of metropolitan and natural areas. The city is incredibly diverse, giving you lots of food and cultural immersion opportunities.
The birthplace of both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Soweto township is a vibrant and authentic taste of South African culture and history.
Cape Town, South Africa
Known for its beaches, wildlife, and vineyards, Cape Town is a beautiful city to experience.
If you’re outdoorsy, try hiking up Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain: a mountain with a naturally leveled peak that provides a pretty awesome view of the city for those who make it to the top. If it’s been a while since your last hike, no worries -- there’s a cable car option, too!
As the capital of Kenya, Nairobi is the country’s center of media, music, economics, and more. It is a global up-and-comer, growing at a pretty rapid pace. Though you may not have expected it, Nairobi is actually great for business and economics students--the city has its own stock exchange, is home to many companies (including international ones), and is a major global trader.
Ghana’s capital is a modernized and highly globalized city. In fact, other countries including China and France have formed businesses there and created partnerships with the city, making it a great place for students studying international relations and business.
Originally built as to provide protection to the German colonists at the end of the 19th century, Iringa is a unique and interesting place to study abroad. While Tanzania is known for its abundant wildlife, Iringa, instead, is known for its handmade crafts and baskets!
In addition to its notably friendly and social culture, Kampala is also a very safe city (which might not be the case for all places on this list). Much of the most famous (and most adventurous) activities are based around Kampala’s proximity to the Nile River: you can raft in it, ATV along it, bungee jump into it, and jet-boat up it!
Are you interested in NGOs and their work? Kampala hosts many of these organizations working in Ghana, giving you an excellent opportunity to get experience working in the field.
Meknes is a fabulous Northern Africa study abroad location because, though it is young and full of culture, it is not a tourist hotspot. Despite the buzzing nightlife and tasty restaurants, the city still has beautiful architecture and mosaics from its ancient Islamic settlers.
History buffs will be interested in seeing nearby Volubilis, where you can see the 2000-year-old remains of a Roman town. Interestingly, much of the stone from these ruins were used to build Meknes!
Though the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are probably the most well-known of Cairo’s sites, the city is rich in the remains of the ancient Islamic Pharaohs. But despite being home to the only of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing, Cairo is still a bustling metropolis, too.