Humanities represent a sub-section of the Liberal Arts, focusing on the study of the human condition. This mysteriously vague definition encompasses a variety of subjects surrounding art, culture, and language, from the mostly academic (literature, theology) to the predominantly practical (music, journalism).
The most fascinating thing about these subjects is that no two countries in the world (let alone two institutions) will approach them the same way. Humanities are, by definition, not sciences. There is no right answer or correct perspective: that’s the fun of studying them.
By going overseas and exploring these ideas from a completely different standpoint, you’ll be expanding your horizons and challenging yourself in a way that is simply impossible to replicate at home.
Spanning a multitude of subjects and fields, there is not one single way to study humanities. Your choice will depend on factors like how much time you have, what your interests are, and your existing level of education.
Lectures & Seminars
The vast majority of humanities courses at an undergraduate level will fall into this category. Teaching will be divided between large lectures and smaller, more intimate seminar discussion groups. Regular coursework is common, and these courses usually culminate in a dissertation in your final year.
Some humanities subjects, like literature and philosophy, are academic by their very nature. Others, like journalism and communication, can involve more real-life applications.
Courses in the latter subjects will often involve a field work component through an internship or similar placement, especially at the Master’s level. This type of course is also common for shorter, immersive programs.
Most PhDs and many Master’s degrees in the humanities focus around a central research thesis of your own design. Unlike in the sciences, where research is based on lab experiments, humanities theses are more likely to have you holed up in the library for months on end. Hell for some, heaven for others.
Where to Go
Every country in the world has its own literature, history, language, and culture, which means that humanities courses will vary widely in their content and approach.
Bookworms from around the world come to the UK every year to study English Literature in the country that produced Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and countless more.
Cambridge and Oxford are the best universities in the world for the subject, but other top literature departments include the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London.
As one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, China has an incomparable depth of history, literature, art, and culture. Several of its universities rank among the best in Asia, and many of them offer English-speaking courses of various lengths.
Studying humanities in China is particularly ideal for people interested in East Asian culture, with most major cities providing easy travel to neighboring countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Most Francophiles can trace their love of the country to one of France’s cultural exports, whether it’s the sophistication of its cinema, the smooth crooning of its chansons, or the existential musings of its authors.
Studying a humanities course in France allows you to explore your favorite subject from this uniquely French lens, taking advantage of some of the best art, literature, theater, and music schools in the world.
Chile is home to some of the top universities in South America, as well as some of its coolest cities. It’s a famously pleasant and laid-back place to live, with something for everyone.
Literature fans can follow in the footsteps of Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda, language students can brush up on their Spanish, and history buffs will enjoy learning about the country’s experiences of conquest, dictatorship, and transition to democracy.
Planning Your Trip
“Humanities” is an incredibly broad term, and it can be hard to narrow things down. The best approach is to follow your passion, both in terms of subjects and of world cultures.
How to Choose a Humanities Study Abroad Program
The first thing you need to decide is how much time you want to dedicate to your study abroad experience.
You may want to do a full undergraduate degree, or just an exchange program for a year or a semester. You may want to do a master’s, or you may want to do a shorter, more practical immersion course rather than something academic.
Most people will have an idea of what field of humanities they are interested in. If you are torn between a few similar subjects -- say, literature and theater, or journalism and communications --, look for broader courses that cover several areas. Alternatively, some countries like Scotland allow for hybrid degrees.
Most countries offer courses about the local language and culture in English for international students. This means that you don’t have to limit yourself to English-speaking countries, and you can look for study opportunities in areas of the world that are entirely new to you.
Health & Safety
Realistically speaking, the biggest safety hazard involved in a humanities course is being buried under a monumental tower of library books.
That said, the same health and safety advice applies to every study abroad experience: stay aware of your belongings in big cities, don’t walk alone at night, get to know your health insurance, and find English-speaking healthcare where possible.
Other Need To Know
Humanities is one of the best areas for short-term study programs. In particular, short-term language, journalism, and communications programs are incredibly common around the world.
These are not always attached to a major learning institution, so you always want to make sure you are spending your money on a reliable and trustworthy organization. Look up reviews and accounts of past students before booking.