Where to Study Abroad: Things to Consider

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Once you have made the important decision to study abroad, it is important to find the very best place for your dream adventure. Regardless of whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip or a one-in-a-billion trip, finding the ideal location is a big process.

But the world is large and glorious in all its wonder!

There are approximately 200 countries in the world, and almost all of them offer at least one collegiate institution for you to study in.  So many options, so little time!  It’s mind-boggling how study abroad can open your horizons and offer you the world on a silver platter.

So making that final decision of where to go can be a bit tricky and stressful. To help you out, I’ve talked with several study abroad students and drawn up a list of ten different considerations that can help you narrow down the choices.

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1. Money

It seems a bit petty, but money tends to be the first element worth considering when choosing your program. Studying abroad is hardly inexpensive, but some countries and cities can take less out of your bank than others.  For example, China and Korea have somewhat similar cultures and many similar programs; however, Tianjin is statistically cheaper by far than Seoul.  And Japan can run at New York costs if you stay very long.  So look at the cost of living for your country choices, not just the cost of tuition!

Map of Europe and European Political Map

2. Extended Travel

Some places make it easier than others to travel around a bit. People who travel to Europe are pretty free to hop on a train and set off all around the many nearby countries. The trip from Paris to Berlin in hardly worth mentioning, and maybe next weekend, you could pick up Spain or Switzerland?  South-East Asia is similar in some respects (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, India, etc.); however, keep in mind VISA costs and requirements.  On the other hand, Hawaii is a lovely state, but travel to other places is hardly easy. Same is true of most islands or isolated countries.  The middle of Russia is beautiful, but you’ve got a ways to travel to get out of it. Moscow on the other hand, might be a possibility.

world-map

3. Multiple Places?

Most students think of spending all their time with one program, but did you know it’s possible to do more than one if you plan it right? One summer, I picked up consecutive programs in Japan and China, spending the week in between relaxing in South Korea.  I carefully shopped around the different programs and found two that were close in time, but not overlapping.  Since I stayed in Asia, I wasn’t paying extra flight costs, it was just a matter of applying and being accepted to both programs. Think about the possibilities!

4. Extra-Curricular Activities

As I’ve said before, Study Abroad isn’t entirely about the program itself. Look into locations where you can pick up an internship or two. Maybe you know someone there who will give you a job or let you trail them at work.  Places where you can see some history and culture; watch some current major events; maybe even contribute some help of your own like a mission or volunteer program.

5. Career

Preemptively, you picked study abroad because it will benefit your career in some way. Mostly for the fun sure, but there should be some small piece of you that’s hoping this will help your future. So think about places that will offer the most resources.  If you are interested in Asia-focused topics (languages, history, economy, government), then don’t look at European schools. On the other hand, if you are all about Brit lit, the EU system, the debt crisis in Greece, Renaissance art, etc. then maybe Europe is the place for you. Once again, think about places where you can get internships, visit relevant businesses, interview beneficial contacts, do some networking.

6. Language

This one is obvious, but worth noting — are you interested in learning a foreign language? If the answer is no, then stop. Go look at programs in countries that speak your language. There are tons of places that speak Chinese, French, English, Spanish, Arabic, etc. Just find one in your language and go with it. If language-learning is not part of your study abroad goals, then don’t bother with the stress.  On the other hand, if you think learning a foreign language will be helpful or you want the adventure, then stop looking at countries that speak your language and find one with a language that looks interesting to you. 

7. Program

Of course, you can’t forget to look at the program itself. In fact, it might be one of the first things to look at if it’s at all important to you. Despite what it seems like, study abroad programs aren’t all alike. There aren’t a million of every kind in every single country.  For example, I studied law, and there aren’t law school programs everywhere in Asia. I had to shop around before I found one in Korea at all. Options were very limited. Same is true of many other programs. Study abroad programs tend to be for the arts, business, or some sciences. Other programs, you may not have much of a choice. So before selecting the land of your dreams and getting your hopes up, make sure a program you need is available there.  

8. Time

How much time do you have to spend on this excursion? One week? Three weeks? Five months?  Trust me, you don’t want to waste your big opportunity spending a whole semester at a school in the middle of no-man’s-land with little means to get out. One week there, meeting the locals and becoming familiar with traditional customs? Might be a lot of fun!  If you have a lot of time, I recommend picking a place that has several nearby places you can visit that interest you.

9. Safety

Of course, keep in mind your own safety.  There are a lot of countries that I have always wanted to visit, but I really don’t think are safe right now. For example, I’ve always wanted to see the Sphinx and Pyramids and parts of Africa, but Egypt and Nigeria have had some problems. As a single, white Christian female, I may want to find a different country for now.  Or think about the places that are having bad disease outbreak.  Maybe there are places for you that are less safe than others; don’t risk your life recklessly just for a fun experience.

10. Dreams

Don’t forget to think about your dreams. If there is that one place that you’ve always wanted to check out, now would be the perfect time. I once visited China with a friend who can specifically to see Pandas in their natural habitat. She loved, breathed, and lived pandas, and this was just a major dream for her. Of course, the program was good for her too, but she really came for the pandas. And that’s okay too!

Life is about being happy, finding the things that light up your world, making a difference, and reaching the dreams that lay deep in your heart. Take this time as the opportunity to do that – find the place you love, that home away from home. And enjoy the heck out of it!

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20 Reasons Why You Should Visit India

20 Reasons Why You Should Visit India”

by Katie C via “Lost Girls

When I first informed people that I would spend a semester studying abroad in Kolkata, they usually didn’t understand why I would want to go to India. They would have that polite yet bemused expression, suggesting India was not a reasonable place to visit for an extended period of time.

As I explained why I wanted to go–the challenge of experiencing a completely different culture– many people still didn’t comprehend why I would want to go to an overcrowded, impoverished, hot, polluted, and culturally confusing country. I can see their point. That version of India certainly does exist, but so does another: cosmopolitan cities, a rich and fascinating history, delectable cuisine, impressively beautiful arts and monuments, and so much more.

Since arriving in India, I have fallen in love with this complex country for these 20 reasons:

1. Incredible Diversity. There is an incomprehensible amount of diversity in India, and yet amidst the diversity there is unity. You can travel though India and experience distinct cultural differences in each region. It’s impossible to make a blanket statement about India, because when you find one thing to be true, somewhere the opposite is also true.

2. Sensory Adventure. India is a country that can’t be explained; it must be experienced. A walk down the street here in Kolkata is a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, and smells: business men yapping into cell phones, beggars clanking their collection of pocket change, colorful saris, chaotic traffic constantly honking, savory smells of street food, the stink of rotting garbage, the muggy heat in full sunshine. It’s a kind of chaos that somehow flows when you least expect it, and you definitely won’t find it anywhere else.

3. Regional Cuisine. Indian food is much more than the catch-all phrase of “curry,” and like most things in India there is a surprising amount of diversity in the country’s cuisine. In the North, you’ll sample clay-oven Tandoor recipes with thick gravy and naan bread, while in the East you’ll find plenty of fish and tortilla-like chapatti, and wafer-thin filled crepes called dosa in the South. There’s plenty of spice if you’re looking for it, sweets covered in silver, and yogurt-based drinks to beat the heat. The best food is prepared within local homes, not in restaurants.

4. Genuine People. The locals here are some of the most genuinely helpful and kind people I have ever encountered in my travels. In my experience, their hospitality is astounding. My host mother once met a traveler at a local market, talked to her for a few minutes, and offered her to stay the night in our home without second thoughts. The students in my classes were so welcoming and gave me their cell phone number in case I had any questions or wanted to do anything–and they actually meant it.

5. Bollywood Culture. Bollywood is a national pastime and a cultural phenomenon. People from all regions and socioeconomic classes flock to the cinemas to see the newest films, and as the actors and actresses are the most well-known Indians in the country there is always some Bollywood star gossip. The movies are often long and full of slapstick humor, song, and dance. Sometimes you have to suspend the laws of reality and probability and just embrace the cheesiness, but they really are entertaining.

6. Study Abroad. Study abroad in India is not really a vacation–it’s an intense, in-your-face cultural immersion whether you want it to be or not. I’m in the middle of a 5-month long study abroad in Kolkata and as difficult and exhausting it can be, I am thriving on the challenge. It’s a place where I can continuously learn. The academic portion is secondary to what I learn just by walking down the street, as there is so much to learn just by asking questions to locals about whatever piques your curiosity. This culture has challenged my views on poverty, privilege, education, family habits, and so much more. I’ve been here for over 3 months now, and I have just barely scratched the surface of all India has to offer.

7. Folk Art. India has an abundance of folk art, which is kept alive in the small rural communities and is being revived in the big cities. Each region has a unique dance style, music, handicrafts, and more. My favorite thing to do here is to shop for rural artwork because the artists are so talented and use the few materials they have to their fullest potential. All the artwork is unique, one-of-a-kind, and handmade, and usually has a story or meaning behind it that offers some cultural insights.

8. Learn a Language. India has over 15 national languages, and literally thousands of local languages and dialects. Many Indian languages are among the most-spoken languages of the world, like Hindi and Bengali. There are many of people who speak English, particularly in the big cities, so knowing a local language is not necessarily required. However, the locals really appreciate it when they encounter foreigners who attempt to speak some of their language. The locals here always have a cheerful laugh when I show of my Bengali skills by counting to 20.

9. Street Food. This is a whole separate kind of food from what you’ll find in restaurants. These roadside specialties are not the most sanitary or refined preparations, but they are absolutely delicious. The street food junkies who enjoy it is part of the experience. They’re people from all backgrounds and classes, and it’s a great way to feel connected to the locals. Besides, it’s a cheap treat. Spicy, savory, and sweet dishes are readily available for less than $1.

10. Big Cities and Rural Villages. India has some of the most populous cities in the world and some of the most remote villages. It’s great to get a balance of both, to witness the hustle-and-bustle of the crowded city life and to experience the peace and simplistic lifestyle of the villages. There’s a lot to learn from both, and by visiting both extremes I now can appreciate how far India has come in its growth to modernization. I always enjoy visiting the villages because it gives me a break from the overcrowded city, and because the people there are incredibly warm and welcoming though they have very little. Try and get a taste of both the big cities and the rural villages, because both are an integral part of India today.

11. Volunteering. There are countless opportunities to volunteer in India from charities, NGOs, volunteer corps, schools, and more. There are more than enough people who could benefit from your time, talents, and donations. Search around for the organization that best fits your interests and available time. During my study abroad experience, I volunteer at a school for girls where some of the girls came from the streets to live at the school. It’s a challenging but extremely rewarding experience that helps me to reconcile with my daily encounters with poverty by knowing I’m contributing to positive action against it.

12. The Taj Mahal. It’s a bit cliché, but it’s a must-see. The Taj Mahal is a truly beautiful piece of architectural art, with a romantically sad story to accompany it. Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore described it as “a teardrop on the face of eternity.”

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