Even though there are 196 countries worldwide, certain locations tend to attract more American study-abroad students than others. The International Institute of Education has reported that almost half of all American study abroad students chose to study abroad in Europe; the top five most popular countries were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and China.
While these countries undoubtedly offer great experiences, there are hundreds of other destinations that can provide just as spectacular opportunities. Check out these nine amazing locations that are a bit off the beaten path but have the potential to provide some of the most unique and memorable study abroad experiences in the world!
For a picturesque study abroad experience, look no further than Salvador. The city was built on top of beachside cliffs and is rife with palm trees and crystal-blue water. Adding to the city’s picture-perfect charm are brightly colored colonial buildings, which give the city a quaint, town-like vibe.
Salvador is definitely a must-see city in Brazil. The city was the first urban area settled in the country and hosts a unique culture influenced by Portuguese and African descendants. And if Salvador seems vaguely familiar, here’s why—this city hosted six games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
While abroad in Salvador, collegiettes typically study liberal arts, Portuguese, Latin American studies, Brazilian studies, African studies or public health.
Lusaka is the perfect study abroad location for collegiettes interested in environmental studies or public health. Many students interested in research in groundwater resources, water quality or sustainable development study abroad here to research the water quantity and quality problems the area faces.
Located in Southern Africa, Zambia’s official language is English, although many people in rural areas speak only local dialects. The country is also full of breathtaking natural wonders—namely Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. Next to Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls looks minute!
Studying abroad in a developing country like Zambia is an amazing opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone and gain exposure to different lifestyles. But since staying safe while traveling abroad should be your number one priority, any time you are considering traveling to a developing country, check out the country on the U.S. Department of State’s Passports and International Travel page. On the site, you can search for a country and read about travel warnings, the country’s safety and security history, local laws, safe travel tips and country-specific emergency contact numbers.
If you decide that you want to travel to one of the more popular countries in Europe, there could still be a smaller town you haven’t heard of that could provide the kind of study abroad setting you’re looking for!
Kasia, a senior at Villanova University majoring in communications, decided that she wanted to study abroad in Siena, Italy. “Siena seemed quainter and more charming then some of the bigger Italian cities, like Rome or Milan,” Kasia says. “I was drawn to Italy, one, because of the food—I obviously couldn’t pass up a chance to eat gelato every day—and also because every picture I saw was gorgeous. But what really drew me to Siena was its medieval history.”
Siena is a medieval town, and thus most of its streets and buildings are historic. “Siena is kind of stuck in time,” Kasia says. “Picture cobblestone alley ways and stone buildings everywhere.” A few of her favorite sites in the city included Siena’s Duomo (an Italian cathedral) and Piazza del Campo (a plaza), which is shaped like a seashell.
Kasia says that while there are a lot of little restaurants and cafes in the area, Siena is a quiet town. “Don’t expect to go to nightclubs or the bars every night in Siena,” she says. “It’s not uncommon to stay at a restaurant until, like, midnight drinking wine and talking, and while there are bars, it’s definitely not a party city!”
Overall, Kasia felt that studying abroad in Siena gave her an authentic Italian experience. “Some people don’t speak English there, and you’re not going to be overwhelmed by tourists,” she says. “It’s a beautiful city with amazing people, unbelievable food and a ton of history to learn.”
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a bustling city with more than two million residents. And if you’re a collegiette who hates the cold, Taipei could be the city for you; the region boasts a subtropical climate, so winters are typically mild, with average temperatures in January dipping to just below 60 degrees.
For students interested in studying Mandarin, instead of traveling to Hong Kong or Beijing, consider studying abroad in Taipei, as Mandarin is the country’s official language. The city’s not a bad place to study art history, either, as Taipei’s National Palace Museum holds one of the most magnificent collections of Chinese art in the world; there are over 690,000 pieces of art and ancient Chinese artifacts in its permanent collection.
Amman is a perfect pick for students interested in studying abroad in the Middle East. As Jordan’s capital, the city is the nation’s political, cultural and commercial center. History enthusiasts and globetrotters alike will also revel in the city’s historic background and landmarks, as Amman is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.
Although the idea of studying abroad in the Middle East may frighten your parents at first, the city is known for having safe environment. “I chose Amman because it was safe for Americans,” says Rachel, a graduate of Brandeis University who majored in both international studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. “The city is clean, and it was very cheap to get around. Amman was also centrally located, which gave me easy access to other countries in the region.”
Students who go abroad in Amman tend to study Arabic language, Islamic studies, Middle Eastern studies or international diplomacy.
One of Rachel’s favorite parts about studying in Amman was learning Arabic. “The local Arabic spoken in Jordan is generally easier to learn and is very understandable to people who speak different types of Arabic,” Rachel says. “Everyone is very encouraging about you learning the language.”
If you’re interested in learning a new language, why not try Swedish? After studying French in high school, Johns Hopkins senior Katie Naymon decided she wanted to study abroad in Uppsala to try a new language. “I wanted to study Swedish because it was different and honestly just sort of cool to tell people that you know,” Katie says.
Since over 80 percent of the Swedish population speaks English, Sweden is a low-pressure country to try to learn a new language; beginners won’t need to worry too much about not being able to communicate with anyone.
Katie said Uppsala felt like a college town even though it’s the fourth largest city in Sweden. “You get a combination of cool nightlife, a ton of student activities — I joined a Swedish student nation, which is best described as sort of a Swedish fraternity — and adorable shops and cafes,” she says. The city is also less than an hour away by train from Stockholm, and studying in Sweden provides plenty of opportunities to travel to other European countries.
If you’re a women’s studies major, you should seriously consider studying abroad here. “I was really attracted to the political culture of Sweden—its progressive policies and feminism is unmatched by the U.S., and I really wanted to see that in action,” says Katie, who is a creative writing major and women’s studies minor. “Sweden’s parliament is 45 percent female, which is significantly higher than the U.S. They have unbelievable paid family leave.
“It was definitely the right kind of environment for me to be in,” Katie says. “Guys will never buy you a drink at a bar, for example, and the rationale is that [if they do buy you a drink], then you OWE them something, and they don’t want to create that power imbalance. Weird, but kind of awesome!”
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Located on the United Arab Emirates’ coastline, Dubai provides a chance to study in an urban environment while also relaxing along its stunning beaches. In recent years, the city has grown tremendously, and Dubai has truly become a cosmopolitan metropolis. Dubai’s now known for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, particularly the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The city is also home to some of the largest shopping malls in the world (score!), an underwater hotel and even man-made islands!
Many students interested in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern studies, liberal arts, international relations and business decide to study abroad here. Students studying abroad in Dubai can also work on their Arabic, which is the country’s official language.
If you want to immerse yourself in Spanish language, instead of traveling to Spain, consider Lima. “I didn’t want to study in Spain because it seemed like people in Spain were always traveling to all the other European countries on the weekends because everything’s so close,” says Katherine, a senior at Northwestern University. “I didn’t want that experience. I wanted to be in one place and put down roots.”
Many programs in Lima immerse students in Peruvian culture through homestays. “Because I lived with a host family with no other students, I sometimes felt isolated,” Katherine says. “But I’m sure it improved my Spanish like nothing else. Studying abroad in Lima requires you to really push out of your comfort zone if you want to make local friends.”
Katherine, a journalism major and Spanish minor, took four liberal arts classes while in Lima. “I learned a lot about the way Peruvian history has influenced its society, which was probably one of my favorite parts of Peru,” she says. “Peru is a huge break from American culture and forces you to think about the American lifestyle in a new way.”
Because all of her classes were taught solely in Spanish, Katherine felt that one of the best perks of studying abroad in Lima was the opportunity to improve her Spanish. “Studying in Lima is also an unparalleled opportunity to improve your Spanish, because most people in Lima don’t speak English. No one is going to switch to English once they figure out you’re American.”
Tahiti, French Polynesia
Forget Paris; in Tahiti, you can brush up on your French while studying French-Polynesian culture on a tropical island. The city is rich in natural beauty and perfect for outdoorsy, adventure-loving collegiettes. On the island you can visit ancient villages, hike around waterfalls and swim with stingrays while learning a foreign language.
Students studying marine ecology or marine biology should consider a study abroad experience in Tahiti, as the area is an ideal environment to learn about marine organisms and habitats. While studying the island’s ecosystem, collegiettes can snorkel and scuba dive in breathtaking, crystal-clear waters. This exotic paradise makes for a relaxing study abroad experience, very different from the hustle and bustle of a big city.
There are many reasons to choose a unique study abroad location instead of a traditional destination. “I wanted a smaller city because I wanted to explore it and not be overwhelmed by the size or the amount of tourists,” Kasia says. “I wanted to go to a beautiful place that I could get lost in but also get to know the ins and outs very well. That’s hard to do with a bigger city.”
There’s no single best location to study abroad. What matters most is that the location is the right fit for you. Think about what kind of study abroad experience you want to have and look into different programs. With a little research, you’ll be able to make an informed decision so you can get the most out of studying abroad and have the best study abroad experience of your life.