It is no secret that U.S. Americans as a whole are not as well-traveled compared to citizens of other countries. You may be considering study abroad as an opportunity to join that modest percentage of American students that travel internationally as undergraduates. If so, congratulations!
Now that you have made the decision to study abroad, the exciting part of choosing your program begins! Your imagination is likely racing with visions of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. You may even start pondering just how amazing it would be to post that selfie on the Italian Riviera on Instagram and Facebook, but not so fast!
According to the U.S. News and World Report– Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom remain the top study abroad destinations for American students. Though any travel outside the United States can be fun and exciting, you may want to consider a more meaningful study abroad experience. Choosing a non-traditional destination will not only challenge you to abandon your comfort zone but will also be just as fun and exciting! Please see my list below for the top 5 reasons to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations.
When it comes to study abroad, cost is the primary concern for most student travelers. In addition to airfare, living expenses can be astronomical in countries whose human development are ranked as Very High on the United Nation's annual Human Development Index (HDI). The high living standards of these countries coupled with overtourism can easily weigh heavy on your budget even during shorter-term excursions. It is very likely that your U.S. dollar will go much further outside of these countries. It is advisable to research the cost of living in as many countries as you can before you selecting a program. You may also want to compare the value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies.
2. Cultural Enrichment
A study abroad trip to Canada, the United Kingdom, or Spain may rouse noticeable cultural differences, but will not force you to truly relinquish your American lifestyle. As study abroad is meant to be a learning experience, why not go “all out” and choose a program where many of your classmates may not have access to coffee shops, cell phones, and social media accounts. These are the type of experiences that will inspire you to question some of your own customs and practices. These events tend to be the most unforgettable and will compel you to view the world through a more globalized lens.
3. Language Learning
American tourism is widespread in Europe and most Europeans speak English or apply it in their daily lives. Therefore, foreign language students may find it troublesome to truly immerse themselves in the continent. Choosing a study abroad program where English is not a common second or even third language can provide you with unparalleled language immersion opportunities. This is especially true away from the main tourist areas. The top foreign languages taught in U.S. schools such as Spanish, French, and Portuguese, are all commonly spoken in many countries outside of the European continent.
4. Career Advancement
As the world becomes more globalized, employers seek applicants with the ability to work with and within different cultures, particularly those countries whose values, religious beliefs, customs, and way of life are not similar to those of most Americans. Additionally, professionals with global perspectives become leaders that add exceptional value within their learning environments and professional organizations. Your travel experiences within a country whose human development is ranked as High, Medium, or Low on the HDI may inspire you to pursue an academic and/or professional career in human rights, international development, global health, or other functional area of international affairs.
5. You Will Stand Out
Western travel narratives can easily become trivial and cliché in most circles. As an American who has traveled outside traditional destinations, your narratives will be much more intriguing to your peers and future colleagues. You will be able to contribute meaningful commentary both within the classroom and workplace. You will be considered an “expert” when discussing certain subjects due to your non-traditional travel experiences. Lastly, you will never get tired of impressing your family and friends with your one-of-a-kind study abroad journey and the many lessons that you learned!