Note: I’m writing this from an American’s perspective with American college students in mind so what I’m saying can be different for other nationalities.
As a college student I studied abroad in two non-traditional countries, Costa Rica and South Korea. Although both are gaining popularity with American students, they’re still not to the degree of top study abroad locales like Great Britain, Italy, France, or Spain, the one “traditional” country I studied in. Studying abroad in a traditional country certainly has its immense benefits-easier language barriers to contend with, or in the case of Great Britain and Australia, no language barriers, first world conditions, no threat of political strife. However, the main negative to studying in a traditional country is that it is often overrun with foreign college students; this is especially true in smaller cities (not necessarily mega metropolises like Paris or Barcelona). In Seville, Spain, when walking from my home in the Triana neighborhood across the Puente de Isabel II (the bridge across the Guadalquivir River) into the areas of Arenal and the Barrio de Santa Cruz, I would often see people not only from my program but countless other Americans that were studying at the dozen study abroad programs scattered throughout the city. Granted, I knew that further away from the city center, the less foreign expat faces I would see, but the areas in which I lived and studied were definitely home to many American student expats.
|The Guadalquivir River-Seville, Spain|
When you study abroad in a non-traditional country, you will naturally encounter less people that share your language or nationality; this I feel will definitely help in contributing to a more enriching experience abroad overall. The program that I studied with in Costa Rica was structured so that in the first month there were intensive classes followed by a two month internship. Although the program was small to begin with (16 people), I and another girl remained in the capital of San Jose for our internships; half went to areas elsewhere in the country while the rest journeyed north to Nicaragua, where they completed their internships. One of the boys went and lived in a village that was located near the border with Panama. Speaking with him I know that his time in Costa Rica was definitely enriched because of the particular internship that he chose, working with indigenous people to help them in the area of sustainable development. Although my internship was at a local English language newspaper where my fellow internees were Americans, once I left the office at night and on weekends, I lived with and among Costa Ricans. There was nothing at all remotely expat about it.
Studying abroad in a non-traditional country where the Roman alphabet is not used is doubly hard. Not only are you dealing with greater cultural differences, there’s also the issue of language barriers which in a non-Roman alphabet country, can make you feel as if you’re living with a permanent wall around you. Although I certainly had many moments of difficulties and frustrations while studying abroad for the summer in Seoul, South Korea, I would do it all again in a heartbeat if I had the chance. When I was 19 I had the chance to live in an Asian country, to sample some of the most frightening food known to man (okay this is probably somewhat exaggerated), and to tour buildings well over 1,000 years old. Many people can say they’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but how many can say they’ve been to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the border that separates North Korea from South Korea? You can’t always find these unique, one of a kind experiences in more “traditional” study abroad countries. South Korea is the only Asian country I’ve visited but I anxiously await the day when I can return to that incredible continent once more.
What many people are not aware of when it comes to studying abroad in non-traditional countries is that there are many benefits to doing so. NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, a non-profit organization for professionals in all areas of international education, lists the following benefits to studying abroad in a non-traditional destination:
- Living in many non-western areas of the world requires changes in attitude, flexibility and the development of complex problem skills.
- Having studied abroad in non-traditional destinations helps distance students from the average study abroad program participant. Potential employers recognize that a different set of skills is developed when living in non-traditional locations.
- Non-traditional destinations provide unique opportunities for meaningful cultural integration and intercultural learning. Students engage within the local community, meet local leaders, visit culturally important institutions, and develop meaningful relationships.
Another immense benefit is from a financial standpoint. Although there does exist scholarship money for more popular study abroad destinations like England and Italy, it is usually not as plentiful nor as much as non-traditional destinations where scholarship assistance is often used to attract students to study there. The Gilman Scholarship Program and the Freeman-ASIA award both offer money to United States college students for study abroad in non-traditional countries.
While there is little that can compare with studying abroad in London or Paris, studying abroad in Cusco, Peru or Meknes, Morocco seem pretty incredible too.