Anyone who chooses to study abroad will probably tell you that it’s a crazy, somewhat stressful and completely unforgettable adventure. But there are more options out there for college students than the world’s “top 10 tourist destinations” or famous European cities. You can step outside of the typical study abroad experience and spend your time working with animal conservation in Belize, hiking through glaciers in New Zealand, or even on a ship at sea. As the Robert Frost poem goes, taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
For a study abroad program, adventures are part of the package. Whether your semester is in the city of Athens or a village in Ghana, you’re going to walk away with a few stories that will enchant conversations for years to come. Studying in an alternative city leaves more to be discovered. I have friends who have explored glow-worm caves in New Zealand, spent months living and working with Ugandan families and worked grueling hours in archeological digs in Turkey. None of these adventures would rank highly on any study abroad bucket list, but they’ve made incredible stories, and have become some of the best college memories of the people who lived them.
Another upside to this is that you may end up learning a completely random language. Speaking French or Spanish is great, but if you can have a conversation in Amharic or Latvian, that’s a whole other story.
See more for less
Alternative countries are often (although not always) considerably cheaper to live in and explore. While China is the most popular Asian country for study abroads, lesser-known countries like Cambodia have an equally rich history, landscape and cuisine. Because it’s not as famous or well visited, Cambodia is ridiculously cheap to explore, whether you’re spending a weekend on a beach or visiting Angkor Wat, their iconic temple.
The cost of living in popular countries in Europe is high, rather like New York City compared to its surrounding neighbors. By choosing to study abroad in an alternative country, you can spend more of your budget on really immersing yourself in the culture, food and unique sights that the place has to offer.
Create global connections
If you’re intentional about networking and building relationships during your time abroad, you can end up with golden opportunities you could never have imagined. Luke Forshey, a senior music education major at Messiah College, discovered this first-hand when he spent time student teaching in Indonesia. When the time came for him to start applying for jobs, he was contacted about an open position in the Indonesian school that just happened to be his dream job. Now he’s considering a move that would take him across the world to embark on a new journey—none of which would have happened if he hadn’t chosen to study in this little-visited but life-changing country.
Discover more about yourself
The go-to study abroad options are often highly developed compared to less popular, or alternative study abroads. Messiah College, which emphasizes its study abroad and intercultural program, works to give students accessible opportunities around the world, beyond Western Europe and Australia. This often means living in places that aren’t as westernized or comfortable. Culture shock and homesickness in general are hard to cope with, but add in a heightened sense of unfamiliarity, and you’ll be stretched more than you thought possible.
You will see things you’ve probably never read about in tourist guidebooks or seen splashed across a Hollywood screen, like Dubai’s unique architecture or the Polynesian black sand beaches of Tahiti.
I have amazing memories of taking a train through the Italian countryside and crossing London’s Tower Bridge. The first time I landed in the U.S., the New York skyline took my breath away. I remember thinking, It looks just like the movies! But some of my favorite moments have come from the places I never expected, like Zimbabwe, India, Scotland and Malaysia. Countries that would be considered “alternative” than the norm, but have a field of new experiences and irreplaceable memories to offer to college students.