Just because you haven’t heard of a specific study abroad location, doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. In fact, chances are you haven’t heard of it because it’s not a popular tourist destination, and as a student who will be living in a different country for a summer, semester, or year, you’re looking to get a deep cultural experience, not a touristy vacation (that’s what spring break is for).
That’s why we’re talking about some lesser known study abroad locations. Those hidden gems that fully immerse you in a culture, allow you to learn a new language within weeks, make friends with locals, and see parts of the world you didn’t even know existed.
If you’re short on time, you can explore all of USAC’s programs on our website. Otherwise, let’s do this.
Chances are you’ve heard of Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, Brazil but we’re here to tell you about a small island located off the Atlantic coast called Florianópolis, or Floripa to the locals. Floripa may not be the size of Brazil’s capital city but it still packs a big punch when it comes to things to do. Students flock to this program for the hiking, beaches, and close proximity to the rest of the country. Studying abroad in Floripa provides a true South American island experience. It’s safe, adventurous, and has plenty of sun. From an academic standpoint you can learn Portugese, take classes in international business, environmental/conservation management, and Latin American studies.
“My experience in Florianópolis was one of the all time greatest in my lifetime. I would highly recommend it for anyone that is seeking adventure, culture experiences and change. The area itself is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a mixture of mountains and beaches with a splash of rainforest. The students on campus and the locals from the area are incredibly nice and helpful.” Thomas Dines, Washington University
It’s hard to know there’s more to China than Shanghai and Beijing, but look beyond the places you’ve heard of and you’ll find a massive country filled with cultural gems like Chengdu. For starters we’ll point out that Chengdu is not small. In fact, 7.8 million people call it home and for good reason. Chengdu is one of the most authentic places in all of China. It’s right in the middle of what’s considered the “Land of Abundance” because it’s one of the primary food production bases in China. Our favorite thing about Chengdu is it’s authentically “Chinese” from the locals buzzing around on bicycles, to the abundance of hot pot and traditional Sichuan cuisine, pandas, busy markets and tea houses. Academically, you can immerse in Chinese Language and Chinese Studies which will have you learning Mandarin and exploring the beautiful land of China.
“I got to talk to and meet locals from every walk of life. As we bonded over our common interests in the beauty of Chengdu, I felt myself becoming more connected to the people, the culture, and the city.” Alex Davidson, University of Maryland, College Park
Smack dab in the middle of Costa Rica just a short drive away from San José sits the city of Heredia. The largest of the three USAC Costa Rica cities, Heredia is a college town with plenty of opportunities for immersion with locals and other international students. The city sits in a valley surrounded by mountains making it not only picturesque but easy to escape for some mountain adventures. It’s proximity to the capital makes it convenient to travel to other places in Costa Rica or head into the “big city” for the afternoon. When you’re ready to come back to the calm and relaxed atmosphere of Costa Rica that we all know and love, Heredia is the place to be.
“It is difficult to describe all of what my experiences abroad bestowed upon me. They filled me with passion, invigorated my soul, and provided me with a sense of what I longed to do in the world. My only hope is to be able to give back to the world a small piece of what it liberally gave me during this profoundly remarkable experience.” Justin Lopez, University of Nevada
If Costa Rica doesn’t make you think of the ocean then it definitely makes you think of the rain forest. And if the rain forest is what you’re into then San Ramón is the place to be. The city is located in the Central Valley and although its a small city it’s HUGE in Costa Rican culture. The pace of life is slow, relaxed and San Ramón locals are proud of their community ties. It’s a great place for the adventurous person who wants to be out walking, hiking, and enjoying the mountains. When it comes to study abroad, San Ramón is a popular destination for STEM students because of the variety of hands-on experience you can get in biology, health sciences, and the medical industry.
“Studying abroad with USAC was definitely an experience i will never regret! The classes were interesting, the professors were super kind and helpful and the staff was amazing! I miss Costa Rica everyday since I’ve returned and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience this program with USAC!” Kathleen Aguilar, University of Nevada, Reno
Yeah, London is great and all, but have you ever heard of the largest city in Southwest England? You guessed it, it’s Bristol. Don’t worry, Bristol is only a 90-minute train ride from London so you’ll still be close to the famous city, but enter into this picturesque town and you’re immediately encompassed by street art, a bustling music scene, parks, gardens, and a beautiful harbor. If you need some extra motivation, Bristol has been named as one of the 10 must-see cities in the world, has been voted best student city in the UK, and ranked the most livable city in Britain. What more do you need to know?
“I had set out initially to live in Bristol only for a semester. Halfway through, the experiences, the people, and the city, convinced me to settle in for another round. Hence I spent a year of my life in a fantastic University, where the administration saw me as human and valuable, students sought to explore and meet new people. The experience overall was one of true connection, in a cliche of actualization and self-discovery. Bristol is full of hidden gems, beautiful parks, galleries and museums, people and culture.” Lille Grant, Cal Poly
If 90 minutes is just too far from London then how does 25 minutes sound? Located on the River Thames is a small and quaint city that screams England, but is named Reading (pronounced redding). We’re talking cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, and endless theater. It’s also one of the best shopping and entertainment centers in England. If you envision yourself sitting outside in a cafe, sipping on some tea and eating fish and chips, then Reading is the place for you.
“The University of Reading was my home for three months. I joined the football (soccer) team, spent countless pounds on coffee, and met some fantastic people who I remain in steady contact with today. Joining football was a good decision on my part. I was nervous at first, but that team supplied me with the best costume parties, dance nights, and football matches I’ve ever had.” Kendra Johnson, Minnesota State University, Moorhead
“We’ll always have Paris,” but what we need in our lives is some Pau (pronounced po). Maybe you’re aware that France is near the Pyrenees or maybe you’re not sure what more is in France besides the Eiffel Tower, but what you know now is that Pau is a charming French city located at the foot of Pyrenees and is one of the most picturesque study abroad programs that we offer. The Pyrenees literally serve as a backdrop to the city and provide endless outdoor activities for students. Pau is also located extremely close to the French Basque coast and Spanish boarder so you’ll get a little French, Basque, and Spanish culture during your study abroad. The only way to describe this city is truly breath taking and somewhere you won’t regret spending a summer, semester, or year.
“This city may be small but it is full of many things to do and see! From the Boulevard de Pyrenees, white water rafting, the Tour de France tribute, city center which holds many concerts, festivals, markets, and more, along with being perfectly situated right next to Spain and many popular tourist areas in the south of France! Pau is a great place to spend your time studying abroad and being put into a French atmosphere with friendly people!” Quinnlan Crowe, University of Mount Union
Envisioning yourself walking cobblestone streets, observing original medieval red-brick architecture while shopping local shops and cafes? Spoiler alert: you’re envisioning yourself in Lüneburg, Germany because this place is right out of a medieval times movie, but it’s real life. Located 30 minutes away from the popular city of Hamburg, Lüneburg is everything you think of when you think Germany. It’s quaint, historical, safe, and the perfect place to ride your bike around town and take in German society. You’ll quickly fall in love with this college town and the people in it.
“I studied abroad in Lüneburg during the Summer 2016 semester, and it was by far the best choice I have ever made. The town itself is adorable! It is big enough to have everything you need and more, and small enough to feel like a quaint German town. The people I met were extraordinarily kind and willing to help you even if you didn’t speak a word of German. The courses I took were interesting and applicable to my major. I even got the opportunity to travel to Austria, Denmark, and Sweden while I was there! Studying abroad here was a stellar opportunity; I cannot wait to return home to Lüneburg!” Sam Wood, Wright State University
There’s no better way to get off the beaten path than to head to Accra, Ghana in West Africa. If you’ve always wanted to visit Africa, study abroad is the perfect time because you have just enough support to get a great introduction to the country and freedom to explore the parts of West Africa you’ve always dreamed of. In particular, this is one of our favorite locations because it’s one of the few programs you can participate in a service learning project. But outside of study abroad, Accra is bustling with street markets, a beautiful campus, friendly people, delicious food, unsurpassed opportunities to get involved in the community and an experience we promise you will not get anywhere else in the world.
“During my stay in Ghana, I had the opportunity to see and do many things that caused me to reflect on my own life and cultural perspective… I was struck by the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the local Ghanaians I encountered. I also had my first experience with the challenges known to a developing country.” Gabrielle McGeein, University of Nevada
Bengaluru might be more well known to many as Bangalore, but you probably have still never heard of it. So what’s so great about this place? Two words: cultural immersion. Being thrown into the hustle and bustle of a booming and bustling Indian city with a population of 8.4 million is about as much of a culture shock as you can get, in the best way possible. This program is not for the quiet seekers, it’s for those that want to jump head first into a cultural experience. Bengaluru is colorful, fast paced, and one of India’s most modern cities. You’ll never be bored exploring the city and venturing on field trips to nearby World Heritage Sites all with the comfort and safety of other USAC students and the Resident Director who is there with you every step of the way.
“A country full of warm people and even warmer food. Every day was a new adventure with challenges to be met and surprises around every corner. It is truly the land of unity and diversity. Every state has its own language, dress, food, and geography. There is always a festival to be celebrated and hundreds of people to celebrate with. India will grow you in ways that a Western study abroad trip can’t. India will change you. It’s an empowering experience.” Victoria Bole, Colorado Springs
When you’re heading to one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world, how do you not feel surrounded by tourists and other American students? You head to a small city in Central Italy where the streets are narrow, palaces are abundant, and Italian traditions, foods, and folklore fill the local community. Viterbo offers the ultimate Italian experience, you know the kind that you didn’t know existed outside the movies. With its central location you can easily visit the famous Italian cities you’ve heard of like Rome and Florence, but you’ll live every day as the locals do, and there’s simply no better experience than that.
“Everything about my experience in that small town was amazing and life changing; the people, the community, the way the locals talk to you with care, the food and the culture around food, the places I explored, the new things that I learned and the thing that I am especially grateful for, were the friends I made there.” Vanessa Blanco Lopez, Colorado Springs
Okay, maybe you’ve heard of Kraków, it’s kind of a well-known city but in terms of popularity still falls a bit short on the radar compared to its northern friend, Warsaw. But Kraków is a leading center of academic, cultural, economic, and artistic life in Poland. The city is full of history that you’ll be sure to learn during your time abroad and if you tire from city life, nature is just around the corner with Jurassic valleys, the Tatra Mountains—for hiking and skiing, and ample opportunities, for sports and other activities. One of our favorite things about this city is that it’s big but feels small. You can easily walk the whole city, dipping in and out of the many neighborhoods trying authentic Polish food and conversing with the locals in a day. You’ll never be at a loss of things to do, see and learn Kraków.
“Kraków is one of the most wonderful places in the world. I traveled to dozens of other places during the semester, but the fact that I called Kraków home for a semester was an incredible experience. There’s so much to do and so many interesting people to meet (and great food to eat). If I hadn’t traveled at all and only spent time in Kraków, I don’t think I would’ve been bored. There is an incredible amount of history and culture in this place.” Anna Henkels, Youngstown University
We’re back in one of the most popular countries in the world to study abroad in. This means your options are plentiful so it’s easy to go with what you know. But you may not know that Spain has two distinct cultures, Basque and Spanish. The Basque culture covers the northern part of Spain into France and that’s where you’ll find the lively city of Bilbao/Getxo. You might not have heard of the city but surely you’ve heard of the famous Guggenheim Museum (hint: we’re not talking about the Guggenheim Museum in NYC). Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country, yet it’s walkable, safe, and provides the Spain study abroad experience you’re hoping for. Don’t worry, the Basque still eat plenty of tapas (called Pintxos in the north) and take their siestas. This city is host to some of the largest festivals in the world, provides easy access to the rest of Spain and is known for its numerous outdoor activities and cultural events including: surfing, canoeing, hiking, rollerblading, paragliding, music festivals, a medieval market, and much more.
“Before studying abroad, I thought that I wanted to go to a city that spoke English, or somewhere that was touristy so that it would be easy for me to get by without learning the language. Once I arrived in Bilbao, I realized how grateful I was that I did not follow through with that first idea. Bilbao is a beautiful city with very kind people, and even after traveling to other cities on the weekends I would always be excited to return home to Bilbao. The USAC staff at Universidad del Pais Vasco are extremely helpful.” Marlo Lile, University of Mount Union
Khon Kaen may not be on your radar until now, but this populous city is home to more than 1.8 million people. It’s known for its ancient cultures, traditions, and historical sites. It also happens to be the largest center for education, healthcare, and technology in northeastern Thailand. One of our favorite things about Khon Kaen is how unknown it is. You have your whole life to visit Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phucket (and you can also easily visit all three during your study abroad), but how often do you get the chance to live in a city rich in Thai culture, free from tourists, and waiting to greet you with open arms? That’s the reason we chose Khon Kaen as our newest study abroad location.
“The people here are nice, the food is great, the Thai culture is very strong here because there is a lack of foreigners. You get to really see Khon Kaen as Thailand in its largest form.” Kennedy Irakoze, University of Louisville
We’re going to venture as far as to say that not only have you maybe not heard of Montevideo but it’s possible you haven’t even heard of Uruguay. That’s okay because Uruguay is the smallest country in Latin America so it tends to get overlooked. What you need to know is that Uruguay is known as the “The Switzerland of South America” because of its laid back lifestyle surrounded by beaches, music, theatre, arts, and social activities. Once in Montevideo, the cows run deep (seriously, there are four cows to every one person). You also might feel like you’re in Europe because Montevideo has quite the European vibe without the European tourists. Plus, the city has been rated as having the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America, which is about all we need to know!
“Although small, Uruguay is the complete package and an ideal destination. Montevideo is a large city of 1.5 million people and is active 24 hours a day. The night life is great; the public transportation is effective; the air is clean (thank you Río de la Plata!); quality restaurants and shopping centers are abundant. However, unlike most large cities, the people are always so friendly and willing to lend a helping hand and I never felt unsafe.” Mo (University not provided)
We hope we’ve educated you on a few study abroad locations that you didn’t know about before. The best thing about all USAC programs is that they’re affordable study abroad options, and whether you’re looking for a well-known city or somewhere off the beaten path, we’ve got something for everyone.