If the title of this post caught your eye, likely you’re looking for some unconventional study abroad destinations. While it’s totally okay to be drawn to traditional places like most of Europe, it’s also okay to be looking for a completely different experience than anything you’ve had before.
The good news is that even when you choose a more “traditional” location with USAC, you’ll most likely still be in a city you’ve never heard of. We do this on purpose, so you can get an authentic experience. But if you’re really looking to get outside the box, we have plenty of options for that too.
No matter where you think you want to study abroad, take some time to learn about some really unconventional, interesting destinations you can add to your list.
- Common Misconceptions: Wait, which country is Uruguay? It’s in South America, right?
- Reality: Despite being South America’s smallest country and nestled between cultural powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has a cozy and unique experience to offer students.
Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, and it’s okay if you’re still asking yourself where? at this point. Most people aren’t aware that Uruguay has fierce pride in its own culture and is growing at a rapid rate. Montevideo is in middle of an economic boom that has brought people from around the region and world to enjoy the quality of life and opportunities available.
For those of you who crave nightlife, Montevideo is home to restaurants, bars, events, and festivals — including a Carnaval celebration that can last up to 40 days! Over 1.3 million people call Montevideo home, so it draws plenty of international cultural events too. Similarly, you can pick from basically any subjects you’d like to study while in Uruguay (popular ones include agriculture and viticulture — wine growing and making!), plus practice your Spanish and Tango technique outside the classroom.
- Common Misconceptions: Cuba is culturally isolated; everything in Cuba is ‘behind the times.’
- Reality: Cuba has its own, very distinct culture, and many modern conveniences.
Okay, we admit: everybody’s talking about Cuba lately. Most of the time, you’ll find articles about budget backpacking through Cuba, visiting the Valle de Viñales, and how to negotiate rates at a Casa Particulares. Have you ever considered it as a study abroad destination?
While this option isn’t available to all students due to various visa restrictions, Cuba may be a good option for you, and in Havana there are plenty of extracurricular activities to immerse you in the culture of Cuba. The courses and your experiences outside the classroom will focus on the history and society of Cuba, with particular attention focused on exploring the impact of slavery and Cuba’s African roots on its culture and religions, as well as the present-day political and economic factors Cuba faces in its future.
- Common Misconceptions: Ghana is culturally and geographically isolated; you won’t have access to ‘normal products.’
- Reality: Ghana is one of many countries in Africa experiencing rapid growth and development on top of strong cultural heritage.
Far from misconceptions you might have about the African continent, Ghana is one of the most stable and resource-rich economies; the only reason Ghana isn’t on the list of fast-growing economies is because it already has a high GDP per capita. Studying abroad in Ghana could be a great opportunity to learn more about international relations, African culture, economics, sociology, and even performing arts.
- Common Misconceptions: India is poor, noisy, and smelly; the Indian food you’ll find in India is the same as what you can order in the U.S.
- Reality: Cities and states within India have vastly different levels of income, noise, and aroma; Indian food varies as much as regional food in any country — but it probably isn’t what you’re used to at home.
It’s hard to discuss the country of India as a singular destination — there is so much diversity within the national borders that it’s unfair to characterize any one city as being representative of the whole. Studying abroad in India gives you a chance to sample this diversity, and Bangalore is a great place to base yourself in doing so.
While Bangalore is certainly a big city (over 8 million people call it home!), it’s far from India’s biggest. It’s also the capital of India’s southern state, Karnataka, and home to the tech center of the country. This means development has happened rapidly in Bangalore, kind of like an Indian Silicon Valley. But, you’ll still find plenty of Indian culture: rather than bland Americanized versions of dishes you might find in the Bay Area, Bangalore features Indian food that is more saucy with lots of curries. Yum! Additionally, you’ll find opportunities to study Indian culture alongside classwork, such as learning Bollywood dance or studying religious rituals.
- Common Misconceptions: Verona is ‘stuck in the past;’ there isn’t much culture compared with other Italian study abroad destinations.
- Reality: Verona embraces its historical and cultural heritage, and is one of the most popular destinations in Northern Italy.
Perhaps all you know of Verona is from reading Romeo & Juliet in English class; no worries if this is the case! Verona is a nice blend of traditional study abroad allure (Italy is still one of the most popular places to study abroad in the world) but also offers you less-trodden paths through culture and history that you may not find when swimming in seas of tourists in cities like Florence or Rome.
Verona draws visitors from around the world who leave ‘Letters to Juliet’ in the wall outside a balcony that looks familiar to those who know Romeo & Juliet well; you can even volunteer to help answer these letters during your time studying abroad there! This also signals plenty of strong Italian heritage and culture that you can experience outside the classroom, from delicious northern Italian dishes to day trips to both Milan and Venice (each within two-hour train ride).
- Common Misconceptions: Israel is only interesting to students with heritage in the region.
- Reality: Israel is a great study abroad destination with more to offer than just history and religion, and is experiencing a tech boom.
- Common Misconceptions: You’ll be living ‘in the bush’ of South Africa; there’s nothing to do other than classes.
- Reality: While Stellenbosch is a university town, that comes with all the perks and culture of university towns too. It’s also not far from Cape Town if you need a weekend trip.
Stellenbosch is one of the smallest destinations on this list, with only 150,000 residents. This doesn’t detract from your experience as a student there, as it may feel quite similar to university towns in your home country. Simultaneously, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in South African culture, since locals may only speak Afrikaans.
In addition to cultural events that you can enjoy as a student, Stellenbosch is located in the heart of South African wine country. You could pick up a hobby of learning about wine or volunteer at a vineyard if that’s where your interest lies.
- Common Misconceptions: You’ll be cut off by being in a small city; it’s harder to take advantage of European travel opportunities compared with a big city.
- Reality: Maastricht has great travel opportunities, including super close access to both Germany and Belgium. Don’t worry: you can travel plenty!
If you want to study abroad in Europe, but aren’t drawn to the capitals like Paris, Madrid, and London, Maastricht may be just the ticket. Nestled down in the small part of the Netherlands between Germany and Belgium, you’re perfectly poised to explore the heart of Europe from Maastricht — it wouldn’t be hard to take a weekend trip to Paris or Luxembourg!
Maastricht is another university town, meaning you’ll have plenty of academic choices and support if you study abroad here. Smaller towns can also mean a lower cost of living, helping you save up to savor more of Dutch culture along with the surrounding countryside.
No matter which city you choose from this list, it’s hard to go wrong if you’re looking for an unconventional but life altering study abroad experience. If none of these are quite right for you, USAC offers study abroad experiences in 50 cities around the globe.
This article originally appeared on GoOverseas.