Heading into the unknown can be one of the scariest things we do in life. After all, whose to say you won’t end up in The Upside Down?
It can also be the most rewarding, especially when it comes to study abroad.
Paris, Rome, Barcelona, São Paulo, Sydney; we love these places, we know these places, we visit these places, but we prefer to study abroad in other places. Why? Because they’re too well known. While there’s nothing bad about being well known, the benefits of studying abroad in a lesser known destination far outweigh those of going to touristy destinations.
Benefit #1: Higher cultural, language learning, and immersion exposure
To put it simply, and truthfully, you are going to get a highly more cultural experience going to a lesser known study abroad destination than one you’ve been reading about in Nat Geo Travel your whole life.
You’ll have to learn the language to order your everyday meals, you’ll get to know your local coffee shop owners, and you’ll have opportunities to meet and live alongside locals in the city and truly feel like you’ve moved to a different country.
Benefit #2: Lower cost of living
Affordability matters when it comes to study abroad. It can be expensive. Choosing to study in lesser known study abroad destinations immensely lowers the costs of living. Housing is cheaper, meals are cheaper, and your every day activities are cheaper.
Benefit #3: Easier to find housing/homestay
One of the coolest perks of studying abroad is the option to live with a host family. That’s when you live with a local family during your time abroad. This is more than somewhere to sleep, these families and their homes become your home away from home. They’re your support system, your immersion leaders, and your caregivers. And it’s probably one of the only times in your life you’ll get an opportunity like this.
If you’re not interested in living with a family, that’s okay. Apartments, on-campus housing, and additional housing options are available as well. And it’s easier to find housing when you’re not fighting a million tourists and visitors to get it.
Benefit #4: You can still travel to the well-known places
That’s right, we’re not telling you to never see Paris or Barcelona, in fact, we’ll take you on field trips to these cities. Because they’re spectacular. Some USAC programs are located within 30-60 minutes of the most well-known destinations in the world. So trust us, you’ll still get to check all those places off your bucket list.
Benefits #5: Not overloaded with tourists
The world is currently experiencing “overtourism.” With the internet, few places are sacred, and people are flooding by the millions to popular destinations. If you’re looking for a study abroad experience that is away from the tourists, a lesser known study abroad destination can provide just that.
So how do you find these lesser known study abroad destinations? The good news is that USAC has built our programs on this very model of providing a more authentic experience by doing our best to pick cities that are unique, cultural, and authentic.
Before you jump into those traditional study abroad destinations, here are some lesser known cities to consider:
Chengdu, China vs Beijing, China
Located in the Sichuan province, Chengdu is one of the most authentic cities in China. If you’ve never heard of it you might be thinking that it must be small, but Chengdu actually has 16 million people. This city is known for it’s amazing cuisine, relaxed lifestyle, and diverse culture. Choose from courses in Chinese Language and Chinese Study. When you’re ready to see Beijing it’s a short 2-hour flight, and you can take advantage of the 5-day Optional Beijing Tour provided by USAC.
Heredia, Costa Rica vs San Jose, Costa Rica
Situated just thirty minutes away from San Jose, is a not-so-small city named Heredia. It’s the perfect place to get that “living in a capital city” feel without living in a super busy and touristy capital city. Heredia is surrounded by mountains and offers the excitement of living in a big city with a more relaxed atmosphere. Choose from courses in Spanish Language, Ecological Studies, and Latin American Studies.
Reading, United Kingdom vs London, United Kingdom
If you’ve been dreaming of studying abroad in London, the great news is we have a London program, and it’s fantastic! But maybe you’re wondering if there’s somewhere near London where you go can into the city whenever you want, but live in a smaller city? Enter, Reading! Reading is located 25 minutes by train from London and is filled with entertainment, history, and that authentic British experience. In Reading you’ll find a more traditional U.S. campus where you can choose from over 200 courses in the arts, humanities, and social science; life sciences; and science.
Lyon, France vs Paris, France
Maybe you’ve heard of Lyon? After all, it’s a culinary hub of France and the third largest city. Our favorite thing about Lyon is that you get the busy-ness of a large European city combined with French tradition. Spend the days cruising the busy streets taking in classic French faire and exploring Renaissance architecture. Lyon is only a couple hours away from Paris, so you can still check the Eiffel Tower off your bucket list. This program offers intensive French language and European studies.
Lüneburg, Germany vs Berlin, Germany
If you envision yourself riding a bike on cobble stone streets, chatting it up with the neighborhood shop owners, and feeling like a true “local” then Lüneburg is the place for you. This city was founded more than 1,000 years ago and much of its original architecture has been preserved. Only 30 minutes from Hamburg and quick flight to Berlin (also an Optional Tour destination with USAC) and this Germany city is about as authentic as it gets. Study German Language, Literature, and European Studies.
Cork, Ireland vs Dublin, Ireland
According to GoAbroad.com Dublin is Ireland’s Manhattan while Cork is Brooklyn. Cork has been voted one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit with its arts, film, and jazz scene, youthful feel and traditional architecture. When you close your eyes and think of stereotypical Ireland, Cork is it. You’re only a couple hour drive from Dublin and can choose from courses in Archaeology, Biological Sciences, Celtic Civilization, Chemistry, Commerce and Technology, History, Irish Studies, Nursing, Music, Applied Psychology, Applied Social Sciences, Physics, and Law.
Viterbo, Italy vs Rome, Italy
If Italy is the apple of your eye, then Viterbo is your Gala (get it, Gala apples?!) This small town is located between Rome and Florence and offers the ultimate authentic Italian experience. We’re talking outdoor markets, corner shops, and the need to know Italian to get by. It’s likely you’ll go days or weeks without seeing a tourist and that’s exactly how the locals prefer it. It’s also a great place to study Italian, history, art, or Mediterranean studies.
Kraków, Poland vs Warsaw, Poland
While Kraków is usually more touristy than Warsaw, the city itself offers a unique study abroad experience. Unfortunately, Warsaw was destroyed by World War II and has had to go through reproduction, but Kraków remained untouched and therefore maintains original historical architecture. There are 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kraków alone. It’s an ideal place to study Jewish studies, Central European studies, economics, politics, and Polish language.
Bilbao, Spain vs Barcelona, Spain
If you’re looking for a Basque experience that is off the beaten path, consider Bilbao. It was recently named one of the most promising tourist destinations of 2020 which means what we have known for years, this city is the place to be! The medium-sized city is known for it’s culinary scene, museums, and so much more. It’s bikeable, walkable, and a great place to study intensive language, business, and cultural studies. When you’re ready to visit Barcelona, it’s only a one-hour flight away.
Khon Kaen, Thailand vs Bangkok, Thailand
Khon Kaen and Bangkok are so different that it’s hard to compare the two, but that’s the point! Bangkok is big, busy, touristy, and very much like what you see on The Hangover 2. Khon Kaen is a large but authentic city. We’ll teach you some common Thai phrases that you’ll need to get by, and you’ll definitely feel like a true Thai citizen in this program. Studies include health, wellness, and culture.
Maastricht vs Amsterdam
If you’re looking for an authentic Netherlands experience in a smaller city, then Maastricht is the right place. It’s less expensive and less touristy than Amsterdam. Maastricht is a picture-perfect European town with cobblestone alleys and streets, bikeways, and a medieval city center. Plus, it’s only a 2.5 hour train ride from Amsterdam and trains leave every 30 minutes so you can get to the big city whenever you’d like.
Melbourne vs Sydney
Both of these cities have a lot to offer, but in recent years Melbourne has been voted the most “livable city” and for good reason. This large city outranks Sydney in food, culture, nightlife, and transportation. The Deakin University program offers you the opportunity to enroll in a wide range of courses from the following academic faculties: arts; business and law; education; health; nursing and behavioral sciences; and science and technology.
Stellenbosch vs Cape Town
Just 30 miles outside of Cape Town sits Stellenbosch. Compared to Cape Town, Stellenbosch is more walkable and less touristy. Surrounded by mountains in the Jonkershoek Valley, it offers the best of both worlds: a small, historic, university town with convenient access to the amenities of the bigger metropolitan area of Cape Town.
When you’re planning your study abroad, we recommend you consider those hidden gems. The cities you’ve never heard of and the destinations you never thought you’d explore.