Top study abroad destinations: Where to go and what not to do

Study abroadOne of the things I was looking forward to most in college was studying abroad. I had heard about it in high school and knew that if I spent a little extra time working, applied for scholarships and took out a few extra loans, I’d too, be able to travel to a new country to study. It really is one of the great things about college. Here are some top study abroad destinations, some destinations to avoid and also some tips on what not to do while abroad.

Top destinations

According to the annual Open Doors Report (produced with support from the U.S. Department of State), more than 273,000 American students studied abroad during the 2010/2011 school year. The top 10 most popular destinations for American students were:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Italy
  3. Spain
  4. France
  5. China
  6. Australia
  7. Germany
  8. Costa Rica
  9. Ireland
  10. Argentina

What type of experience are you looking for?

Michigan State University has one of the country’s largest study abroad programs. With over 260 programs and 60 countries on all continents (yes, even Antarctica) to choose from, the choice is all yours! You’ll first want to decide what type of experience you’re looking for — faculty-led or co-sponsored; year long, semester long, spring break or month-long? Do you want to visit four or five countries in a short semester during the spring or summer months with a faculty member as your guide, or would you prefer to be enrolled in a university for one traditional semester and travel on your own during holiday?

Check with your campus’ study abroad office for an extended list of destinations. Here’s a tip: you can apply for MSU’s study abroad program as a Non-MSU student.

You might want to avoid these places

We all know that there are unstable places in the world today, and you should do your best to research the places you’d like to visit before you leave the U.S. Travel.State.Gov is a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and lists up-to-date information on travel warnings around the world. According to the site, “Travel Warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country.” Some current listings:

  • Philippines
  • Kenya
  • Israel
  • Tunisia
  • Mexico
  • Haiti

Women traveling to countries such as Egypt should be conscious of traditional conservative dress and may want to purchase scarfs to wrap hair in, and long shirts and dresses to keep arms and legs covered.

If you’re still worried about what might happen while away, check out the University of Illinois Study Abroad Office as they offer up “Top Ten Myths About Studying Abroad.”

What not to do while abroad

In order to get the most out of your experience you’ll have to exit your comfort zone and learn to fit in with the locals while you’re there. How do you do that? For starters, don’t be scared to learn a few staples in the local language to get around. “Hi, how are you?”, “Where is the bathroom?” or “Thank you, have a good day,” are good starters. Even in the most broken French, a smile and a hello will mean that you’re trying.

Don’t be afraid to try new foods, even ones that look like they’re still alive. On a trip to Edinburgh, a particularly cute local recommended I try haggis (I’m going to go ahead and let you Google that) while in a pub — what kind of a tourist would I be if I had said no? The verdict? It wasn’t something I’d eat again, but I survived and have a good story to share!

Also, don’t spend your weekends camped in your room studying. Yes, it’s called study abroad for a reason, but the real education comes from outside of the classroom. So, grab a friend or classmate, take a bus trip to a town you’ve never heard of (Stroke-upon-Trent, anyone?) and walk through the town until you come across a game of cricket. Sit and enjoy the view.

Where are you hoping to study abroad to in the next few years?

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