Stirling, an ancient fortress city that guarded the major crossing of the River Forth, is located in the center of Scotland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It has a long and colorful history, and many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century buildings have been preserved and still are used as homes, tourist sites, and restaurants. Stirling is dramatically positioned at the point where lowland and highland Scotland meet. This unique location offers easy access to the Highlands, which boast some of the most breathtaking scenery in Europe, and a wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The former royal residence of Stirling Castle is fast becoming an established concert venue. In the city center, there is an extensive modern shopping area, theatres, restaurants, rail and bus terminals, and the city is buzzing with student life. As part of her Golden Jubilee festivities in 2002, Queen Elizabeth granted “city status” to Stirling as a mark of special distinction, an honor only bestowed 17 times during the twentieth century.
Bilbao is located in the north of Spain near the French border and has an international airport with direct flights to most large cities in Europe. Both Bilbao and Getxo (where most of the housing placements are located) are situated in an area of beautiful green mountains that face the ocean, making it possible to hike in the morning and go swimming in the afternoon. Close by, there are several picturesque coastal towns with great beaches that are easily accessible by public transportation. Bilbao is the poster city for successful urban renewal and the spectacular Guggenheim Museum of Art has ushered in an era of international tourism to the area; in urban renewal circles, the use of a revitalized cultural sector to kick start the renewal of a city’s economy is known as the “Bilbao effect.” Bilbao is home to some of the world’s most renowned architecture including: Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, the Euskalduna Music Hall and Convention Centre, Norman Foster’s Underground, Calatrava’s Bilbao airport, and other projects by architects such as Arata Isozaki and Cesar Pelli. Additionally, the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation has given its approval to expand around Urdaibai's Natural Reserve area. Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country with a population of approximately 350,000; the greater Bilbao region has just under 1,000,000 inhabitants. Bilbao was recently recognized by the Eurostat report as one of the top three safest areas in the EU. It is an extremely walkable city with a great transportation system that is efficient and safe. The city includes many pedestrian areas, including the old quarter with shops, restaurants, and coffee houses. There is also a bike path along the riverfront and through the main street of town. Getxo is a charming, coastal community popular for its beaches, lively nightlife, and diverse cultural activities. It is well connected to downtown Bilbao by subway (20-25 minutes away). Getxo is a relatively young town—80% of the population is below the age of 60—and it is not touristy, maximizing the opportunity for students to meet local peers. Getxo is known for its numerous outdoor activities and cultural events including: surfing, canoeing, hiking, rollerblading, paragliding, music festivals, a medieval market, and much more.
Puntarenas offers the peace and rural beauty of a small beach town while at the same time affording easy access to the activities of the capital. During the nineteenth century it was Costa Rica’s major seaport, but Puerto Limón and Caldera (11 miles to the southeast) have assumed that role. Now primarily a tourist destination and transportation hub, it is a bustling town, particularly during the dry season months (November–April). During the wet months (May–October) it is hot with refreshing afternoon showers. The geography of the city is unique since it is located at the end of a sandy peninsula almost five miles long, but only 120 to 700 yards wide. Consequently, one is always close to the ocean, and there are many beaches from which to choose. Puntarenas offers access to the Nicoya Peninsula on two ferries. Nicoya is best known for its pristine beaches and resorts, as well as for its native folklore. From Puntarenas, you can travel up and down the coast to world-class surfing beaches, nature reserves, and plantations. This central Pacific region offers something for every outdoor enthusiast. Students find buying a used bike upon arrival is the easiest form of transportation for getting around Puntarenas.