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.
Haifa is a beautiful city, set on the Mediterranean Sea on the slope of Mount Carmel. Israel’s foremost port city, it plays a major role in the nation’s economy and is a center for high tech research and industry. Its 17 kilometers of beaches host excellent surfing and sailing conditions and nature trails, bicycle paths, wildlife reserves, and Carmel National Park beckon for outdoor enthusiasts. The city’s historical and cultural riches include museums, film and music festivals, an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra, theatre, and numerous cinemas, discos, restaurants, and pubs. It provides easy access to other parts of Israel, with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion Airport all less than two hours away. In addition to Haifa’s vibrant Jewish community, its cultural and religious mosaic includes many churches and mosques. Haifa is also host to the center for the Baha’i faith and to Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community. The Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious coercion. Their large mosque houses a prayer hall and a first-floor exhibit of their history and significant contributions. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baha’i World Centre is an expansive complex of gardens centered around the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Other sights in Haifa include Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, home to a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, the nineteenth-century German colony, Paris Square, Carmel National Forest, Ein Hod artist’s colony, the Haifa Theatre and numerous museums.