International Education professionals have long trumpeted the benefits of study abroad, and there are a number of initiatives designed to increase the number of American students studying abroad. Although students are becoming more aware of their options, the fact that most programs still consist of a significant classroom component may not appeal to those who associate going abroad with the chance to escape the familiar and seek out uncharted territory. At the same time, some students and higher education officials are beginning to question the value of the traditional college experience, saying that it’s insulated environment does not truly prepare students for real world situations. Furthermore, technological advances have made much of the material disseminated in traditional lecture formats readily available online. For students interested in a more adventurous or unorthodox experience, there are a number of interesting alternatives.
One of the first decisions that students will make in regards to a study abroad program is the location. According to the Institute of International Education, the most popular destinations for American students are still European countries. While acclimating to any new culture will be a challenge for students, a Western country’s culture will still provide some level of comfort. Choosing a less common destination, perhaps in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, or South America will undoubtedly add a high level of adventure for students that are mature and so inclined.
Additionally, studying in less popular locations may provide an advantage when seeking financial aid. Emilie Dawson, while a student at the University of South Carolina, studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea. She said that her success in finding significant financial aid dollars was due in part to the fact that not many of her peers were interested in studying in Korea or other Asian countries. This meant that there was a higher likelihood that she would receive funding from various sources.
Aside from off the beaten path locations, students looking for unique experiences can also find opportunities in the types of programs they pursue. For example, in addition to study abroad programs, international internships and volunteer opportunities are also an option for those looking to gain experiences beyond the classroom.
It should also be said that certain fields of study and programs are designed to take students outside of the classroom, so field experiences are much more common than one might think. Students interested in the medical field or biological sciences may find programs with internships in hospitals abroad or programs connected to zoos, wildlife reserves or aquariums. Additionally, students interested in the arts or other humanities may find programs that regularly coordinate visits to museums and cultural centers, while those interested in archaeology may find themselves excavating centuries-old locations every day. These are all options available for students seeking unfamiliar territory and opportunities.
Whatever your interests, there are a large number of study abroad programs designed to take students out of the typical college classroom settings. These unique programs are great opportunities for students who have an adventurous spirit and are open to experiences in a variety of disciplines and locations.