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The Top 15 Unusual Study Abroad Destinations

The top 15 unusual study abroad destinations!

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to grow bored with the “classic” study abroad destinations. London, Paris, and Rome are AMAZING cities, don’t get me wrong…but isn’t it fun to think outside of the box sometimes? Studying abroad during college is a great way to see the world and fully immerse yourself in a new culture. Take this opportunity to step outside your comfort zone! I was lucky enough to experience five different continents in my college career, and I learned that every city has something different to offer students!

Top 15 unusual study abroad destinations!

I’ve compiled this list (in no particular order) with both my own travel experiences and my friends experiences. To make it easy to read, I’ve added some key bullet points for each destination. Also, there’s a short list of programs and universities you can use to start your research! I’m lucky enough to have been to most of these spots, and would be more than happy to answer any questions!

1) Tokyo, Japan

While I’ve (unfortunately) never been to Japan, my friend Shanti has studied abroad there not once but twice! She’s a Japanese major who plans to move to Japan after college graduation. However, she stresses that you don’t have to be fluent in Japanese to enjoy studying there! Here’s what she had to say:

Why it’s great: Tokyo is super up-and-coming! The culture is very unlike anything you’re used to in the West, so it’s a great chance to step outside your comfort zone. The food is AMAZING and so much healthier than anything in the USA. The shopping is also unreal; everyone is so stylish! You can always find an excuse to dress up! Also, Japan is very safe! You don’t need to be worried about walking alone.
Must sees: Senso-ji Temple, Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari (be sure to read the Onsen ettiquette before you go!), Takeshita Street, Odaiba, and Omoto Sando in Harajuku
Tips: Get a Japanese dictionary app! Not many people speak English, so that can be hard at first. Also, print out any train maps in English ahead of time, because you won’t find any English ones in the train stations.
Programs: KCP International, ISA Tokyo 

2) Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town was one of my favorite stops in Africa. It’s rich history and unusual blend of European and African culture makes it a prime location for studying abroad! Can you believe I actually took the picture above?! It’s from the top of Table Mountain which overlooks the sprawling city. Unreal!

Why it’s great: The unique blend of culture and history. There’s a lot to be learned from the apartheid history and Nelson Mandela’s legacy. The landscape is stunning, and there’s so much to see and do! Most everyone speaks English here, so getting around is a breeze.
Must-Do’s: A safari and shark cage diving with great whites! If you’re up for a challenge then consider climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. The view is life changing.
Tips: I’m not going to lie, this is a very dangerous town. Be careful at night and travel in groups when you can!
Programs: University of Cape Town, ISA Cape Town

3) Antwerp, Belgium

I was only in Antwerp a grand total of two days, but it was long enough for me to fall in love with this special city! It’s old city charm and proximity to other major European destinations makes it a great European destination.

Why it’s great: This small gem of a city is home to a rich artistic history! If you’re a lover of European painting, this city is a MUST. The small streets and cozy neighborhoods will make you fall in love. Possibly the best part of Antwerp is its proximity to other major European cities! It’s easy to travel to Paris or Amsterdam for the weekend, so this college study abroad destination allows you to have your cake and eat it too. English is also widely spoken, as are a number of other languages, so communicating is easy. 
Must-do’s: Tour Rembrandt’s home, visit a chocolate factory, and eat all the Belgian waffles (THEY ARE SO GOOD)!
Tips:
Antwerp is considered one of the diamond capitals of the world, so this is a great place to stock up on your jewelry collection! Also, consider investing in a student EuroPass for easy travel between cities. 
Programs:
University of Antwerp Exchange Program

4) Havana, Cuba

Because I was traveling with an educational program, I was able to travel to Havana before the embargo was lifted! It was one of my most anticipated destinations on my entire study abroad experience! Cuba’s capital, Havana, is like a time capsule from an earlier time. Old cars roam the streets, and the buildings seem reminiscent of another time.

Why it’s great: Cuba has a rich culture which blends Caribbean and western traditions. The Cuban people are excited to share their perspective on communism and life in their country, and we Americans have much to learn.
Must-see’s: El Morro, Old Havana, and The Hotel Nacional
Tips: Havana was where the daiquiri was created so definitely take advantage of that. This is also a great place to practice your Spanish from high school!
Programs: API Havana, Summer Cuban Studies

5) Budapest, Hungary

I was in Budapest a total of maybe 8 hours (including the airport), but I’ve spoken to several classmates who have chosen Budapest as a study abroad destination. This city is gorgeous and friendly, you’ll love exploring the endless streets and impressive palaces!

Why it’s great: The cost of living is very low in Hungary, making this a very affordable European option for studying abroad. This city in particular straddles the border between Western and Eastern European, so it allows for a unique experience especially for the first time studying in Europe. This city is often called the Paris of the East for a reason!
Must-See’s:  Andrássy Avenue, the Budapest Opera House, and Széchenyi Baths.
Tips: The Euro is still not used in Hungary, so make sure you check the conversion rate before you go! Also, try the food it’s amazing!
Programs: Central European Studies in Budapest, Corvinus University Exchange

6) Zagreb, Croatia

I visited my good friend Iva in her home country of Croatia in 2014, and it’s seriously such an underrated country. I truly do not understand how more people don’t travel here?! There’s so many stunning cities such as Dubrovnik and Split, there’s so much to see and do. I was able to see Osijek, and it had a quiet European charm I hadn’t encountered in the larger European destinations. Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, thus it’s the ideal best-of-both-worlds destinations for any study abroad trip.

Why it’s great: Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia, and it’s an up-and-coming business center for the rapidly developing country. The Austro-Hungarian architecture will be the envy of all of your Instagram followers, and the cute cafe’s and restaurants offer endless choices for coffee and tasty treats!
Must-See’s: Museum of Broken Relationships, Mirogoj, and Dolac Market
Tips: Take advantage of Croatia’s beautiful cities and travel outside of the capital! Also, while the train system isn’t great, Croatia has an excellent bus system!
Programs: Zagreb School of Economics Exchange, University Exchange

7) St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg was the second city I visited in Europe, and I remember it’s beautiful cathedrals and kind people!

Why it’s great: This city is the furthest west in Russia, thus it has many aspects of both East and West Europe! This city is filled with canals and pretty streets, like a Russian version of Amsterdam! English is relatively common here, but any basic Russian skills are useful! There’s so much to see and do in this large city!
Must-See’s: Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace, and Ice Bar?
Tips: The subway system is surprisingly efficient, though it can be useful to look up English translations in advance. Also, install a currency converter on your phone that doesn’t need an internet connection!
Programs: St. Petersburg Polytechnic University

8) Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is easily one of my favorite cities in Germany with it’s gorgeous cityscapes and fun nightlife! It’s also a short distance from other top European destinations, so it’s ideal for anyone hoping to travel while studying abroad!

Why it’s great: While a lot of college students study abroad in Berlin, nobody ever really considers Hamburg. This growing city has been recovering since WWII, and it’s now a trendy center for growth and technology! This port city is home to several lush parks and a wonderful pubic transportation system.
Must-See’s: Fischmarkt, Reeperbahn, and Neuengamme concentration camp
Tips: Use the bus system to cheaply travel outside the city into the smaller villages!
Programs: Hamburg University of Applied Science

9) Bangkok, Thailand

This crazy city is a sprawling metropolis which combines street life with traditional shrines! The rich cultural tradition paints this city in a unique light. I was lucky enough to travel here with a high school trip, and I can’t wait to return.

Why it’s great: This city is like the New York City of South East Asia! There’s so much to see, do, and eat, you’ll likely need more than one semester to fit it all in! Get lost in one of their endless markets and explore the beautiful temples! If you’re a foodie, this city is a heaven on earth! There’s so much food to try and experience!
Must-See’s: The Golden Buddha, Wat Pho, Dusit Palace Park
Tips: Don’t be afraid to try the exotic foods! They’re so worth it!
Programs: CIS Abroad Semester in Thailand, Knowledge Exchange Program

10) Florence, Italy

A lot of students choose to study in Venice or Rome, and Florence is often easily overlooked. This is such a shame! Florence, located in the heart of the Tuscan region, is a gorgeous little city with so much to offer from food and history to famous art! I visited Florence while backpacking through Italy with a friend for Spring Break a few years ago.

Why it’s great: Get the Italian experience in a smaller, more intimate setting! There’s so much to see and do in Florence, it is easily one of my favorite towns in Italy. The bar scene offers a more laid-back atmosphere compared to the bigger cities. This is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and you’ll see why!
Must-See’s: The Duomo (Florence Cathedral), Ponte Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery
Tips: The best way to see this city is by walking! Most of it can be seen by foot, there’s no need to pay for transportation!
Programs: International School of Art in Florence, Florence Study Abroad

11) Dublin, Ireland

I know I’ve said this a lot, but Ireland is easily one of my favorite European destinations. They have some of the best Universities in Europe such as Trinity College which offer students from around the world the opportunity to experience Ireland while continuing their education.

Why it’s great: Ireland is an easy introduction to Europe since it shares much in common with the USA. It’s beautiful countryside and happening cities makes this the perfect destination for anyone looking to start traveling for the first time. Dublin offers a rich history of art, especially in writing. As an English major, I loved exploring the home of the great James Joyce and others. Ireland also has a plethora of other cities which are worth visiting, such as Galway and Cork!
Must-See’s: Cliffs of Moher (not in Dublin but still a must see!), Temple Bar, and the National Gallery
Tips: Visit the small pubs as well as the big ones! Learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness to impress all your friends back home!
Programs: Trinity College Study Abroad

12) St. Croix, the US Virgin Islands

I visited St. Croix over my Spring Break this past semester. The crystal clear water and stunning beaches made me want to stay there forever!

Why it’s great: This little island is technically a US Territory, so studying here is easy! The language and currency is all the same, making this an easy destination for studying abroad! The two cities on the island Christiansted and Frederiksted both reflect the rich history of the island as a prior Dutch colony. Travelers from all over the world vacation here year-round, so you’re guaranteed to make new connections!
Must-See’s: Buck Island, Rainbow Beach, and historic Christiansted
Tips: Take advantage of the fabulous food here! Restaurant owners from all over the world have made this their prime location, so eat up!
Programs: SEA Semester in the Caribbean

13) Buenos Aires, Argentina

There’s a reason this city is referred to as the Paris of South America! The city resembles something out of a European guidebook with its architecture and style! That’s what makes Buenos Aires such a unique destination for college students!

Why it’s great: This cosmopolitan city offers art, beauty, and history for all travelers! English is spoken widely, making this destination perfect for anyone who has forgotten their elementry Spanish. The skyscrapers make this city seem like a cross between New York and Paris. You won’t be able to get “Don’t cry for me Argentina” out of your head!
Must-See’s: La Boca, La Recoleta Cemetary, and Plazo de Mayo.
Tips: Be prepared to hear people yelling “Cambio! Cambio!” at you constantly. Also, start acclimating yourself to a late dinner because common dinner time around Argentina is around 10 pm!
Programs: Sol Education Abroad

14) Accra, Ghana

Ghana is a developing country in Western Africa. It’s a good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with Africa because English is it’s official language. The people are kind and welcoming, and the country itself has a wealth of beauty!

Why it’s great: As the capital of Ghana, Accra offers the most opportunities for students looking to study abroad. There’s a lot to learn from Ghana’s historic coastline. Ghana is home to the kindest people I’ve ever encountered who are eager to share their traditions and customs with travelers!
Must-See’s: Cape Coast Castle, Makola Market, and Jamestown Lighthouse
Tips: While English is the national language, it may not be the most commonly spoken. Be prepared for a lot of slang!
Programs: USAC Undergrad in Ghana, University of Ghana Exchange

15) Semester at Sea

I know, I know, this isn’t a country, but I couldn’t resist! This is the study abroad program I traveled through, and the only one I recommend 100%. If you’re confused about where to study abroad and have no idea where to begin, Semester at Sea is your answer! This program is a cruise ship turned college which allows you to travel the world for a semester! While you’re on the ship, you attend classes hosted by professors from around the country! While you’re in port you are free to explore!

Why it’s great: You get to see between 12-17 countries in just a few months while keeping up with your college courses! You get immersed in a community of like-minded travelers from universities around the world. These travelers become lifetime friends! You’ll learn the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Also, ship life is the best life. Ship living was so much fun and honestly it was probably the most life-changing part of the entire ship.
Must-See’s: Neptune Day, Taco Day, and Sea Olympics
Tips: There’s a ton of scholarships and work study programs available, so don’t be intimidated by the price!
Get started here!

Have you studied abroad in college? If so, where? Where would you like to travel if you could?

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  • Sometimes I wish I didn’t come to study in England, it seems like I missed out on the entire world of more interesting possibilities 🙂

    • Ahhh so jealous, England is fantastic! You’re right though, there’s so much to see!

  • Courtney Cross-Johnson

    That’s the one thing I regret about college. I didn’t take the time to study abroad because I saw other opportunities. That’s part of the reason why I travel so much now. Kudos to you for seeing so much of the world at a younger age!

    -Courtney from thirty30courtney.com

    • Thanks for your nice words! I took a gap year to travel, but during my actual college years I haven’t studied abroad. There’s really so much to do, it’s really understandable why it isn’t always possible. There’s only so much time! That’s great you’re traveling so much now!

      • That makes so much sense and in hindsight had I known what a “gap year” was when I first applying to school, I might have done one! Smart move.

  • Elizabeth Hunter

    Just started applying to a Semester at Sea. I’ve been wondering about study abroad opportunities, my college only offers a summer semester in Spain to Spanish majors and Minors, and a couple 2 weeks trips to Europe. This was such great advice, and I hope my application works out!

    • Yay! I hope it works out! If you have any questions about Semester at Sea in particular don’t be afraid to reach out to me! I LOVE talking about Semester at Sea!

  • Ruth Kinloch

    Thanks for sharing such a great piece of content, Samantha! You did a great job, all of the destinations is unique and picturesque. Study opportunities are really good and even better than most of the popular ones. One of the reasons – a student has more chances to be accepted.

    And I couldn’t just pass by Hamburg. It’s a marvelous city with incredible architecture and the large port. Love this city too!

  • Teniël Theron

    This is a fantastic post! I’m really happy that you included Cape Town. It’s a gorgeous city and the student life is great. I’m from SA, currently at uni (here) and hoping to study abroad soon as well! : )

  • Melissa Morgan

    Wonderful list! I got to study abroad in Taiwan for a summer and it was absolutely beautiful there. The city was relatively easy to navigate (subway system half in english) and people were always friendly. Now I’m studying abroad in Cape Town next summer and could not be more thrilled! One of my ‘must-dos’ there is Bloukrans Bridge bungee jump!!!