It was nearly midnight in Rome’s lively square of Campo di Fiori. By day, my friend Emily and I wandered the Colosseum, jaws dropped; by night, we were eager to ditch the tourists, lips already stained with red wine. We gravitated toward a corner bar, where people and music spilled out onto the street. As we neared, words got clearer, faces got younger; the bar accepted payment via meal plan cards. I heard my name screamed wildly from across the room, where my 20-something childhood neighbor flailed, shots in hand. I should not have been surprised: Italy is among the top study abroad countries in Europe, attracting over 30,000 American students alone in the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the Institute for International Education (IIE).
In the 1994/1995 school year, roughly 85,000 American students were studying abroad. By the 2013/2014 school year, that number had more than tripled to 304,467, according to IIE’s Open Door report, and even more students went abroad doing non-credit work, like internships. I wondered where these 300,000+ students were going besides the major European cities. So earlier this month, I packed my bags and went to the epicenter of international education: the NAFSA Association of International Educators conference in Denver, Colorado. There, I learned about the trending locations for study abroad programs.
Dara Bramson is a roving journalist currently based in Brazil.
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1. Havana, Cuba
Lifted travel restrictions are game-changers for Cuba as a study abroad destination; until recently it was not easily accessible to most North Americans. Earlier this year, the U.S. government formalized this initiative when President Obama announced a $1 million grant dedicated to supporting higher education partnerships between the U.S. and Cuba. Already, educational institutions are jumping at the opportunity to add this destination to their repertoire. Academic Programs International, for one, offers the University of Havana Cuban and Caribbean Studies Program, accredited through Marist College. The program has no prerequisites for a January term and some Spanish language knowledge for semester-long programs.
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2. Sarajevo, Bosnia
In the mid-1990s, Bosnia was recovering from a war and its capital was piecing back together its devastated cultural heritage. Now, Sarajevo is a booming city in the Balkans, which is the center of business and artistic development in the region. Think Global School, a traveling high school, recently spent a third of the year in the Bosnian capital and provided unique learning opportunities for the young cohort. One of the largest foreign academic presences there is the American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which offers a wealth of year-round programs in various fields, all of which are offered in English and accredited by American standards.
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3. Cape Town, South Africa
Some 5,000 American students alone study in South Africa each year, with Cape Town as the target, and for good reason: the bustling coastal city is a hotbed of industry and culture, named the best place in the world to visit by The New York Times and the Daily Telegraph. A number of opportunities already exist there with established academic programs: The University of Texas at Austin offers a Maymester program in Urban Economic Development; Stanford University offers the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Cape Town year-round, which are immersive programs with a focus on social justice; and Pitt in South Africa offers a credit-granting summer program.
"Africa presents a number of opportunities for U.S. institutions seeking to globalize their campuses," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis Marcus Jadotte in the May/June 2016 issue of International Educator, who led the first U.S. education trade commission to the continent.
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4. Warsaw, Poland
In 2004-2005, less than 10,000 international students were enrolled in the country; the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education recently estimated that number at over 50,000 now. And, Poland has set a goal to more than double its international student numbers to reach 100,000 by 2020. This increase in students aligns with Poland's journey; the country began its rebirth post-Communism in the early 1990s and became a member of the European Union in 2003. Today, tuition and cost of living is relatively low compared to the rest of Europe and high-quality English language programs are widely available. Poland's capital, like most, is a fertile stomping ground for visitors who want to immerse themselves in local arts and culture and travel easily to the rest of the continent. The best resource for opportunities is Study in Poland, a consortium of 60 Polish universities.
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5. Accra, Ghana
The coastal city of Accra is a diverse mix of old and new, where numerous programs are offered to enable students to learn about local and continental issues. Boston University offers a Ghana Global Health Program each summer, which offers eight-credit hours and internship opportunities during a six-week program. Students are housed at Lancaster University in Accra. The University of California also offers a Study Abroad in Ghana summer program as well as semester-long programs open to most students. Classes are offered in English, and many students opt to enroll in Swahili or Twi language courses.
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6. Semester At Sea
For students who can't choose one location, Semester at Sea is a unique opportunity to study and tour the world, while getting credit through Colorado State University. The newest vessel—MV World Odyssey—is currently touring the globe. Sure, major European cities are on the itinerary, but the floating classroom also stops at some obscure ports, which are a draw for many students who want to obtain a diverse global perspective. In Africa, the ship visits Ghana, the tiny island of Mauritius, Senegal, and Tunisia. Myanmar, Malaysia, and Vietnam are a few of the stops on the Asia part of most voyages. Most semesters, students have the opportunity to visit up to 12 destinations on four continents and travel 25,000 nautical miles with roughly 500 fellow students.
Photo by Barb Ignatius CC BY