Those who think studying abroad is little more than a glorified vacation would be wise to reconsider. Studying abroad gives students a chance to gain new experiences and expand their ideological horizons. It may even enhance their resumes. According to TIME, research suggests that students (and workers) who spend time overseas are more flexible, creative and complex thinkers. It is also an increasingly popular option: The BBC reported last year that record numbers of students are studying abroad, with participation growing by about 12 percent each year. The United States remains the most popular study abroad destination on a global scale, but where do Americans students go? Here is a review of several potential study abroad destinations, and why they should make your short list. Additional information regarding each city is included below.
Rome, Italy. Rome's rich culture and history have cemented its place among the world's most favored vacation spots. It seems students are onto it, too: The Institute of International Education (IIE) reports that in 2012, Italy was the second most popular study abroad destination for U.S students. Students visiting Rome can tour ancient wonders like the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica, or take in the city's impressive museums, cinemas and music halls. As a major travel hub, Rome places students within easy train access to several other Italian destinations, not to mention beaches and mountain views. While students should brush up on their Italian, many locals do speak a bit of English.
Amsterdam, Netherlands. Amsterdam may have a reputation as a party mecca, but it would be a shame to let this overshadow all the other benefits it holds for visiting students. The Institute for International Education of Students, or IES Abroad, characterizes Amsterdam as a "cozy" city chock full of European charm thanks, in part, to its abundance of historic homes and architecture. It is also a major arts center, with museums featuring works by the likes of Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Students can navigate Amsterdam easily by foot or bicycle. Though Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, Amsterdam Escape reports that English is the second most widely spoken language here.
Sydney, Australia. Sydney is a cultural and social melting pot with strong links to the Asian pacific and a large Aboriginal population. Popular culture's perception of Australians as laid-back beach fanatics is at least partly right: Surfing and water sports are huge here, but so are the arts. Students can visit live music shows and festivals, regular farmer's and craft markets, and museums like the Australian Museum, as well as the famous Sydney Opera House. Students who are brave enough to face the world renown Outback -- and all its unique wildlife -- will not likely forget the adventure.
Berlin, Germany. Berlin is a major European cultural and economic center, but according to IES Abroad, it is also home to one of the world's richest avant-garde scenes. In addition to hosting several opera houses, symphony halls and theaters, the city is known for its historical sites, pubs and nightlife. Students looking for a bit of peace can head to surrounding lakes, forests and resorts. Berlin is also an easy train ride away from other popular destinations, such as Prague, which makes it a particularly attractive option for travel-hungry students.
Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong was under British control until 1997, when China resumed rule. This history gives students the unique opportunity to experience a mesh of Western and Chinese culture that is simply unobtainable anywhere else -- a trait for which its mixture of decidedly modern and colonial buildings serves as a perfect metaphor. The Chronicle of Higher Education once called Hong Kong Asia's most globally connected city, and it's home to some of the highest ranked universities in the world. Students who have not mastered their Mandarin or Cantonese take heart: English is one of Hong Kong's official languages, as well as a popular second language among locals.
Barcelona, Spain. Spain ranked just behind the United Kingdom and Italy as the most popular destination for U.S. study abroad students in 2012. The city is known for its great food, stunning Gothic cathedrals and popular beaches, and art history buffs will be glad to know it hosted some of history's greatest artists, including Picasso and Gaudi. Students who need a break can enjoy an open air movie night at the Montjuic Castle, or just take a stroll down Las Ramblas, the famous avenue known for its street food, entertainers and vendors. Spanish and Catalan are both widely spoken in Barcelona, but many locals know a bit of English, too.
Cape Town, South Africa. IIE data suggests that Africa does not rank among American students' most popular study abroad destinations, but perhaps it should. According to the Council on International Educational Exchange, Cape Town (located on the southern tip of South Africa) is a truly multicultural city -- one that gives students a chance to flex their water sport and mountaineering muscles. It is also home to striking landmarks, such as Table Mountain and Cape Point, and it's just a stone's throw away from the Kruger National Park (and its notable wildlife, namely lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos). Cape Town Magazine reports that the city recognizes nearly a dozen official languages, and English remains one of the most prevalent.
London, England. The IIE reports that in 2012, the United Kingdom topped the list of American students' favorite study abroad destinations. Part of its appeal is surely its familiarity -- America and England share quite a history -- but its museums, theaters and famous pubs probably don't hurt. Hoping to catch a peek of Big Ben or the Queen herself? The famous London Underground (or "the Tube") makes the city easy to navigate sans car -- which is good, because according to ABC News, the country's exchange rate and living costs can give Americans sticker shock. Study abroad companies can usually arrange safe, affordable housing.
Paris, France. The City of Love. The City of Lights. Call it what you will, Paris remains a popular destination for American students in need of a little culture. It's a foodie's dream come true, and art lovers will feel right at home in the city's many museums (including the world famous Louvre). Paris is situated on the Seine River, and each of its banks are distinct: The Right Bank is known for its historic architecture, while the Left Bank is widely considered a cultural and intellectual hotpot. Students can get up close and personal with many famous cathedrals, including Notre Dame, and the Champs Elysee -- one of the world's best known avenues -- provides glimpses at famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is a living museum of art and history, which might explain why, according to International Studies Abroad, it is known as a "symphony in stone." The city boasts deep historical roots spanning more than a thousand years -- some of them under communist rule. Today, however, it is Prague's museums, theaters, dance halls and open parks that really set it apart. Czech is the city's official language, but it is not uncommon to hear locals speak German, Hungarian, Romani or Polish. As with many European nations, however, English is a popular second (or third) language.
"Berlin, Germany," IES Abroad, http://www.iesabroad.org/study-abroad/berlin
"Best Things to Do in Amsterdam," U.S. News & World Report - Travel, http://travel.usnews.com/Amsterdam_Netherlands/Things_To_Do/
"Best Things to Do in London," U.S. News & World Report - Travel, http://travel.usnews.com/London_England/Things_To_Do/
"Czech Culture," International Studies Abroad, http://studiesabroad.com/programs/country/czech_republic/city/prague/cultureCorner/culturalHighlights
"Hong Kong is a great place for U.S. students to experience Asia," The Chronicle of Higher Education, https://chronicle.com/academicDestinationArticle/Why-Study-Abroad-in-HK-/7/
"How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter," TIME, April 29, 2014, Annie Murphy Paul, http://time.com/79937/how-studying-or-working-abroad-makes-you-smarter/
"Language," Amsterdam Escape, December 4, 2013, http://www.amsterdamescape.com/language.html
"Language," Cape Town, http://www.capetown.travel/content/page/language
"Open Doors Data," Institute of International Education, http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/US-Study-Abroad
"Study Abroad Prague, Czech Republic," International Studies Abroad, http://studiesabroad.com/prague
"Surviving London on a Student's Budget," ABC News, December 18, 2009, Alexa Lightner, http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/study-abroad-london-cheap-student-budget/story?id=9360321
"The statistics of studying abroad," BBC Travel, September 26, 2012, Suemedha Sood, http://www.bbc.com/travel/blog/20120926-the-statistics-of-studying-abroad
"Top 10 Attractions," Discover Hong Kong - Official Travel Guide from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/highlight-attractions/top-10/index.jsp
"U.S. Study Abroad: Leading Destinations," Institute of International Education, http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/US-Study-Abroad/Leading-Destinations/2010-12
"What's the Deal with South African Language," Cape Town Magazine, http://www.capetownmagazine.com/sa-languages