One of the most common questions I receive during study abroad is “What is the favorite place thus far?” Parents, friends, and even your European classmates throw this question your way as means to continue a conversation, gain some suggestion for a future travel destination, or in hopes you mention their home country thus affirming it really is the best place in Europe. Now some people are naturally inclined to lean to a favorite whether it is an ice-cream flavor or a place in Europe. Other people believe choosing a favorite should be categorized as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
Regardless of your view, I’ve noticed a general pattern in how people respond to the question. This trend became apparent to me after I visited London and several other cities. On my extensive travel list, London topped my travel plans with an unmatched anticipation and excitement. It was a city constantly mentioned in conversation or scene in movies. After traveling around Europe and North Africa, London fell out of my top 5 favorite cities. I believe there is a pattern in what makes students love a travel experience and it’s not what most students expect before traveling.
In order to elaborate on this pattern, I will start with the thing that stood out most which is what isn’t in the pattern. There are a ton of great museums in Europe and in other study abroad destinations. These are excellent opportunities to improve your cultural awareness and some museums should be visited. Now after mentioning that, nobody I’ve asked the infamous question has responded with “this city because this museum was awesome!”. This could be evidence of the need to acquire more intellectually cultured friends, but I doubt that is the reason. It is much more likely that most people enjoy museums, but museums can’t guarantee to make your trip great like Trump has with America. I have a sense that this rule holds true even for students so passionate about the arts they end up being the overenthusiastic humanities professor that turns an easy Gen Ed into your hardest course. On the other side of the coin, only a certain type of person mentions the city with the best clubs and bars. During study aboard you will encounter the once thought to be extinct Neanderthal who cites the best club as an explanation to his or her favorite city. For the rest of us Homosapiens who know Von Gogh is an artist and not a brand of Vodka, clubbing won’t be it.
So what makes a trip great enough to receive the crown as the best? A friend of mine claims his favorite city was Budapest because he went spelunking in the caves around the city. Another friend loved Santorini because they spent their time riding ATV’s around the island. My friends that loved Marrakesh enjoyed the city because of the unique local culture, camel rides, historic buildings, and lively evening markets. My favorite experience was cliff diving into the Mediterranean by the city walls in Dubrovnik. More often than not, the location with the favorite crown isn’t one most Americans can point out on a map. Students don’t fall in love with a city after visiting a museum in Paris or a club in Amsterdam. Most students have their favorite experiences when they choose a place on a map rarely mentioned and have a unique adventure experiencing the local culture.