Where to Study

Choosing where to study abroad is a tricky dilemma. Unless you have traveled the world extensively, you probably only have a stereotypical perception of most places. I can’t speak for most places from experience, but I can hopefully combat some of the ignorance most students have in making a recommendation.

There are two main aspects to consider while choosing your location. The first is where in the world you want to study and the second is what size of a city you want to study in. When considering the pros and cons of locations, you must consider both aspects simultaneously.  Many students want to study in Australia. Australia has beautiful nature from the kangaroos to the great Barrier Reef. You also don’t have to worry about the language barrier. Yet Australia is quite expensive and it’s difficult to travel inside Australia and to other countries. South America is another popular destination. I’ve never been to South America so to avoid speaking out of arrogance I wouldn’t say much. I will say from what I’ve heard it’s an amazing place, but you pretty much need to know enough Spanish to get around. This is especially true for smaller towns in South America. It also generally applies to any country, the smaller the town the more likely people will only speak the local language.

From a bias perspective, I will say Europe is a great place to study abroad. Now I think where in Europe makes a huge difference. If you want to be surrounded with only local culture, smaller towns are a better bet. Just make sure you are prepared to abandon English for several months. On top of a reduced language barrier, large cities also have the advantage of large airports. If you want to travel Europe, this makes a huge difference. I studied in Madrid and easily found time to visit 8 other countries and 3 other cities in Spain. Europe has ample discount airlines which makes traveling affordable. In addition, I got around easily with minimal Spanish. I recommended a larger city to anyone who hasn’t lived in one. For the record, Louisville isn’t a large city. I was set on never moving to a large city until I lived in Madrid and now it is one of my goals.

Be aware of how expensive cities and countries are. Cities such as London and Amsterdam are wonderful places, but they come with a nice price tag…. on everything. I found Madrid was fairly cheap compared to most other cities in Europe. Prague was the only other city I found comparable to Madrid in size and price. Study abroad is expensive enough even with scholarships so do yourself a favor and study somewhere cheap. Save your money for traveling and souvenirs. So when choosing keep in mind what kind of experience you desire and remember there really is no wrong decision!


During study abroad you usually get a week off for fall break or for a winter break. While studying abroad in Madrid, I received a week off in December. I believe it is a week meant to study for finals since it fell right before finals started. Of course if you are only in Europe for four months, you want to utilize this time to travel. It’s easy to find down time on planes and trains to hit the books. I used this week to take a tour of Italy. I wouldn’t say Italy was my favorite country because it is a little overdone, but overall a great experience. If I took this trip in a time of my life when I wasn’t traveling every weekend, it probably would have been the experience of a lifetime. Since humans are hopelessly relative creatures, it was topped by other more exotic experiences. None the less, I think everybody should experience Italy.

My trip started in Rome. Rome was one of my favorite cities in Italy because it remains frozen in time. It was very rich in history with ample Roman buildings littered throughout the city. The most famous of these buildings being the Colosseum which doesn’t disappoint. This ancient feat of architecture remains impressive and surprisingly well intact considering its age. I recommend getting a guided tour to fulling appreciate this monument. All these ancient gems make it difficult to get around the city by metro because the architecture limits where tunnels cane be built.  Another major attraction in Rome is the Vatican. One could easily spend hours viewing the endless art in the Vatican museums. The Sistine chapel tops the museums impressive collection. The chapel surprised me because I thought the picture of God and man almost touching would take up the entire celling. It is in fact only a small part of the chapel and the rest of the surrounding art is just as remarkable.

I also visited Florence, Venice, and Pisa in Italy. Florence is a great city where the whole ambience sucks you in. The entire city is beautiful and they have the best gelato in the world. The food in general in Italy will not disappoint. I recommend looking up restaurants on trip advisor for the optimum experience. The only thing to see in Pisa is the tower which is most likely smaller than you think. Still Pisa is less than an hour form Florence by train so it makes for a nice afternoon excursion. Don’t forget to take the overly original picture of you holding up the tower or pushing it down. Honestly watching everyone capturing this cliché photo is better than the tower. Venice is worth the visit simply because it is so different than anything in the states. Having canals as roads makes Venice stand out. Although, it is a tourist trap and expensive so I wouldn’t stay long. I found one day sufficient. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to explore the south of Italy although I’ve heard Naples is beautiful. Perhaps if you are studying abroad you could start at Milan and work your way down to Naples.


At their sources, pleasant surprises and frustrations steam from a similar root: expectations. When you have expectations and they are exceeded, you are pleasantly surprised. The vice versa applies for frustration. If you find yourself studying abroad, you may notice you start having expectations for certain cities or countries which results in one of two outcomes. This is a post about a city that left me pleasantly surprised, Istanbul.

The worst part concerning my trip to Istanbul was it only lasted a weekend including the flights. Thus I can only speak from the taste of Istanbul I managed to get, but that taste was  good! I mean this literally and figuratively. Istanbul will keep your taste buds begging for more long after your stomach starting crying for you to quit eating. Istanbul rightfully holds the crown as the meat capital of the world. Anywhere I found myself, I was never far from a sizzling chicken, lamb, or steak kebap. One night for dinner, my food was brought out in a flaming clay pot. The chef proceeded to cut open the top of the clay pot with a sword-like utensil and serve the meal. The level of exoticism in the serving procedure was an adequate indication for the tastefulness of the meal. At the end of my meal, most restaurants offered me tea. I could choose between the local Turkish tea or Green Apple tea. They are both excellent in my opinion, although the Turkish tea is a little harsher especially for novice tea consumers. As a general rule for visiting anywhere in Europe, Trip advisor is a great site to find local gems in the restaurant industry.

Sending your taste buds on an adventure isn’t limited to restaurants. The local desserts need to find a way onto your tongue. Baklava is a must try. My personal favorite is Turkish delight. Try these delicacies for a pleasant surprise regardless of high expectations.

As a city that bridges the gap between Europe and Asia, it overflows with history and a perfect blend of novel and semi-recognizable culture. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are incredible cites to see regardless of your faith or religiosity. The Hagia Sophia started as a church, was converted to a mosque when the Ottoman empire conquered Constantinople (former name of Istanbul), and is currently a museum. If you travel through Europe, a church usually makes the top ten places to see in any given city. Some of these architectural beauties are worth seeing. There are only so many churches you can visit before they all bury together thus visiting a Mosque instead is an enjoyable change. The Topkapi Palace is another top attraction. It’s the former residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman empire. The palace contains numerous cultural rich artifacts although I question the legitimacy of some such as the Sword of David (yeah the David that killed Goliath) and the Staff of Moses. The Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia are all walking distance from one another. Visiting these attractions will provide an amazing, but limited experience of all Istanbul has to offer.            Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on

Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on familiarity that provides uniqueness is what makes Istanbul special and why it tops the charts on my list of favorite cities.


Favorite Place

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.