IES – Choosing The “RIGHT” Study Abroad Program – Part I

Studying abroad is a life enhancing opportunity every student should experience, but choosing the right location/program is not as easy as it seems. When I first decided to study abroad, I considered several factors: climate, cultural/societal views, cost of living, cuisine, and potential language barrier. At that time, I knew that I wanted to study in a region I had not yet visited, but I also wanted to be in a country that offered my essential U.S. comforts: efficient public transit, solid city infrastructure, and of course, Wi-Fi. Since I have already been to both Europe and South America, I settled on two continents: Africa and Asia.

When researching countries in Africa, my decision was admittedly extremely difficult. My top choices were Cape Town, South Africa for its beautiful beaches and acclaimed universities; Egypt, home of the Great Pyramids and the third oldest civilization in the history of the world; and the West African nations of Ghana and Nigeria, for their cuisines strongly influenced the foods I know and love in my native state of Louisiana. Despite Egypt’s deeply entrenched history and culture, it is widely considered a part of the Middle East; even in museums, Egypt’s history is somewhat isolated from the rest of the African continent, as if it is slowly detaching itself from Africa. Also, while I would have loved to be among the Ghanaian and Nigerian people, I could not accept that their governments do not offer basic human rights for the LGBT community. It took me a while to accept my sexuality fully, and as a proud gay Black man, I refused to live in a place where my own safety and security would be compromised. Thus, I ultimately chose Cape Town as the African contender for my program.

Now, when I think of Asia, three places come to mind: South Korea, Japan, and China so I chose those as my top choices. After researching each of these countries, China was the best choice for several reasons. South Korea’s prejudices and proud ways would be too much to endure for an entire semester, and Japan’s extremely high cost of living was just not economical for me as a college student. China, the world’s most populous country, is home to several large cities; however, those looking for a more urban way of life may enjoy Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Beijing is well-known for the Great Wall and the Forbidden City but more infamously known for being very traditional and forcing visitors to speak Mandarin. As a non-Mandarin speaker, it was painfully clear that although Beijing would offer me a purer feel of China, the language barrier would drive me insane. Conversely, Hong Kong and Shanghai are China’s two largest and most economically stable metropolises. While Hong Kong has its own economy and government system separate from China, Shanghai is often considered China’s jewel. For that reason and for its diversity and traditional Chinese undertone, I chose Shanghai as the Asian contender for my year abroad.

With two cities in mind, I could finally move on to the administrative process of studying abroad. While these are some of the factors that I looked at before deciding on Cape Town and Shanghai, see part two of this entry for even more factors I wish I had considered before I made the commitment.

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