5 out of the ordinary places to study abroad

Sean Campbell
Sean Campbell

20 August 2020 • 7 min read

One thing that’s becoming clear as we get a little bit older (and wow, we feel old saying THAT!), is that we spend a lot of our adult lives reminiscing about our university days. We meet up with friends and tell heady tales of discovery, adventure and special experiences we had during our years of study.  

Since university life has such a lasting effect, wouldn’t it be amazing to study abroad somewhere more off the beaten path and out of the norm? Sure, studying in London or New York is fascinating, but how much of a buzz would it be to say “During my studies in Antarctica…”? Or “When I was riding on horseback through Mongolia...”

The thing is, you can do just that. And Antarctica is just the, ahem, tip of the iceberg...

Here are 5 quirky, unforgettable, unusual places to study abroad. 

Antarctica

Who & how? There are a number of options here, but the American Universities International Program (US based students only) and the wonderfully named Students on Ice are among the most renowned groups offering excursions to Antarctica.  It’s most suitable to those who have an interest in the environment, geology and the natural world. And since only a select few are chosen to participate, a clear interest in the Polar Region would be an advantage.  

When? For the AUIP program, excursions are scheduled to take place annually between the end of December and the beginning of January, with preparatory online lessons commencing in the Autumn. Imagine spending New Years’ Eve under an Arctic sky! The Students on Ice program meanwhile, heads for the Arctic (that’s the north) every year, and the Antarctic (the southern one) every two years, usually during the summer months of July and August. 

Why? How many people even dream of heading that far away from the world we know? Antarctica only receives around 60,000 visitors per year. That might seem like a lot, but let’s put it into context: Heathrow Airport in London experiences over 200,000 visitors on average every single day. You’ll forever be an adventurer at heart, and you’ll experience a place that only a fraction of the world ever gets to see -- a beautiful, otherworldly region that’s crucial to our very existence.

Nepal

Who & how? Offered by SIT Study Abroad, students can spend 6 weeks in the mountains of Nepal, trekking to and staying with Himalayan and Tibetan communities. Applications are open to anyone, but it’s perfect if you’re interested in geopolitics, history and developing nations, and of course, the great outdoors!

When? This 6 week programme takes place twice per year, in the spring and autumn. 

Why? Again, it’s a pretty unique experience. You’ll be based in the evocative city of Kathmandu, with regular excursions into the mountains. On this programme, you’ll learn all about Tibetan and Himalayan history and politics, human rights, international tensions, spirituality, religion and culture. Oh and you’ll also pick up the basics of a new language! If this is all a little too academic, don’t forget that you’ll be hiking through the world’s most famous mountain ranges, visiting communities you won’t get to see anywhere else. 

North Korea

Who & how? That’s right, you can study in the country that virtually no one is allowed in (or out) of. Follow the rules and you might even avoid jail! We’re kidding of course. Kind of.  But it’s worth bearing in mind that North Korea has extremely strict rules for visitors, even when it comes to simple things like photography. It’s a highly secretive “hermit nation”, but that’s all part of the attraction. So if you think you can avoid trouble, there are a number of tour operators offering summer Korean language programmes. Anyone can apply, though tetchy relationships between the US and North Korea might deny US passport holders entry for now.  

When? Programme times tend to fluctuate given North Korea’s delicate standing with the rest of the world, but as mentioned, there is still an annual summer programme. 

Why? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience what many see as the strangest nation in the world. You’ll probably hear a whole new version of history, and there’s never any harm in learning a new language either! But seriously, please don’t steal anything or break any rules. In fact, maybe don’t go. Or do. Just behave! 

Oh and please remember that these places are not recommendations, just suggestions! We’re not telling you that you should go to North Korea, we’re just saying that you could. Cool. 

Mongolia

Who & how? ...But you should definitely go to Mongolia! The ancient home of the great and fearsome Ghengis Khan. A vast and unending landscape where nomads roam on horseback. It’s like something from a fantasy story, but Mongolia is very real, and you bet you can go there to study. 

Offered again by SIT Study Abroad, you’ll spend almost three months in this fascinating country, learning of its history, culture, economy and social development in the modern day.

When? Annually, from September to December. The first 10 days are online at home, before jetting off to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where you’ll be based for the duration of the programme. 

Why? Riding on horseback with nomadic families on the vast green Mongolian Steppes, sleeping in traditional Ger huts, trekking to ancient Buddhist temples, and travelling to the awe-inspiring Lake Khovsgol in the far north of the country - these are the adventurous highlights. But while here, you’ll learn from national experts about Mongolia’s changing socio-political landscape, the effects of climate change on the country, and her relationship with neighbouring Russia and China, as well as North Korea and the USA. 

Vietnam

Who & how? Vietnam is one of Asia’s most beautiful, fascinating and historically rich countries. Most of us have heard of it because of its brutal twenty year war involving the USA, but modern day Vietnam is a world apart. There are a whole bunch of study abroad programmes in Vietnam, but one that catches our attention is in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. It’s a full semester at the state of the art RMIT, Vietnam’s first fully international university. This means that the working language of the university is English, so you’ll have an easier time settling in. The academic options are numerous, ranging from Humanities to Art, Business to Engineering. 

When? Things are a little bit on hold at the moment due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, normal service is due to resume in Spring 2021, and every semester thereafter. 

Why? Vietnam is just a mesmerizing country, filled with friendly people. And Ho Chi Minh City is its biggest, busiest destination, with over 10 million scooters whizzing through the streets. There’s an alluring mix of modern and retro -- new skyscrapers jostling for space with grand old buildings from the French Colonial period. That’s right, France once ruled Vietnam! That’s just one of a dozen things we’d bet not everyone knows about this splendid country. 

Outside the city, it’s a lush country with golden beaches, dense jungles, towering mountains and a complex network of rivers and swamps in the south known as the Mekong Delta. And then there’s the food. Oh, the food... aromatic soups and broths, charcoal grilled meats, zesty noodle dishes... We really should stop before we salivate all over the computer. So in short, Vietnam is worth seeing, sensing, tasting, and feeling. 

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.


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