Study abroad is a collegiate rite of passage, so you don't want to f*ck it up by going to a lame city in the middle of nowhere with more cows per capita than people. The first step is finding a program that fits you and your academic needs, for sure, but there's so much more to studying abroad than just old books and struggling to finish your language requirement before graduation. We've rounded up the best study abroad cities in the world so you can literally live the dream and make all your friends jealous with how cultured you are upon your return.
London is one of the most accessible study abroad cities for American students, largely because there’s no language barrier to worry about. While you study Shakespeare at the Old Globe Theatre and binge drinking culture at Duck and Waffle, you can soak up the city that birthed most (if not all) of the greatest rock musicians in history with student discounts and one of the cleanest subway systems the world has ever known. King’s College is one of the top universities in the world, but future investment bankers shouldn’t forget about the renowned London School of Economics.
"Not only did I get to study with and learn from people from around Europe and the world, but I also got to experience so much of what London has to offer. From seeing West-End shows every week to taking excursions to explore new food, new music, and history, it was one of the best summers ever," said Erin Harris, who spent her summer abroad studying at the London School of Economics.
For students looking to travel a little closer to home, Montréal provides the classic European study abroad experience without ever leaving the North American continent. Quebec might as well be France, considering the French-first language customs, cobblestone streets, and its very own Notre-Dame Basilica, but don’t rely on your high school AP French classes to get you through the semester — in these here parts, residents speak Québécois instead of the commonly taught Metropolitan French used in Europe. McGill University is the second-best college in Canada, and the walkable city is filled with art, nightlife, and poutine. What more could you ask for?
Stanford Ph.D. candidate Anand Natu spent his entire undergraduate career as an international student at McGill and literally wouldn't shut up about his time as a student in Canada. He cited the affordable costs of living and large student population as two of its main draws, saying, "Montréal sits at a crucial juncture between English and French Canadian social and political thought, providing its students with unique perspective on the discourse and debate that exists between these two worlds, as well as a lens into a facet of Canadian culture that's steeped in history."
Australia’s cultural capital is a UNESCO City of Literature for all you bibliophiles out there, but its major draw is a packed calendar of cultural events featuring street art, music, and theatre. While you’re on the hunt for a Hemsworth cousin, take up surfing at the nearby beaches only an hour from the city center, try your hand at paddle boarding on the bay, or just watch as professionals handle the exercise at a football, rugby, soccer, golf, or Australian Open tennis match. Melbourne loves its sports teams, and we love fit Australian athletes.
If you’re struggling to fulfill your foreign language requirement before graduation, look no further than an introductory French program in the City of Lights. Paris is home to the grandest museums in the world and centuries of European History, and schools like Le Sorbonne and Sciences Po are the perfect places to begin your foray into international relations. French is still one of the primary languages for international diplomacy, so you might as well get a leg up on the competition while you sample $2 gourmet wines and eat your weight in bread.
Kristy Pirone spent her Junior Year studying at a UCLA-sponsored program in the heart of the city: "Studying abroad in Paris was life-changing. Sure, the immersive language experience was indescribably helpful, but there's nowhere with more art, more fashion, or better food than Paris. Seeing the Bastille Day fireworks over the Eiffel Tour, bonding with our homestay hosts, and going to the first-ever Lollapalooza Paris were just the cherries on top." Also, yes, Kristy Pirone is the author of this article, and she promises that she's 100% professional and impartial. Or at least 95%.
You don’t need to speak Shanghainese, Mandarin, or Cantonese to study in China’s nightlife center. In fact, the latter two likely won’t help you at all, as the primary language used in city business is a unique dialect derived from Wu Chinese. Buzzfeed loves Fudan University in the city for its language programs, internship opportunities, and partnerships with English-speaking locals to help new students adjust to life in the city. Shanghai is one of the world’s fastest-growing cities in basically every sector whether its fashion, business, finance, or cinema.
All frat stars study Psych, it’s like an unwritten rule of collegiate f*ckboys. OG f*ckboy Sigmund Freud called Vienna home, making it one of the top destinations for Psychology students and the emotionally stunted co-eds who love them. Native Austrians Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss also left their mark on the city, if tortured musicians are more your type, as did Vienna native Marie Antoinette. Vienna has ten international schools just for ex-pat students in addition to their more traditional educational offerings, making this the perfect place to immerse yourself in culture alongside like-minded students from across the globe.
It’s difficult to choose just one Spanish city’s educational and cultural opportunities to highlight (which is why we chose two). We could make a case for Grenada and Seville in addition to Madrid as well, but Spain’s capital edged out the competition for its work hard, play hard Spanish spirit. Name one of the most livable cities in the world, Madrid is a fantastic place to channel your inner Ernest Hemingway by getting absolutely hammered in the middle of a Sunday while benefitting from the city’s metropolitan cityscape and plethora of alternative universities including the Charles III University of Madrid for “free thinkers.” There are normal, traditional universities in the city as well, but we’re assuming if you’re the type of person who wants to run with the bulls, you’re probably looking for more of an innovative college experience.
The University of Cape Town in unmatched when it comes to natural beauty. Located at the beginning of Devil’s Peak at Table Mountain, the campus offers panoramic views of South Africa’s thriving port city while housing staff and students from over one hundred different countries. You’ll never get tired of Cape Town’s harbors, beaches, and nature reserves, but take a break from the surf and sun to visit the prison that once wrongfully housed Nelson Mandela, which has been turned into a museum to educate the masses on the anti-Apartheid movement and the brutal confinement Mandela endured before becoming the President of South Africa.
Nina Sheridan, a UCLA junior, said that Cape Town quickly became her favorite place on Earth during her time abroad: "The energy and color that ran through the streets and the community was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. It completely took me by surprise, but I think that's why I fell in love with it so easily."
Why Munich? One word: Oktoberfest. Plan your travel study experience to coincide with the biggest drinking event in Europe, an entire month dedicated to studying Munich’s crowning glory, a thriving beer culture. Once you've sobered up, learn to surf in the city’s own manmade river (with manmade waves to match) or barrel down the nearby Bavarian Alps. An additional incentive is reasonable living costs, as Munich’s public universities offer free tuition for all students. Just say f*ck it and permanently move to Beer Heaven.
Amsterdam is a gorgeous country with famous canals, a ubiquitous biking culture, and a reputation as one of the most weed-friendly places on Earth. English is one of the most commonly spoken languages, making it an easy stop for monolingual students, and the calm oasis of pancakes, stroopwaffel, and public greenery also houses the International Institute of Social History for the research-minded, the foremost collection of Van Gogh’s work for aspiring art historians, and the Hortus Botanicus for the future Botanists amongst us.
Nina Sheridan also got to experience study abroad in The Netherlands because she is an international woman of leisure and a humanitarian: "My experience abroad taught me more than I ever imagined about art, culture, travel, and riding a bike. But more than anything, it taught me the importance of friendships and how to balance academics with having the time of your life."
Like we said, there’s no way to highlight just one Spanish city’s study abroad clout. Pack up your Cheetah Sisters, brush up on your Catalan, and stock up on melatonin for Barcelona’s notoriously luxe citywide siestas. Go museum hopping, club hopping, bed hopping, bar hopping, and wind up lying on a white sand beach. There’s no shortage of indulgent daily offerings, and you’re expected to get caught up in the city’s “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” atmosphere. Just please, for the love of God, don’t come back talking about your wonderful semester in “Barthalona.” We get it, you’re cultured; now let it go.
Seoul has a strong ex-pat community because of its reputation as an up-and-coming, technologically advanced metropolis. Experience Korean BBQ where it first began, immerse yourself in K-Pop, and find inner peace in one of the city’s Buddhist temples (or its world-class shopping streets). Seoul is still a fairly niche study abroad destination, which makes it perfect for adventurers looking to immerse themselves in a city with thriving career opportunities and untapped potential. It’s the fourth-largest city in the world, and it won’t remain under-the-radar for long.
Let’s take a moment to remember that “abroad” is a relative term. Even if you’re coming from inside of the good ole U. S. of A., New York City is far removed from any of the country’s other bustling metropolises. Regularly garnering comparisons to Europe’s biggest cities (albeit with slightly more garbage and a different type of history), New York is the best place to find internships during your study abroad semester. Whether you're trying to live like Serena van Der Woodsen, Midge Maisel, or Carrie Bradshaw, NYC's reputation as an artistic, economic, and cultural hub is both well-earned and well worth exploring.
Braulio Sepulveda took a summer to intern in New York rather than studying abroad in Europe, and he felt it paved the way for the next chapter of his life. "Interning in NYC was great because I got to have a three-month trial of what living in the city would be like," he said. "I felt way more prepared to move here post-grad because of it."
Would you secretly consider yourself wealthy? Have you already traveled to Europe’s most popular cities on holiday? Consider studying abroad in Zurich, where the only thing higher than the cost of living is the overall quality of life. You’ll never find somewhere cleaner, happier, or more picturesque, and nearby Lake Zurich is an unparalleled beacon of natural fun. Zurich-West is an unexpected rave hub, while the city itself balances its quiet elegance with its reputation as the birthplace of Dadaism and the European avant-garde. It really is possible to have the best of both worlds, no blonde wigs required.
Dublin is the mecca of jovial, bar-hopping bliss. The city is filled with music, laughter, and a thriving pub scene that is unrivaled by any other city in the United Kingdom. Don’t let the good times fool you — Dublin is also an architectural marvel, an economic success, and an enriching historical site that once inspired James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Bono.
"I, personally, always say that I grew a lot as a person studying abroad in Paris, but in Dublin, I had a sh*t ton of fun,” said Teddi Welch, the Wwisp’s own Managing Editor and University of San Francisco alum.
UCLA graduate Kimberly Eddinger spent her entire study abroad experience in the bustling city, saying, "Dublin is absolutely charming. It was my anchor when I traveled; easily my home-away-from-home for the short time I lived there. The city and its people will always hold a special place in my heart."
Rome is a classic, naturally, for its prime advertising in The Lizzie McGuire Movie historic ruins, proximity to the Vatican, and 3,000 years of cosmopolitan art, but its also doing away with the city’s cobblestones and replacing them with asphalt — Construction? We’ll pass. — and it’s notoriously lousy with pickpockets. Florence, on the other hand, is equally old and important, has just as much handmade pasta, and is sitting pretty as the capital of luxurious Tuscany. Its museums house Michealangelo’s “David," Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” the Boboli Gardens are a lush garden paradise, and there are more tiny, artsy alleyways than any one student could hope to discover.
With the largest metropolitan economy in the world, Tokyo is a great place to make business connections. If networking in Japanese isn’t your thing, fear not. Tokyo’s Keio University has sky-scraping academic standards and a commitment to honorable character, while the city itself boasts natural hot springs, a reputation for culinary excellence, and the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing. Tokyo has been tapped to host the 2020 Olympics, making the coolest city on Earth even more deserving of its “World’s Greatest City” claim.
Some people study abroad because they want to immerse themselves in a different culture, others just want a home base to explore more of the world (but all of them want to legally drink before they’re 21). For students looking to see everything they can as quickly as they can, Semester at Sea visits ten countries across five continents over the course of a hundred-day program, making it the best and most efficient way to do a tour of the world while still fulfilling your general studies requirements. The program also offers guest lecturers which have included Nobel Laureates, Presidents, and Prime Ministers including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela.
Ellie Goone, an alum of the University of Texas at Austin, raved about her experiences during Semester At Sea: "It's a great way to see parts of the world that are usually more difficult to access while being immersed in diverse cultures and getting to know the people who become your community on the boat. You really get to learn about subjects, then step off the boat and see it firsthand, exploring diverse cultures and global perspectives."
Now that Nicki Minaj has shamed us all into learning how to spell Prague, it’s time for us to take a visit to the hippie mecca of Central Europe. Old-school architecture meets thoroughly modern schools of thought on art, coffee, and existential crises. Everything is ridiculously affordable because Prague never made the switch to Euros, and it has a massive population of like-minded university students. NYU even has a permanent campus in the city.
“Prague is the best, most affordable way to experience living in Eastern Europe. It’s charming, historic, and an easy starting point for several neighboring cities like Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest! Fair warning: Be prepared to party,” said University of Washington alum and former writer for the whisp, Nikki Javadi.
Berlin is known, first and foremost, for having some of the craziest clubs in Europe (and possibly the world), but the city is more than a 24/7 techno party. Art is Berlin’s primary form of peaceful rebellion, exemplified by the famous Berlin Wall, which now stands as a collection of murals near the city center. Germany’s capital is home to a strange dichotomy of beer-loving, hard-partying modern values and near-constant reminders of the part their city played in the Holocaust, providing a self-aware look into Berlin’s at times murky history.