After experiencing life on campus, most students have the option to continue their education halfway around the world. It’s an exciting opportunity to travel, but don’t mistake it for an extended vacation. Study abroad has proven to result in better grades, more confidence, and higher graduation rates, the Institute of International Education reports.
In addition, studying abroad offers students a unique period of time for self-exploration, problem-solving, and language adaptation. These experiences contribute to a student’s personal brand, which will help set them apart when job-hunting in the future. Studying abroad expands students’ network globally, with the potential to introduce them to new ways of life and new areas of study. And going to an internationally recognized museum or a tropical beach after class doesn’t hurt, either.
The hard part, then, isn’t deciding if students they should study abroad, but where. To help with the decision-making process, NerdScholar has begun a series on our favorite study abroad programs in various regions across the globe. First up is Southeast Asia, the land of rice paddies and towering temples. It has recently become the fastest growing tourist destination, with as many as 350 million tourists in 2012 alone. Among those tourists were study abroad students who were eager to experience life beyond Western culture. From Singapore to Vietnam, we compiled a list of programs that excelled, both culturally and academically.
Purdue University – Most Flexible
Students may earn credit for a semester or yearlong program at the National University of Singapore (NUS), an exchange relationship founded in 2007 that extends both ways. Says Brian Harley, Purdue’s Director of Programs for Study Abroad, “NUS is an internationally recognized university, arguably a peer with Purdue as another major research institution. Undergraduate exchange students in both directions value their semester at the host location.” NUS is located about seven miles from Singapore’s city center and offers students housing in one of six residence halls, each equipped with laundry facilities and social lounges. Students may choose from a wide array of courses, which are taught in English.
Travel tip: Explore Singapore’s many “hawker centers,” or open-air markets that host a wide variety of cheap food prepared to order.
Loyola University Chicago – Most Enriching
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Loyola’s Vietnam Center in Ho Chi Minh City offers students a semester-long program focused on the political, environmental, and social landscape of Vietnam. This understanding requires a historical background, which students develop “by focusing on interdisciplinary coursework and by participating in a service-learning placement,” says Linda Ho, Loyola’s Vietnam recruiter. For Wilson Potts, a Vietnam Center student in spring 2013, this service-learning component was volunteering for an organization that facilitated foster care for orphans in Vietnam and neighboring countries. The project, he says, “not only reflected the Vietnam Center’s values, but allowed students to thoroughly reflect upon everyday life in Vietnam.” In addition, Vietnam Center students complete four academically oriented excursions, like a ten-day trip to the northern and central regions of Vietnam and a four-day trip to Cambodia. The Bach Khoa University dorms accommodate students, pairing each American student with a Vietnamese roommate, who helps them navigate the city.
Travel tip: Don’t miss the floating markets on the Mekong Delta for fresh fruit or a Vietnamese coffee with boat-side service.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges – Most Immersive
Founded during the 1994-95 academic year, Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ semester-long program is one of the oldest and most established in the United States. The program centers on intensive Vietnamese language classes and an independent project or internship. These projects range from “studying Vietnamese traditional medicine to working as an intern at the American Embassy to studying the social services available to street children,” says Jack Harris, former director. While in Hanoi, students live with local Vietnamese students to help them practice the language and adapt to the culture. In addition, students participate in many course-related visits in and around Hanoi, including museums, national parks, and Buddhist pagodas.
Travel tip: Buy tickets to a water puppet show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, which cost between 60,000 and 100,000 Vietnamese dong ($3-5).
Gustavus Adolphus College – Most Diverse
Gustavus’ semester-long program in Malaysia is the only one of its kind among comparable colleges. Carolyn O’Grady, Director of International and Cultural Education, advocates for studying in Malaysia, an “ethically, linguistically, and religiously diverse society, where the tensions between races and religions have been part and parcel of life for well over a century.” During the program, students study at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang with courses taught by the faculty program leader and on-site instructors. These courses are supplemented with field trips, community service, and experience with the traditional art and craft forms. Students live in dorms on the main USM campus in addition to a brief homestay and time in hostels while traveling.
Travel tip: Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple, which has the tallest temple pavilion, granite pillars, and statue of Kuan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy) in Malaysia.
Dartmouth College – Most Academic
Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering sponsors the study abroad program in Thailand. Its partnership with the Chulalongkorn University (“Chula”) gives engineering majors the opportunity to build upon their knowledge at the oldest and most preeminent engineering school in Thailand. “I think the program was a good way to experience engineering outside of the U.S.,” says Charnice Barbour, a 2012 Dartmouth graduate. Casey Stelmach, a fellow program attendee, noted that Thailand’s course structure was an adjustment. “It was primarily an exam-based curriculum, as opposed to a project and homework-based curriculum like it is here,” she says. Students live in Chula’s dorms or in nearby apartments. Though all courses are taught in English, students have the opportunity to enroll in Thai classes.
Travel tip: Check out a street mango stall for mango sticky rice, or fresh mango served with coconut-milk-infused sticky rice.
Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.
Ha Long Bay image courtesy of Shutterstock.