How to Pick Your Study Abroad Destination?

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Actually I’m not going to tell you how to pick your destination. I’m going to let you know how I ended up going to Milan. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to go to one of the “most popular” destinations.  “Most popular” usually translates to “touristy” which then translates that I probably won’t get the most authentic international experience. Most of the time if there are 300 American kids in a foreign country in the same program, you won’t ever have the opportunity to really experience the country.  It’ll simply be an American experience on foreign soil.  So that immediately disqualified Paris and Rome. I definitely wanted to learn another language – so buh-bye London. I didn’t want that language to be Spanish – so adios Barcelona and Madrid.

I actually really knew I wanted to be in Italy. I’ve always had some kinda crush on all things Italian. Italian designers, Italian love, Italian leather, the language, and of course the food. I wanted to be in a “city” as opposed to a rural or small location.  I wanted to be able to explore and not experience everything within a month after I’d arrived. So that knocked out Torino (home of the Winter Olympics 2006), Venice, and Florence.  Besides, Florence was full of tourists AND it was small so No and No. Everyone there speaks English to you, unlike in Milan where NOONE will speak to you in English – even if they know how.  It’s kind of rude but I respected that. I didn’t want to come in and change their culture, I personally wanted to be changed (well my language skills at the very least).  I know this is why I was practically fluent in Italian by the time I left. The final reason was because of the opportunity to have an Internship abroad. Milan was one of the few programs that offered Internships – and that was important to me as a Business Marketing major.

So I ended up in Milan partially based on the process of elimination – but it definitely wasn’t an afterthought. I loved everything about that city and could definitely picture myself living there again. It’s the business capital of the country, the nightlife was great, it’s one of the Fashion Capitals of the World, the food is amazing, it’s close to everything, it has everything, it’s the home of Bocconi – one of Europe’s best business school’s, – not one, but TWO futbol teams, and so much more that I know I’m forgetting.

So how do you pick your study abroad destination? Be true to yourself and know what you like (and don’t like).  And if you end up picking a place and don’t like it (which won’t happen), you’re only there for a semester and with low-cost airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJet, you can country hop and visit many other cities.

(If you’re wondering why I only mentioned places in Europe, I still wanted the opportunity visit those places I didn’t want to live in – and I did! I knew that going to Europe, because all of the major cities are relatively close together, would give me the best chance to visit more places.  Unlike if I were in say, Sydney, Australia, it would be more difficult to get around to other major cities. But now that I’ve “conquered” Europe, South America and Africa are next!)


Move Ash cloud! Get out the way!

One of Amsterdam's Many Canals

Besides the fact that some previously unknown (to me) volcano has erupted and brought European air traffic to a halt, I am beyond words excited about next week’s visit to Amsterdam.  Air traffic has resumed (I think) and as long as that giant ash cloud moves out of the way, I’m Holland-bound! It’s hard to believe that this will be my first return to Europe since studying abroad (but it’s also hard to believe that it’s been almost 4 years since I was there – old much?). Amsterdam was one of the only places that I didn’t get to visit while I was living in Italy.  I went to Paris, London, Barcelona, Switzerland, and all of Italy – but I didn’t make it to Amsterdam. One of my friends is in grad school there and I have had supreme travel envy at all of the pics that she puts up, but now I get to take some pics of my own.

I know what all of you are already thinking, but there are way more than “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam! The awesome canals, the quirky museums (and Anne Frank’s house!), the (in)famous Red Light District, the bicycling culture, and so much more that I’ll be able to talk about like a pro when I come back. And while I’m there, the country will be celebrating Queen’s Day – which is apparently a 24 hour party to celebrate the Queen Mother’s birthday in the streets – and the canals! Remember that first picture of the peaceful canal above, check out how it transforms into a Dutch Bourbon Street a la Mardi Gras on Queen’s Day! Looks like I need to pack some orange :).

Queen's Day in the Canals of Amsterdam

Fun Sites to Check out about Amsterdam:

  • Amsterdam Bicycles 82 pictures of people riding bicycles in 73 minutes – chronicling Amsterdam’s bike culture.  He’s even got pictures of women in tight dresses and heels, people talking on cell phones, men in suits with briefcases, and some even texting on their bikes – very funny!
  • Queen’s Day Just a little information about Queen’s Day – April 30 – in Amsterdam.
  • I Amsterdam The Official Amsterdam Tourist Board’s visitors site – I have been on this site all day trying to prioritize the “must-sees” next week.