Opinion | Study abroad outside tourist traps

Navigating the world of study abroad can oftentimes be overwhelming, but it is important to pick the right country for you.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay. Before this trip, I was not confident that I could have pointed out Uruguay on a map. But now I am grateful I chose it.

Ideally, we will have ample opportunities to travel to foreign countries and experience other cultures in our lives. The unfortunate reality is that studying abroad may be our only chance to fly across the world for months on end.

While making the choice to study abroad is one thing, the next choice might be even more daunting: where do you go?

When picking a country, the pressure is on. What if you make the wrong choice? What if you hate it? There are hundreds of study abroad programs offered at the University of Iowa, and this choice might be overwhelming to many.

It is easier to pick a safe choice in popular tourist destination cities such as Paris or Rome.

By no accounts am I saying that these are the wrong choice. As a French citizen myself, I guarantee that these locations would offer a cultural reset for many. It should be noted, however, that lesser visited countries have their perks.

Uruguay might not be on the top of people’s abroad location wishlist. But because of this, I believe I had a unique study abroad experience that could not have been replicated in a tourist destination known country.

To start out, a country like Uruguay has much less tourism than its neighbor Brazil, or many other popular study abroad destinations.

Because of this, my experience seems more authentic to the people of Uruguay. On the other hand, a hot spot for tourists, such as many cities of Brazil, have many attributes designed specifically for tourists which could give the experience a phony feeling.

Danilo Paes, a native of Rio, Brazil, said that while he has met many students studying abroad in Rio, he does not feel as if they have truly grasped Brazilian culture, as the city often reflects a tourist trap.

Without having to navigate the added layer of what is an authentic event compared to what is meant to attract tourists, it is much easier to get to the core of the culture.

During my study abroad stint, I was able to befriend many locals who showed me many parts of the city I might have never seen before. This includes hidden beach fronts, dive-bar restaurants, and many other gems.

Additionally, many people study abroad in hopes of improving their foreign language skills. In connection with the lack of tourism, many locals do not speak English which forces you to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

While this can feel nerve-racking at first, from what I have observed, this lack of safety net skyrockets students’ efficiency in the language.

Lauren Buffington, another student in the Montevideo program, said that within two weeks of being there she was confident speaking to almost anyone in Spanish.

Overall, being able to study abroad is a privilege I strongly feel anyone should take if they can. No matter where you end up, studying abroad is a wonderful experience you will never forget.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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