Where Should I Study Abroad?
December 21, 2004 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I’m studying abroad in September, and I’m considering (in order of current preference): Hong Kong, Oslo, Singapore, Uppsala (Sweden), University of the West Indies, and a variety in Australia/New Zealand (likely Melbourne). I can figure out which school suits my needs best, but I’m looking for information and advice on the locales themselves. (more inside)

I’m going into my 3rd year of law at the University of Toronto, and I’m looking to have a nice, travel-oriented study abroad. I’ve done a semester in London and Paris in undergrad, and I’m looking for something different and exciting, which is likely why I’m leaning towards Hong Kong. So, I’m looking to you for any of the following: Anecdotes from your time living/studying abroad/traveling to these places; Info on how difficult weekend trips would be from that locale; any interesting books on travel to that area (not Lonely Planet, but something, fiction or non, that helps to get a good feel of life there – a la From Paris to the Moon or Red Dust, off the top of my head); or just plain ol’ advice on what you’d recommend. Any and all input would be appreciated. Thanks.

And FYI – I’m big into music, exploring urban cities, wilderness and trying new things…and I've also gone to the usual travel guide books as sources, so I'm looking for more personal opinions...
posted by evadery to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
I live in the US and I just got back from ten days in Australia and I still dream about it every single night. It felt completely different from the US and yet also the same. I mean most people there look somewhat like me and talk like me, and yet all the trees and birds and animals are different, it seemed like a Doctor Seuss land. The attitudes of the people I met were also somewhat unfamiliar and yet totally pleasant. I'd relish the chance to get back there any time. There's a really vibrant backpacker culture there, so it's easy to get around the country if you're willing to spend some time going overland to do it and many cities seem to have sections that exist to serve backpackers with inexpensive places to stay, eat and check email. I was in Adelaide SA and Sydney NSW with a short side trip to Newcastle NSW so I can't give you any advice about Melbourne. If you're looking for some fun reading about Australia, Bill Brysons book In A Sunburned Country is a great funny read detailing an American/British look at the various parts of Australia, and Australian people and politics. I also liked Hell West and Crooked which is sort of an Australian cowboy story about being an intinerant rancher/horse-breaker/buffalo hunter in the early part of the century in the Australian outback. If, for some crazy reason, you do wind up going there, let me know how so I can try to sell the idea to my law student boyfriend.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 PM on December 21, 2004

I am a New Zealander, so don't ask me what it would be like for you; but if you short-list New Zealand, feel free to email me, my address is in my profile.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:14 PM on December 21, 2004

See also. You should get in touch with Sonny Jim.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:21 PM on December 21, 2004

Adelaide's quite a bit cheaper to live in than Melbourne, and you're on the doorstep of the desert. Email me if you have any queries; I live there, have studied at two of the universities, and worked at the other one.
posted by Wolof at 8:26 PM on December 21, 2004

I'd suggest Shanghai, actually, if you can work it out with your school. Hong Kong is China's past, Shanghai is the future, and there's a decent chance that China will become really important within your lifetime. Might as well pick up some of the culture now, so that you understand what's going on. A semester immersed in the food, and the language, and the culture would be invaluable. Sure, most people won't speak English, but you can live with that, especially if you're working with a program of English speakers.

Two years ago, I moved to Beijing (on one month's notice, no less) without knowing a word of Mandarin. If you're living in a dorm for foreign students, it's very easy to live: a lot of the other students will speak decent Chinese, and if worst comes to worst, you can get your teacher or a hotel concierge to write instructions for the taxi driver in pinyin for you. It's exciting, and challenging, but not at all scary; very doable. You'll learn a lot about yourself and about the world.

If your school won't let you do Shanghai, then I'd go with Hong Kong or Singapore. You've already been to London and Paris; now I'd say it's clearly time to get out of the West and have your eyes opened a bit. Trust me on this: the world is bigger than Europe and the Commonwealth.

Of the two, I'd prefer HK, for the simple reason that you can travel by train into the PRC. HK and the PRC are very different, as you can probably imagine, but they're separated by only a very short train ride. If you've got time for more than a weekend getaway, that would be perfect.

You can get by with just english in either Singapore or Hong Kong (I know for sure about HK, I'm told that's true of Singapore as well, but I've never been there personally).
posted by gd779 at 8:26 PM on December 21, 2004

And Shanghai's amazing (I was there three days ago). Try it!
posted by Wolof at 8:34 PM on December 21, 2004


Sydney has no soul, and Adelaide will put you to sleep ;)

Melbourne also caters for your urban exploration desires, as well as having plenty of wilderness and national parks to enjoy.
posted by cheaily at 2:50 AM on December 22, 2004

Shanghai Diaries is a good looking and interesting blog about Shanghai, written from the pov of a westerner.
posted by zpousman at 7:15 AM on December 22, 2004

I completely agree with jessamyn's characterization of Australia (from an American's perspective). I just spent a month traveling throughout the east coast of Australia. Melbourne was one of the highlights for me and seems to be a very liveable city. There is also a thriving music and arts culture there that you would probably enjoy. And you don't have to travel far to get out of the city and into more rural areas. There are so many beautiful national parks throughout Australia. Unfortunately I don't have any books to recommend at the moment though.
Good luck!
posted by fritzy at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2004

I'm with gd779 here.

Reason being that, over the course of your life, it will be fairly easy to travel to and get around in countries where English is spoken as the native language or very commonly (as it is in northern Europe).

You have a fantastic opportunity here to live in a country where you don't speak the language (not saying you have to choose China, any such place will do...), but where you will learn to get around under the tutelage of your hosts. In a few years, when you're no longer in school but just wanting to travel on your own, you likely won't have that sort of help.

Plus, there is no better feeling than the confidence you will gain by challenging yourself this way.

Whatever you decide, have a great time!
posted by vignettist at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2004

"Melbourne. Crazy, crazy Melbourne
It's got everything from restaurants to kiddie porn
And would I leave? Man, you must be kiddin' me
Unless you gave me a one way ticket to Sydney ...."


I second (or third) vignettist and gd779 - HK or Singapore. Is Japan an option?
posted by zanni at 10:17 PM on December 22, 2004

I went to Uppsala for a year, and had, for the most part, a great time. It's a lovely city, the university library is great and so are the cafés and bookshops. Plus it's close to Stockholm, about 50 minutes by train - a lot of people commute. A couple of departments, including mine (history of ideas and science), are housed in the castle on top of a hill, which added to the academic romance. Email me at gmail.com, metahanna, if you want to know more.

What eventually got to me was the intense focus on student life - living in Uppsala and not studying has to suck! I went to student-run cafés, bars and clubs (very cheap drinks!), everyone talked about credits and courses and profs and textbooks. Since I was a bit older than the average student and not much for the gimmicky type student activities it got a bit frustrating in the end. This wasn't reason enough to leave though, and part of that frustration was probably

Ten years (or so) ago Oslo was the most insanely expensive place I've ever visited. It's a great city though, and if you like winter sports Oslo is your place. However, being Northern European, I can't for the life of me understand why one would live through a winter here if Australia is an option ...
posted by hannala at 11:49 PM on December 22, 2004

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