Best location for college students on a spring trip?
August 31, 2010 7:04 PM   Subscribe

A group of us students are given the opportunity to go abroad over the Spring Break week in a (predominately) non-english speaking country. The location is up to us (war zones are of course off limits. I'm unsure of the distance limit, I believe South-East Asia is too far away, and St. Petersburg is the only option for Russia) and the cost is subsidized quite a bit. The purpose of the visit isn't for lounging around and seeing sites though, we will be conducting individual research in order to make a ~50 minute presentation back home. Obviously this is something that will come from the desires of the group, but I was hoping to get some input from the educated masses here at MeFi so that I could relay it back to the rest of the group.
posted by SollosQ to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
1. What type of program is this for? (College, high school? History, literature, science, art?)

2. What type of research project is to be presented upon?

3. How relevant is it that the students know the language of the non-speaking country or should be able to pick it up enough to get around?
posted by zizzle at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2010

posted by zizzle at 7:07 PM on August 31, 2010

You don't mention where you'll be travelling from - SE Asia is a long way from both the UK / Ireland and the USA / Canada...

What course are you studying? What is the purpose of the trip?
posted by finding.perdita at 7:16 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: 1. It's a program within the College of Liberal Arts for select students

2. Anything really. On the one hand you have people who looked into some aspect of Swiss Chocolate, on the other hand I am planning on researching the unique conditions present in Marxist theory and practice in established place of visit.

3. Non-relevant. We're all English speaking Freshmen, so little to none of us have fluency in a foreign language. I believe it's assumed that there will be enough English speakers present in any of the large cities.
posted by SollosQ at 7:17 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, we're flying from the United States.

Since it's within the College of Liberal Arts, we have people getting degrees all over the place (albeit with International Relations composing about half the class I think).
posted by SollosQ at 7:18 PM on August 31, 2010

Where are you coming from? If it's the United States. how about Argentina? It's a long flight, but minimal jetlag and wasted flight time (flights are overnight in both directions). Buenos Aires is lovely, and should support any research project you're doing.
posted by true at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: Sarajevo.
posted by meerkatty at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

TURKEY! Istanbul, Efes (Ephesus), Cappadocia, all those great remnants of ancient civilizations...
posted by ocherdraco at 7:28 PM on August 31, 2010

How about Quebec? It's close by, and outside of Montreal you'd be almost exclusively exposed to French. There's a lot of local cultural and industrial uniqueness to the province.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2010

IMHO as a cross-cultural researcher, there is no way to 'conduct (meaningful%) research' in a foreign language in a week.
posted by k8t at 8:17 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or better yet, Greenland.

I just returned from the two countries and HIGHLY recommend an academic visit to either.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:55 PM on August 31, 2010

Okay, so to paraphrase, you're looking for a city in a non-English speaking country, not too far to fly from the US, where you can find sufficient English speakers to adequately research Swiss chocolate and Marxism-in-practice, along with the other (random) topics chosen by your fellow classmates.

Sounds like you'll need a big city, with a good proportion of English-speaking residents. Western Europe / Scandinavia are probably your best bets. Without knowing what all your classmates want to research, it's difficult to recommend somewhere specific.
posted by finding.perdita at 9:01 PM on August 31, 2010

I would second Western Europe or Scandinavia. My world travel is limited to those places and Japan, and attempting to put together a 50-minute presentation in English in Japan without a dedicated, bilingual research librarian or advisor would be pretty much hell, especially if you're in a pretty town that you can enjoy traveling around in (as opposed to Tokyo, which is double hell). Consider that you will feel it necessary to do some amount of sightseeing and living arrangements while you work on your presentation; now add in the trouble of learning the language as you go, and coming up against countless roadblocks when your language abilities run out. Now, compress all this work into a week. I imagine the situation in the rest of the non-European world would be even worse, because Japan at least has many helpful people and all the conveniences of a civilized nation.
posted by shii at 9:39 PM on August 31, 2010

Marxism in practice? Cuba? Venezuela? Vietnam?
posted by Ahab at 1:04 AM on September 1, 2010

How about somewhere from the former eastern bloc - Prague springs to mind.

Ex-communist, so lots of political stuff.
Fantastic modern art and architecture, particularly art deco but also brutalist and modernist.
Huge amounts of old history (castles & churches & shit).
Terrifying modern history (nazi occupation, jewish ghetto).
Kafka lived there.
Lively scene with lots of students, so finding english speakers (e.g. through couchsurfing) should not be hard.
posted by handee at 2:36 AM on September 1, 2010

Yeah. For something that broad, you want big cities.

You could either go south to:
Buenos Aries
Rio di Janerio
Santo Domingo
Mexico City
Kingston (Jamaica, though English is a language spoken there)

You could go east to:
Any major city in Western Europe where English is not an official language, but you'll run into a lot of English speakers, a lot of ex-pats, and so forth. But you have Paris, Berlin, Oslo, Milan, Copenhagen, and so forth.

Central Europe: Prague, Warsaw, Istanbul, and so forth.

Since you said Saint Petersburg is the farthest you can go, I assume you're leaving from somewhere in the east of the US. If I'm wrong, parts of Asia could be entirely worth looking at.

I assume the college has appropriate people on staff to handle the travel arrangements and visa matters for students or a reliable travel agency to do so. If not, then you'll probably want to cut out any place that requires a tourist visa because it can get complicated coordinating that quickly. Those places wold include much of Central and nearly all of Eastern Europe. I'm not as familiar with Central and South America, so I couldn't begin to tell you the visa requirements for most of those countries.
posted by zizzle at 2:52 AM on September 1, 2010

In order to make this a success, you have to not fall into the trap of having all your work be based on in-country resources. Given that you've got just a week, in fact, the vast majority of your work on whatever you choose to research will have to be, I imagine, with the help of the English academic literature you already have access to. The "field' portion of the work should be connected with obtaining ONLY that which you CANNOT get at home - interviews, non-English resources, and perhaps images/music/video of things you'd like to have in your presentation.

So: Go to big-city Brazil and research the Bolsa Familia, a conditional cash-transfer program, and when you return, compare it to other more direct/indirect methods of assisting the poor in improving human development outcomes.

Your research needs a question to answer, so perhaps it could be something like this: "are the families on the Bolsa Familia that we interviewed doing as well as, better than, or worse than families not receiving the Bolsa? In what areas?"

Use your university's resources in the States to set up contacts in advance with universities, professors, and libraries there, and find as much as you can on cash payments to the poor in advance in English *before you go*. Compare microlending/microbanking/SMS payment systems a la M-PESA.

While there, and with the help of the researchers you contacted in advance, hire an interpreter and try to conduct interviews. See how many people you can connect with (perhaps previous research subjects?) who receive the Bolsa, and how many people may either fall through the cracks, or, as a result of receiving the Bolsa, end up worse off. Check out this article for an example of what I'm talking about as far as "worse off" is concerned.

Also, I HIGHLY suggest doing as much learning of Brazilian Portuguese as you can before you go. With only a week, you won't have time, literally, to do much more than work on your research, and fumbling through English-Portuguese phrasebooks is going to be a waste of time. You need to be able to navigate, at least, when you land.


If not, then you'll probably want to cut out any place that requires a tourist visa because it can get complicated coordinating that quickly. Those places wold include much of Central and nearly all of Eastern Europe. I'm not as familiar with Central and South America, so I couldn't begin to tell you the visa requirements for most of those countries.

is easily answerable here, and is luckily mostly a myth. Note that all of Europe - from Georgia and Ukraine and Albania to Iceland to Portugal - except Russia and Belarus - gives you a visa (passport stamp, no advance work required) when you arrive. Brazil is a visa in advance, but for American passport holders, it's rather easy: details here.

Finally, can your group be small? Like two people? Any more than that and I wonder if you'll be spending more time trying to negotiate with each other than trying to conduct research or interviews. Alternatively, be firm amongst yourselves on job responsibilities - there'd be no faster way to make the trip a disaster than to have one of you miss out on a great interview or a visit to a government archive because they thought it was someone else's job.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 6:10 AM on September 1, 2010

If I can venture to say: I think your question is a little to broad. Look around the world, find a place that interests you, and then come back here...
posted by iamck at 8:13 PM on September 3, 2010

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