Where to move for 2 months?
March 19, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering going abroad to study for the bar exam during June and July. I'd like to go somewhere interesting, fun, and also relatively inexpensive. Two places I'm considering are Berlin and Buenos Aires. Assuming I rent an apartment for two months (probably shared), and live a decent but non-extravagant student's lifestyle (I'll be studying during the days, but will still have nights and weekends free to explore and have some fun), how much can I expect to spend per month in each city? Any other suggestions for inexpensive but fun cities?
posted by decoherence to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you planning on taking any bar review courses? Perhaps online? I'd check to make sure there won't be any access issues for non-US IP addresses.

Having passed the bar in two states, I have to say I'd find it excruciating to be someplace fun and interesting at a time when more than ever I had to buckle down and study. I was living in San Francisco the first time and Manhattan for the second, which are both interesting and fun places, but exploring and having fun was something that happened *rarely* during those months.

Given the exchange rate with the Euro, I would not imagine Berlin is anything approaching relatively inexpensive.

If you want interesting, fun and relatively inexpensive, I'd suggest Hanoi.
posted by ambrosia at 12:51 PM on March 19, 2011

Seconding ambrosia, I haven't taken a bar exam but my husband has and he did not really have time free to explore and have fun; he'd take his class all day, get home, study more at night and then nap heavily on weekends (and also study). Studying for the bar is intense (like the Boy Scout Jamboree).

Could you save your trip for a post-bar-studying celebration? Then you would have something to get you through the studying and you'd actually be able to enjoy it with no pressure.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:11 PM on March 19, 2011

Response by poster: I should mention that the biggest reason I'd like to get away is to save money. I'm currently living in NYC, which is both very expensive and full of lots of distractions, especially during the summer. Even if I didn't have a ton of time to explore a new city, I'd still be saving money over NYC (ideally), I'd be away from the temptation of friends bugging me to go out all the time, and I'd have the benefit of living in a new place for a short while. (I'm going to wind up back in NYC in the fall anyway, and for the foreseeable future.) Of course, moving to Savannah or some small foreign town would achieve these goals too, but I like the idea of living in an interesting city abroad for a bit, even if I'm not able to get out and enjoy it as much as I might otherwise.
posted by decoherence at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2011

Thirding the above two. I've taken (passed) two bar exams and I can't imagine going out on nights and weekends while studying. As the exam approached I was too stressed to do much more than study, sleep, and occasionally get together with a friend to destress. I stayed in a small town so that going out wasn't an option and I didn't have to feel badly about staying in on nights and weekends.

You might consider going abroad for a week before you actually start studying. If you are set on doing this I would suggest renting a small place in Costa Rica where you can go to the beach to relax. Maybe Quepos / Manuel Antonio. Cheap also.

On preview: What about just looking on craigslist for a cheap sublet in small town america?
posted by unreasonable at 1:22 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just from observing my friends studying for the bar, I'd like to gently suggest that a new, foreign city would be more than just distracting, it would be way too CHALLENGING.

It will take you far more time than usual to do typically trivial tasks such as doing laundry or grocery shopping or going crosstown for such-and-such errand. A welcome challenge at some other time, but not so good while all of your focus should be studying for the bar; your breaks should be relaxing, instead of additionally stressful?
posted by teragram at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Stay in NYC. Your friends will be a godsend the few times you can spare to see them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who's taken the New York bar exam and is living in New York City now, your explanation about not wanting to be in NYC doesn't make much sense to me. It doesn't seem to make financial sense: the logistics of moving for such a short period will end up costing you a lot of money. As for distractions, well, just accept that you won't have much of a real NYC experience for those 2 months. You would likely be more distracted by a new place than the same old place you're used to.
posted by John Cohen at 1:27 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find a place to stay in the Hudson Valley. That's what I wanted to do, but never quite got around to setting up. Idyllic, near enough that you can get home if you need to, cheaper, and not too interesting.
posted by thejoshu at 1:39 PM on March 19, 2011

Came in to say that studying for the bar is not necessarily as intense as the other posters stated. I didn't study until about two weeks before, and then only did a few hours a day and I passed. The rate for passage for first time takers who went to NYS law schools is like 85%, even higher if you only count native English speakers. If you feel confident that you can pass while not taking the traditional barbri classes (they have an iPod version for an extra fee) then you should definitely go abroad, as you will have minimal time to enjoy yourself once you start working. Most people freak out and over-study. It's really not that hard of an exam.

Both Buenos Aires and Berlin have a relatively low cost of living. Note that it will be winter in BA during June/July.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never taken the bar or any comparable exam, but I've lived vicariously through friends who've done that sort of thing.

It seems to me that you want a country that's not fun or interesting. If you're doing this for practical reasons (cheap cost of living, isolation from your social circle), I'd pick a country that doesn't particularly fascinate you but is developed enough to have the resources/infrastructure you'll need to get the work done.

In that case, provided the infrastructure you need is available, what about Chile? It seems like a nice enough place, but it's not going to be as packed with stuff to see and do as either Germany or Argentina.
posted by Sara C. at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2011

Response by poster: melissasaurus, thanks. I've always done well on standardized tests and don't have much trouble studying on my own. Plus, as you mentioned, the prep courses are available either online or via pre-recorded mp3's. My friends who have been in similar positions in the past have all done fine on the bar in the past, treating it like a 9-5 job with some extra studying toward the end. Still time to have a life, and not worth putting absolutely everything on hold for 2 months.

Anyway, I'd appreciate it if people could answer the question I asked - costs of living in Berlin or Buenos Aires, or suggestions for other cities - rather than trying to convince me why leaving would be a bad idea. Thanks!
posted by decoherence at 2:02 PM on March 19, 2011

If I were you, I would stick a bit closer to home. Portland, Maine in June/July would be quite nice. July is high season in Maine, but I bet you could find a summer sublet for a reasonable rate, especially if you start now. It is a nice small city, cheaper than NYC, and there are fun things to do in the city/region, especially in the summer.
posted by gudrun at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2011

Buenos Aires is cheap if you come with dollars. A roomshare will cost between $300 & $400 a month. A holiday let on your own would start at $600.

Getting around is cheap esp by bus and eating at home would cost around $5 a day. A nice meal out is $30 tops inc wine. If you want help looking for a room, memail and I'll send you some sites to look at.
posted by jontyjago at 2:15 PM on March 19, 2011

Oh and one more thing, which may be very obvious but some people overlook it, June & July is winter in Buenos Aires. Winter here is by no means very cold by most standards, last year I don't think it dropped below freezing once, but it can be windy, grey and rainy. This may be a good thing if you're looking for an excuse to stay in and study, but just wanted to make sure you're aware of it.
posted by jontyjago at 3:04 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I took the bar exam in California and passed by being very disciplined. I took a prep course and studied maybe 7-8 hours per week day and maybe more on the weekend. But I was able to go out pretty much every night for at least a few hours and blow off some steam, and that was really important to relieve stress. BA was pretty cheap when I was there in 2008, but the nightlife doesn't even start until 10 or 11 pm, so it might not be ideal if you want to hit the books early. Also, as jontyjago said, it will be cold in July.
posted by parkerposey at 3:20 PM on March 19, 2011

Both of those cities are lovely and from what I understand can be done cheaply if you try. Find a place with really reliable internet -- seriously, make sure that your landlord/fellow tenants/etc. really care about internet as much as you do. For example, if they are students or computer professionals, etc.

As far as cost, perhaps look at forums that talk about expat life or temporary relocations. Post this question (without the bar exam stuff -- as you can see, it makes people focus on the wrong part of the question) on the Lonely Planet forums or whatever you find when searching for "Berlin expat" or "Buenos Aires expat".

I often find that I work better in a new environment as well. I get distracted *more* when I'm at home then when I'm in a new place, and I seem to work better while traveling (as long as the infrastructure is good -- see the first paragraph, above.

Have a great time, and study hard!
posted by 3491again at 3:23 PM on March 19, 2011

Don't know anything about Buenos Aires, but can give you some idea of Berlin. You can get a room in a flat share for €250-300 in a nice area, €200 in a less-nice area. Going out is very cheap for Europe standards - döner kebab €3, vietnamese meal for €7, coffee €1.5-2, beer €2-3 in bars, and of course if you cook yourself things can be even cheaper. Public transport is €50 for a monthly pass, but you can also just get a cheap bike.

A lot of cool things are happening here though, and the city is absolutely wonderful in June/July, so make sure that you do have some free time to explore - otherwise it would just be too depressing, I'd think.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any more questions.
posted by coraline at 3:39 PM on March 19, 2011

A lot of people not answering the actual question here.

Have you looked into Antigua Guatemala at all? It's a very cute little city listed on the UNESCO world heritage list, with plenty of nice bars & restaurants, and a lively scene for expats & long-term stayers. At the same time, it's small enough to be reasonably quiet & laid back.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2011

Anyway, I'd appreciate it if people could answer the question I asked - costs of living in Berlin or Buenos Aires, or suggestions for other cities - rather than trying to convince me why leaving would be a bad idea. Thanks!

Whoops. Ignore my answer. My heart worried you'd feel lonely, but it sounds like you'll be just fine.

Buenos Aires sounds wonderful. I had a friend who lived there and the food, she said, was amazingly cheap and so was the rent (though she might have had use of a flat that was owned by a family friend so she might have gotten a discount). Sounded like a really lovely and safe place.
posted by anniecat at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2011

Do you have a strong preference for big metropolises? Because Berlin & Buenos Aires certainly are that.

I mentioned Antigua Guatemala before because if I were studying for a couple of months, I'd prefer something a bit more human-scale, where everything is within walking distance, but still with enough bars & performances & things to make a bit of downtime possible.

For another human-scale place, how about Ubud, Bali? Again, plenty of bars & museums & restaurants & cultural performances, everything within walking distance, and for a couple of months rent you could get a really nice place for US$30 a night or less (and by "nice" I mean with swimming pool, rice paddy views, cooks & cleaners etc). Basic meals will cost you $1-2, and you can eat really well for under $10. The temperature ranges from 26 to 30 Celsius every single day of the year; very pleasant without ever getting too hot.

(I found Buenos Aires to be a bit sombre, drab & "grey" in mood, kinda depressive & run-down, but I was only there for a few days...YMMV)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:53 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have passed the NY bar exam. A couple of points:
- I wouldn't take melissasaurus' advice about blowing off studying for the bar exam. Sure, some people don't study very hard and and still pass. Yes, the NY bar has a fairly high passage rate, especially when you only count native English speakers and NY state law grads.

But the point is, though the chance of failing the bar may be small, the consequences are (usually) severe. Exactly because the passage rate is so high, many people see failure, even once, as a red flag. Even back when I was studying (pre-2008 bust) everyone knew that if you failed it twice you would get asked to leave your firm. Nowadays it seems some firms may let you go after the first failure. Is that a risk you're willing to take?

Also, you do realize the results are public forever, right? Everyone (especially your co-workers and classmates) will know if you don't (or didn't) pass. If you want to take the bar again, you have to wait six months, during which time it will distract you from your work, and you will probably not feel so confident about taking it a second time, which can affect your performance on test day.

If you are a typical law student with $1-200K in non-dischargeable student loans hanging over your head in a still terrible job market, I'd think very seriously about the importance of this exam.

I perform extremely well on standardized tests too, I graduated into a job market where everyone had jobs and salaries were going up every year, and the bar passage rate for graduates from my school was like 96%. Despite this, I stayed in NYC for the entire two months between graduation and the bar, attended Barbri classes every day and took tons of practice tests. Did I "over-study"? Hell yes I did.

- When I took the bar exam several years ago, almost everyone went for at least a month of travel AFTER taking the bar exam. I traveled for more than three months before starting work. Can't you do that?
posted by banishedimmortal at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A few comments removed. Folks, you don't have to agree with the premise but after a couple fairly clear responses from the asker you pretty much need to answer the question they're asking to have answered or go somewhere else.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:25 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should go to Montreal! Well, you should consider it :)

It's awesome in tue summer! You can get a shared apartment for $300+ a month, depending on the neighborhood. A monthly transit pass is abou $70, I think. Tons of good food, music, cafes, life. You can stuy at the gorgeous new bibliotheque nationale. And it's a cheap and beautiful (long) train ride from NYC.

(I studied for the bar with a self study course while working full time and dealing with a broken heart, and I still had time to go out. I went into really intense mode only for the last week (took off of work). I think you'll be fine).
posted by Salamandrous at 6:12 PM on March 19, 2011

Seconding Montreal. Very cheap rent if your willing to live farther from downtown. Tons of great university libraries to study at. Good public transit. Lots of museums, parks (Mont Royal!), festivals, cafes. People are generally quite open and friendly. And it's absolutely beautiful in the summer.
posted by smokingmonkey at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2011

Just to be a bit more specific, I'd suggest living in the Plateau area of Montreal if you end up going there. It's close to downtown and the major universities, right next to Mont Royal, cheap rent, and it has some really fun and interesting streets like St Laurent and St Denis.
posted by smokingmonkey at 7:50 PM on March 19, 2011

You've gotten some pretty good numbers about BA. I shared a great 1br for 1k/mo there 3 years ago.

But my real comment is this: BA has great nightlife, especially the theatre scene. If you have Spanish and are disciplined, I think you could have a great time studying every afternoon, then going to the theatre, parilla, and dancing every night. But there is plenty to do in the day too, so you have to have at least that amount of discipline.

If you're even more disciplined, then choose the more expensive (and even more fascinating) Berlin. Also great theatre.

Really maybe my two favorite cities. Wait, is there a cheap option in Hong Kong?
posted by Mngo at 10:51 PM on March 19, 2011

This is anecdotal, but I studied for the February bar exam and ended up taking a two week out of state trip before the test with full intentions of studying all the time. I am now going to take the bar in July.
posted by andlee210 at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2011

My wife and I spent last January and February in Bs. As. We loved it. Our flat, a nice one-bedroom in a very good distract was US$500 per month, and the same amount would do for food and entertainment for one person. Their winter is still very mild, and it's a great city.
posted by alaaarm at 6:25 PM on March 20, 2011

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