A Guide to My Top 5 Places to Study Abroad

September 25, 2014

Olivia Knott

During their second and third years, many U.Va. students are asking the pivotal question: “To study abroad or not to study abroad?” I’m often frustrated when I hear students say, “But I could never imagine missing a whole semester at U.Va.” Yes, I know a day spent laying out on the Lawn is difficult to resist, but we have seven other semesters to enjoy our wonderful school and town of Charlottesville. That is approximately 28 months at U.Va. We are offered very few chances in our lives to spend four months in another country, especially to travel with an academic purpose, whether it is foreign language immersion or having the opportunity to take classes on a culture and history with the subject matter at our fingertips. U.Va. offers several different program structures for study abroad: U.Va. programs, exchange programs, partner programs, Semester at Sea and outside programs. These programs range from summer to yearlong. They vary in their application process, tuition payment and transfer or direct credit. For a comprehensive description of each program model, click here. Once you have decided if Study Abroad is for you, the most exciting question is “Where?” Here are my top 5 choices for study abroad!  

Semester at Sea

Semester at Sea fits a lifetime of travel into one semester, allowing students to visit a multitude of places that they might never have dreamed of visiting. Students can pick from a fall or spring voyage that will take them to different parts of the world. Yet, because students collectively travel and take classes together on the ship, they still have the ability to cultivate the friendships expected from a more traditional one-country program, while embracing a globe-hopping, nomad lifestyle. Sam Kennedy, a third year Media Studies major, urges students to use this as an opportunity to not only visit the major attractions of each country, but pursue their sense of adventure while on Semester at Sea. In China, he and friends opted to hike Mount Hua Shan, known for having one of the most dangerous hikes in the world! Not to mention, Semester at Sea will provide you with the most boast-worthy photo album of all your friends. Check out fourth year Media Studies major Morgan Steinfield’s video, “4 months in 4 minutes.” If her selfies can’t convince you to apply for Semester at Sea, then I don’t know what will.


Granada, Spain:

Top 5 Study Abroad Alhambra The Alhambra
Photo by: Olivia Knott

  A.K.A. the tapas capital of Spain. Did that catch your interest? Good. Besides being home to every style of tapas imaginable, Granada is an incredible choice for anyone interested in architecture and art history due to a little something on the hill called the Alhambra. You might also know it as Spain’s most famous example of Islamic architecture and most popular tourist destination.  

Top 5 Study Abroad Muqarnas Muqarnas adorning a triple arch
portico inside the Alhambra.
Photo by: Olivia Knott

When my sister, a student at University of Santa Cruz California, studied here last year through the University of Granada, she was able to tour parts of the fortress closed to the public. Now that’s a school field trip I would be more than happy to go on.

Granada still has a strong Middle Eastern influence, including the alcaicería (the Arab markets), bath houses, tea houses and the shawarma stands on nearly every street corner, making for an incredible (and delicious) blending of Spanish and Moorish-Islamic culture.


Prague, Czech Republic:

Top 5 Old Town Square Street performers in
Old Town Square.
Courtesy photo by
Katie Watson

“It’s a city for walkers,” said third year Foreign Affairs major, Katie Watson, who traveled to the city this past summer. She cites the lively street life, which, with a never-ending cast of performers and street vendors, is at its most prominent in Old Town Square, as one of her favorite experiences of the city. Plus, walking lets you admire the city’s architecture which spans back 1,000 years. Another perk Watson says? “It is so cheap!” Having just entered the European Union, the Czech Republic is not yet on the Euro, making it an incredibly affordable experience, if the current dollar-to-Euro exchange rate is deterring you from a European adventure. P.S. Prague is home to the biggest club in Central Europe- five stories tall with a different theme for each floor. When in Prague…


Sydney, Australia:

Top 5 Street Art Sydney Street art in Sydney.
Courtesy photo by
Nikki Russell

As a California native, I can’t deny my love for a good beach day. Coogee beach, Manly Beach, Whitehaven beach, the Gold Coast- all yours when you study in Sydney.

More so, those who love the arts will fall in love with this city. Through the U.Va. Study Abroad Fair, third year Cognitive Science and Arts Administration major, Nikki Russell, found an internship program at Art Est. Art School and Gallery.

“In Sydney, I loved the access that I had to museums, galleries, plays and concerts and the appreciation that the people there had for their own productions. Through my internship I was able to get to know local artists, including a sculptor who works only with recycled materials, which I’m obsessed with!”


Dublin, Ireland:

Top 5 Study Abroad Dublin Dublin, Ireland
Courtesy photo by Maggie Kalagher

First and foremost, nothing compares to the beauty of the Irish countryside. No visit is complete without seeing the Cliffs of Moher, which at their highest point, tower 702 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. Think I’m just a sucker for a view? Nope. Third year foreign affairs major Maggie Kalagher chose Ireland for the scenery!

“I think the main reason I chose Ireland was because I’m really into the whole natural beauty thing (I know that sounds so cheesy), but I’m so much more impressed by nature rather than architecture. I’ve been doing so much exploring in Ireland, which has been my favorite part, like walking down these adorable country roads near Galway and right outside Dublin. Oh, and the grass is so green!” See!? She wasn’t lying about the grass.

Tips on the Study Abroad Application Process

The application process can be intimidating. Mary-Rolfe Zeller, an outreach liason with the Study Abroad office, gave me her best advice for students applying: What is the best advice you would give to a student applying for Study Abroad? 1. Plan ahead!  Many students are concerned that they are not able to study abroad because they are in a certain degree program (ie. Comm School or E School) or because of finances.  However, if they plan ahead they will be able to find a program that fits with the classes they need (on or off Grounds) and they will be able to find a program that they can afford in addition to applying for scholarships. 2. Submit that application! Are there any sorts of mistakes that you often see while students are applying? 1. Many students do not realize how much information is on our website and that oftentimes they can find answers about anything from scholarship opportunities to Major Advising Sheets that highlight programs that would be of interest in certain majors. 2. Another mistake that students may make when considering education abroad is that they believe common myths and misconceptions. The most popular of these falsehoods include studying abroad is expensive, you will not graduate on time if you study abroad for a semester/year, you cannot study abroad more than once and you can only study abroad in English.

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