7 Qualities All Study Abroad Students in South America Have in Common

by Rebecca Murphy

Choosing where to study abroad can be one of the hardest decisions of your life. Most students who spend a semester or year abroad only have one shot to get it right, and when so much time and money is on the line, you don’t want to pick a location that isn’t the perfect fit.

View of Machu Picchu in Peru
You want to thrive in the Peruvian Andes.

If you’re one of those students who feels pressured to study abroad in a “safe” region, like Europe, but you aren’t in love with any of the areas or programs you’ve researched, you are not alone. Many students, for example, especially those looking to become really fluent in Spanish, flock to South America simply because of what’s in their DNA. So, if you’re feeling conflicted and unsettled as you’re trying to make the decision of where to study abroad, it probably means you, too, fall within this outlier category. After all, there are reasons why you didn’t just pick Spain like half of your classmates.

If you have study abroad in South America at the forefront of your mind, but you can’t seem to figure out why, read on to find out what qualities you may have in common with other students who are drawn to South America.

You are gutsy.

South America is a totally different world than most international students are used to. Students who choose to study abroad in South America do so because they truly want to make the most out of their time abroad. If you’re going to spend the money and time to have an experience abroad, you might as well go big, or go home!

Students selecting South America crave a unique study abroad experience, where they know they will be challenged beyond their wildest dreams on a daily basis. That’s basically the whole point of taking your education to an international level, right? You want all of your preconceived notions to be tested, to live a totally different lifestyle, and to have experiences that you couldn’t have anywhere else. If you feel like you’re going to scream if you hear one more person talk about how all those wild raves in Ibiza “changed their life,” it probably means you’re destined for South America.

Trekking El Chalten in Argentina
You’ve got guts. You want adventure.

You want real immersion.

There are significantly less international students and an overall English-speaking population in South America than in Spain and most of Europe, so a huge draw for students choosing South America is the possibility of full Spanish immersion. If you’re over the moon about the thought of always doing what the locals do (salsa dancing until 5 a.m., yelling in Spanish slang, stuffing your face with dulce de leche…), just apply for a study abroad program in South America already!

The idea of not being able to slip back into your comfort zone is something that makes most people shake, but not you. The majority of study abroad programs in South America only have homestay options (whereas most in Europe give students the choice of living with people from their program in dorms or apartments), so students who choose this region are totally down with complete immersion right from the start.

In addition, most countries in South America are huge, so you won’t have the same temptation to run off to a different country every weekend. Instead, you’ll spend more time with your host family or making friends in your host city, because you’ll physically be around more, and when you do travel outside of your area, it will be a very special, memorable experience.

Students who study abroad in South America don’t feel the need to always jet off to somewhere ‘cool,’ because they are around enough to recognize how amazing their host location is.
Cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina
You crave true immersion.

You crave adventure off the beaten trail.

South America is home to the Andes mountain range, the Amazon Rainforest, both Angel and Iguazu Falls, Easter Island, Salar de Uyuni, Patagonian glaciers, pristine white beaches, active volcanoes, and native ruins. What this translates to is: #ADVENTUREALERT. There is no place on Earth that is as geographically diverse, and those who seek this corner of the world out are definitely ready to soak up its awesomeness, from Colombia in the north all the way down to the southernmost tip of Argentina.

While studying in South America you will experience adventure off-the-beaten path just by existing and going about your regular life. You won’t have to try very hard to do something alternative because almost the entirety of this area is vastly different than anything you’ve probably experienced before. You probably have things like “paraglide through a rainforest” or “solo backpack up a glacier” on your bucket list, or maybe even “eat grilled guinea pig (cuy).” If your heart speeds up at the thought of trying ridiculous foods after a day of whitewater rafting through the Chilean Andes, you already know exactly where you belong (Hint: it’s not Europe).

You avoid tourist traps like the plague.

Let’s face it: most of Spain (and Europe in general) is very, very touristy. That’s not to say that nowhere in South America caters to tourists (we are looking at you, Machu Picchu), but the type of student traveler that comes to South America is much different than your average European traveler, meaning that the stereotypical tourist environment is really non-existent.

You’ll be hard pressed to find vendors shoving selfie sticks and other cheap knick-knacks in your face in any South American city. Instead, they’ll try to sell you fruit, leather goods, jewelry, and other products that are made locally, which you’ll actually want to buy. Same goes for tour providers and hospitality companies; they cater to adventurers, backpackers, and solo youths, not wealthy families looking to have a “different experience” without having to touch the local culture. Sure, you could live a total tourist life in South America just like anywhere else if you really wanted to, but the difference is that there is really no temptation to do so because the local culture is so vibrant and dominant. Sound good to you? Go ahead and apply now.

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
You avoid tourist traps, even IN tourist traps.

You want authentic, worldly experiences.

There’s no getting around the fact that much of South America is very impoverished, but you know what? Most of the world is very impoverished. If you’re going to put in the effort to leave your home, fly across the world, and build a life somewhere else, why not choose a region that will give you a solid sense of the way the real world works?

Studying abroad should not be a glorified vacation. It should be a meaningful, life-changing chunk of time when you witness up-close-and-personally how the rest of the world functions.

Studying abroad in South America accomplishes exactly that, and if you’re looking at this region, you should want to live and travel the way the majority of the world does: simply and economically. You should be amped to cozy up under a mosquito net in Uruguay just so you can sleep with your window open and wake up to the sound (and smell) of your neighbors cooking an asado. You should be fine with your hair not looking perfect because the humidity always has a mind of its own in Peru. You should be thrilled at the idea of taking a 14 hour bus ride across Brazil with little kids singing Portuguese folk songs instead of sipping Cosmos in a high-end airport lounge.

Don’t need extravagance to entertain yourself? Study abroad in South America is calling you.

You crave diversity.

Due to the region’s history of being colonized by many different types of people (nice job, Spain, Portugal, and France), it is almost impossible to be anywhere on the continent and not feel like you’re surrounded by diversity. Between the large European influences in most cities to the hundreds of types of indigenous backgrounds, you’ll have it all while studying in South America. There are several countries, like Ecuador and Venezuela, where over half of the population is of indigenous descent. Or how about Paraguay, which ranks with 95 percent of their population?

Why study abroad in a region with only one new culture when you can get twice the diversity in another country?

There is more to South America’s diversity than just skin color, religious background, and cultural habits. Let’s not forget about the hundreds of languages and dialects that are heavily spoken all over the continent. Neighboring countries may have Spanish as their predominant language, but that does not mean that they are even remotely close forms of Spanish. If the idea of rocking a totally unique Castellano accent while also picking up basic Portuguese and Mapuche is a dream come true for you, you’ll get along just fine in South America.

View of Caracas, Venezuela
You want to shock yourself. You want a truly unique experience.

You want original experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

At a certain point for most students in Europe, everything starts to blur together. You won’t really remember much of a difference there was between a cathedral in Prague and Vienna, and all you had to do to get to that amazing view in Germany was pay for a gondola ride. Almost the entirety of South America is unfiltered and raw in all the best ways, and you’ll be sure to treasure every second of your time spent there, from the good to the bad to the very ugly.

Anyone can go see the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, but not anyone can spend four days hiking up Aconcagua and witnessing Incan ruins in their natural habitat (aka. NOT surrounded by selfie sticks). It doesn’t take much to walk around the Louvre other than pay to get in, but you’ll forever remember the pit in your stomach that you felt while watching the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires protesting government kidnappings of their children every single week. You want your world to be flipped upside down in every good and bad way possible, so if going from one major site to another just doesn’t cut it for you, definitely pick a country in South America for your study abroad adventure.

If you find yourself anywhere on the scale of nodding along to the above qualities to standing on your chair and screaming that finally someone understands you, it means you belong in South America. Seriously. While many students don’t want to admit it, most find themselves studying abroad in Spain or other European countries because they simply didn’t have enough confidence that they could make it in South America or the other non-traditional study abroad locales. As you can see, there are tons of students out there just like you who have found the perfect study abroad experience in some place other than traditional Europe.

Do your future a favor: believe in yourself, compare programs, read reviews, and ultimately, buy that plane ticket to South America