So you’ve made your decision: you’re going to study abroad! Congratulations! With the world at your fingertips, it probably seems more exciting than daunting as you peruse all of your program options. From the wilds of Africa to the waves of Australia, our planet certainly isn’t lacking beautiful, exotic locales.
But, let’s be real: you have always had a thing for Asia, and feel like Europe has been calling your name ever since you read Harry Potter. On the one hand, studying abroad in Europe is a familiar pilgrimage for many students who want to understand the roots of Western civilization and to delve deep into the heart of Western history, architecture, and culture. On the other hand, Asia is brimming with the unfamiliar, and studying and living there will stretch you way beyond your comfort zone. It promises a less traditional yet enticing route to studying abroad, offering a wealth of opportunities to experience diverse cultures.
Where Should You Go?
With Europe’s 47 countries and Asia’s 44 nations, both continents offer a wide range of study abroad opportunities. For the sake of not diving deep into every last one of those spectacular places, we’re going to zero-in on the most popular choices in each continent: front runners England and Ireland for Europe, and China or Japan for Asia. Time and again we meet students who are contemplating the pros and cons of studying in one of these four destinations over the others.
It’s no real surprise that each country offers vastly different and culturally unique adventures, and ultimately choosing one is no easy feat.
What About Language Barriers?
Although studying in a foreign country is one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do, it’s always wise to know the language of the place you intend to study in. If English is your native language, then you’re in luck. Many universities in Europe and Asia deliver courses in English.
If you want to avoid problems with a language barrier, then you should consider studying in England or Ireland, as English is widely spoken on both islands. As a native English speaker, you should have no problems buying groceries, making friends, and paying bills in either of these two countries. That being said, you’ll still have to learn a whole new vocabulary in England and Ireland. For example, jumper refers to a sweater and boot refers to the trunk of a car. Also, the Irish language is recognized as the national official language of Ireland so it may make sense to learn a few essential expressions before you go.
On the other hand, if you plan to study in either Japan or China, it’s wise to learn Japanese or Mandarin. Your local professors and classmates will certainly appreciate the effort you make to learn the local language. Also, knowing the local language means you’ll make local friends more quickly as you’ll be able to communicate with them on their level. However, you’d better start learning these languages early since Japanese and Mandarin are proven to be some of the most difficult languages to learn. According The Cultureist, on average, it takes 88 weeks or 2200 hours to become a proficient in reading and speaking Chinese, Korean or Japanese.
What About Culture?
Both Europe and Asia have distinct yet equally intriguing cultures. If you’re interested in learning about the origins of Western government, art and culture, then Europe is the place to go. For example, if you’re interested in studying English Literature, then England is a great place to start, particularly in London or the Midlands which the great bard, Shakespeare, once called home. Dublin, Ireland has also inspired literary heavyweights like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats.
Asia, on the other hand, provides a wealth of ancient and modern Eastern culture. You can learn about traditional tea ceremonies in China and Japan or visit ancient temples, shrines and castles. Asia is also home to a diversity of colorful festivals. In Japan, they are loud, vibrant affairs called matsuri such as the Naked Man festival in Okayama and the Nebuta festival in Aomori. In China, there is also a wide array of traditional and ethnic festivals like the dragon boat and lantern festivals across the nation.
Is it Easy to Travel?
Both regions provide excellent opportunities to travel. England and Ireland are equally great countries for hiking. You can get back to nature in the Lake District in England and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Also, travel from England to other European destinations is often affordable because of budget airlines like Ryanair that fly from international transit hubs like London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Alternatively, as a student in either Ireland or England, you can get discounted rail passes and see Europe by train.
China, on the other hand, is a vast country that you can get lost discovering. From cosmopolitan cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, to stunning natural landscapes, like Tiger Leaping Gorge, China has a lot to offer any traveling student. Japan is also spectacularly beautiful with a mix of traditional and futuristic cities, like Kyoto, Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Osaka. Japanese towns and cities are also well-linked by efficient transport systems. Also, both Japan and China are served by budget airlines like AirAsia, Peach Airlines, and China United Airlines, which make travel across Asia very affordable and convenient.
What About Food?
In Europe, both Ireland and England share a vibrant pub culture. It’s easy to go to your local pub and catch a footie match on the telly (watch a soccer game on TV) with a pint of lager or Guinness. Pubs are also great places to meet the locals and blow off steam after hours of studying.
For comfort food, Ireland and England are also your best bet. Who doesn’t dream of curling up in a warm pub with a plate of Sunday roast, fish and chips or chicken tikka massala? Also, major cities in Europe, like London and Dublin, don’t just serve local food. Walk down any British high street and you’re bound to find Indian, Thai, even Ethiopian or Brazilian cuisine.
On the other hand, if you study in Asia, you’ll be spoiled with choices thanks to the immense diversity of food. Why not try authentic dim sum in China or ramen in Japan? And if you get tired of the local food, there are always Asian interpretations of Western food like hamburg steak in Japan, a beef patty without the bread and toppings. On the other hand, finding your favorite food at the local supermarket may prove difficult so if you know you’ll miss a particular food or snack, get someone at home to ship it over!
How Expensive is it to Live There?
Europe is generally more expensive to live in than Asia. However, there are exceptions as living in Beijing or Tokyo can be just as expensive as living in London or Dublin. In general, if you choose to study abroad in China, you will save on accommodation, books, and food, leaving you enough money to travel the region. On the other hand, you may find yourself skipping the nightlife in Japan and England because of high costs and having more flat parties to save money.
Also, don’t discount offsetting costs by applying to any scholarships for study abroad through your university’s financial aid or study abroad offices, private foundations or companies related to your field of study. Alternatively, why not try crowdfunding options, like Fund My Travel? Just remember to create a campaign that highlights your desire to have a meaningful travel experience by studying abroad.
What About the Weather?
If you’re thinking of studying abroad, one thing you may overlook is the climate. Are you a person who loves to cuddle up with a cup of hot chocolate or does a day at the beach sound way better? Both Ireland and England are notorious for rainy weather and grey skies. In fact, all that rain is the reason why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. If you choose to study in either of the two countries, remember to bring your brollie (umbrella), wellingtons (rain boots), and raincoat!
If you’re looking for dramatic seasonal landscapes, then studying in China or Japan may be for you. In Japan, watching the coloured leaves in autumn (known as kouyou) and the cherry blossoms in spring (known as hanami) have been elevated to national events. On the other hand, because China is a such an expansive country, the weather varies. It can get incredibly cold in the north and incredibly hot in the southern parts so take these factors into account when choosing where to study.
Remember: studying abroad in Europe or studying abroad in Asia is bound to change your life irrevocably. No matter where you choose to study abroad, you have the power to make the experience worthwhile. Dive into your host country’s culture and make it an experience you’ll never forget.