The Best Classes to Take While in Europe

by Glenn Bolich

Your bags are packed, your passport and visa are ready to go, but now you have to pick out what subjects you want to study while studying abroad in Europe. Most academic majors will have a few specific classes you are required to take, but it is the elective courses that can provide the most fun when it comes to international education. Check out this list of subjects, that many universities in Europe offer, which will help you get the most out of your classes abroad.

David, created by the Italian artist Michelangelo
David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, created by the Italian artist Michelangelo. Photo by WSA

Art History

This subject is seen as a no-brainer if you are living in Italy for the semester. But even if you aren’t, you will be able to appreciate all the architecture and art that Europe has to offer by taking courses in art history, no matter what European location you choose.

It will be great to be able to apply what you learn in the classroom as you walk around your neighborhood, looking at the all the traditional buildings and admiring their architectural features. Specific regions of Europe will have their own historical and artistic influences, but when it comes to classics, look no further than Italy for art history.

Between Michelangelo’s David in Florence and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, there is no shortage of significant renaissance artists showcasing their ancient works. Sculptures and frescos are scattered around Italy, so the nation is sure to give you examples of what you are learning about in the classroom wherever you choose to study. After the semester, you may even find that names like Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Masaccio are doodled across your notebooks.

European Studies

Since you will be a citizen of Europe for a few months, you should definitely learn about the history of its people through your courses and in your free time. Find the best ways to study how the world’s empires evolved overtime, and visit the historical sights your read about in person, and maybe even watch Gladiator or Marie Antoinette for an exciting Hollywood version of history to make what you learn come to life even more.

Classes in European Studies will most definitely include interesting field trips, where rather than seeing examples on a slideshow, you’ll be able to see the significant places first hand. You may find yourself touring the Roman Forum or Parliament or visiting the bunker in London where Churchill commanded British forces; these are the moments you’ll realize that you have taken your education to the next level. Knowing more about the people behind tourist sights such as these will make witnessing stories from textbooks all the more meaningful.

European History

While the difference between European history courses and the latter course may not seem apparent, a very clear difference does exist. European history courses focus on the historical events of the region, rather than the history of its people. For countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, the historical lessons learned over time can run deep.

The most interesting chapter of coursework in this subject will no doubt be the events of the World War I and II eras. Learning will not only occur when you visit historical sites, but even just getting together with your fellow classmates on a rainy day to watch Schindler’s List in the nation where the events of the movie actually took place, will provide an interesting kind of study session. But the regional history of Europe in its entirety provides a ton of material to cover too, even without the numerous history lessons related to this significant time period.

Culinary Arts

Using your senses to travel and learn throughout Europe is a great way to go, so if the school you are attending abroad offers a cooking class, sign up ASAP! This is one class you won’t find in the U.S., no matter how much you wish you could.

Those who are lucky enough to snag a cooking class in Spain, will never want to go to a real class again. The distinct smell of the fresh seafood paella, taste of that Chianti wine, sounds from Piccadilly Circus, or the breathtaking sights of the soaring Swiss Alps outside your classroom window, will make your coursework the ultimate experience.

Even though something like a cooking class will be worth only a minimum amount of credit at your home university, you will be reminded that studying abroad isn’t all about rigorous studying. Enjoy your professors, your classmates, and of course the wonderful European cuisine of your choosing. 

Foreign Language 

You may be there for six weeks or upwards of eight months so you might as well TRY to fit in! Taking a course in the local language where you live is probably the number one way to become more confident in living life in a sometimes-daunting foreign city. You’ll be able to interact with locals and make friends more easily. Learning the local language will show that you are not just another American tourist, it will show that you have put in the effort to understand who they are.

Language classes are often a favorite study abroad course because of the immersion in the language and the unique interactions with foreign professors the classes provide. Of course it will be difficult to learn a new language, but it’s always fun to practice when you can do it without trying to. Every walk to school or conversation at the bar is a lesson in and of itself. 


Franz Kafka, Goethe, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Homer, Jane Austen, Voltaire, Anne Frank; no matter where you live or travel you will hear these famous names in Europe, and if you’re lucky enough to take a literature class at your host university you will come to know and understand their interesting lives and life’s work. You’ll be able to learn about the history of their countries while reading fascinating stories written by true legends.

If something like The Iliad, Pride and Prejudice, and Hamlet isn’t up your alley, then look into Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial). Since it was never fully completed, the Czech author wrote the final chapter of the novel but never fully developed the full story. Plus Kafka and many of the other old time authors had some pretty interesting personal lives to learn about too. So find the nearest bookstore in your host city, or hit up your university’s library to put the study in study abroad.

A Slight Disclaimer

These should provide some basic guidelines to fill your 12 to 18 credits in Europe for the semester. So always remember that studying abroad is an experience, and not just about studying or traveling. Have fun with everyone you’re with and everything you learn, because before you know it, your professors at home will be hunting you down to finish that important term-paper.