Breathtaking landscapes and cultures largely impacted by civilizations past create quite a charming combination in South America. Whether working on language skills, getting up close and personal with some of the world’s most extreme natural wonders and species, or being taken back in time while wandering ancient ruins, students who study abroad in South America will learn not only in the classroom, but through witnessing their everyday surroundings. With welcoming, happy, and lively locals, it won’t be long before students make life-long friends and feel right at home during their study abroad program in South America.
Why Study Abroad in South America
South America is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast. Compared to other study abroad destinations, the pristine landscape within the borders of South America remains relatively untouched. The preservation of ancient populations and wildlife species makes study abroad in South America an obvious choice for history and natural science majors alike, though students in any area of emphasis will appreciate the vibrant culture of this musical continent and the art with which it balances the influences of the past with a contemporarily modern vibe.
Although South America technically encompasses 12 distinct nations, the following five offer the majority of study abroad program opportunities:
Argentina is the largest of the South American countries, and its diverse landscape boasts both the highest peak and lowest point on the continent. Buenos Aires is Argentina’s capital city and ranks as one of the top ten cities for study abroad worldwide, most notably charming students interested in studying art, health sciences, language, math, and Spanish. Córdoba is the second largest city in Argentina and home to the country’s oldest university, earning itself a UNESCO World Heritage site title.
Brazil. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, setting it apart from the rest of the dominantly Spanish-speaking countries of South America. The universities in Brazil are more up-and-coming than other long-established systems in South America, and public schools are more reputable than private. São Paulo is home to the most prestigious universities in the country; although, Rio de Janeiro remains the most popular location for study abroad in Brazil, and is the most visited city in the entire Southern Hemisphere. A country whose lifeblood is music and where the Amazon provides the richest source of tropical rainforest species in the world, Brazil is ideal for students interested in music, Portuguese, and science.
Chile. The thin strip of land that makes up Chile boasts more than 2,500 miles of Pacific coastline for students to enjoy. Chile holds the title as the most economically stable, and arguably most safe and most hospitable South American country. Not to mention, the education system in Chile is top-notch! The capital city of Santiago serves as the country’s administrative, cultural, commercial, and educational center, making it an easy choice for students looking to study abroad in Chile, especially those with interests in Latin American Studies, Spanish language, and literature. In contrast to the big city of Santiago, Viña del Mar features some of the best gardens and beaches on the continent, and provides an alternative hub for students seeking a slightly smaller scale study abroad experience in South America.
Ecuador. The alluring Andes and a volcanic landscape are perfect backdrop for adventurers who choose to study abroad Ecuador. Quito, the bustling capital, is where the majority of study abroad programs in Ecuador are based. The international relations scene within the city and the surrounding Inca ruins that contribute to its UNESCO World Heritage site status will especially delight students interested in archaeology, history, politics, and social sciences. The Galapagos Islands claim to fame is its isolated ecosystem and range of species that has been credited for inspiring Charles Darwin to develope the theory of evolution. Not surprisingly, the most common areas of emphasis for study abroad programs in the Galapagos are environmental studies, social sciences, and Spanish.
Peru. With the chance to immerse in what is known to be the clearest Spanish in the world, there is no better place to study Spanish abroad than Peru. Warm agreeable weather, some of the best cuisine in the world, and friendly locals to top it off make the international metropolis of Lima a great pick for students in a variety of emphases. Cusco, on the other hand, may provoke what seems like entirely different seasons within a single day, but its UNESCO World Heritage site title and the fact that it used to function as the old Inca Empire capital makes it tough to beat.
Study Abroad Programs in South America
Naturally, the most common subject of study in South America is Spanish. However, there are many more courses and subjects to choose from; hands-on learning opportunities directly related to your subject of choice is the norm for any study abroad program in South America.
Natural Sciences. Science majors, across the board, will relish the opportunities study abroad in South America presents; learning about and living among such incredible biodiversity, that others can only dream of or read about in textbooks, will be undoubtedly fulfilling. Natural wonders include: the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the largest and driest desert in the world, Atacama in Chile, the highest falls on earth, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon in Argentina and Brazil, and countless others. The toughest job science students who study in South America will face is what to see first!
Spanish. With the exception of Portuguese-speaking Brazil and prominently Dutch Suriname, South America presents limitless study abroad programs focused on Spanish language learning. Ecuador has the highest number of Spanish study abroad programs in South America, while Peru is perfect for beginners, since it is known for having easy to understand spoken Spanish. Whatever the destination, students will benefit greatly from taking Spanish courses while studying in South America, either as their primary focus or tacked onto their major workload.
History. Rich historical roots, with ancient architecture, timeless traditions, and a vibrant culture to prove it, South America competes as history buffs’ top paradise. From indigenous groups to European immigrants, history students will find a range of interesting populations to study in South America. Not to mention, in many locations, you will actually be able to walk among the ruins of civilizations past!
Extracurriculars. Undecided and declared majors alike will enjoy taking a class or two that is specific to their South American experience. Learn to tango, salsa, or samba by taking a course in Latin American dance or cook delicious ethnic dishes you can impress your friends with back home; just be sure to take something with a Latin American flair if you are going to study in South America!
Scholarships & Costs
The cost of living in South America is noticeably lower than that of North America. Both transportation and housing are relatively cheap, but tuition may still be comparable to your home university. Scholarships for study abroad in South America can help ease the financial stress of studying abroad, and opting for smaller, independent scholarships will give students the best chance at offsetting their costs as they tend to be less competitive.
Living expenses will vary from one country to the next, with Chile being the most expensive, followed by Argentina, Colombia, and then Brazil. Bolivia and Ecuador are the most economical for students who want to study abroad in South America on a shoestring budget. No matter which country you choose for study abroad in South America, you’ll soon find that smaller cities tend to be more cost effective than large ones. Additionally, utilizing farmers markets and corner tiendas over sit-down restaurants and bars will allow for the accumulation of savings during the week in exchange for splurging on weekend excursions.
Accommodation & Visas
Homestays are the most common, and generally favored, style of accommodation provided through study abroad programs in South America. Not only does a host family offer the best chance for complete cultural immersion and fast-tracked language learning, but not much beats a home-cooked Latin American meal. Since, traditionally, locals live at home and commute to school while attending university, alternative forms of housing are not commonly available around university campuses. However, it is always best to ask your study abroad program provider for advice, as they are most often willing to work with students to meet their needs. Additional housing options may include: apartments, dormitories, and individual or shared independent housing (off-campus).
The most important thing to remember when obtaining a student visa to study abroad in South America is to begin the process well in advance. Though generally not complicated, obtaining a visa can be time consuming. Your university’s study abroad office or program provider can usually answer any questions and offer assistance, though requirements are generally basic and include:
A passport valid for six months past the last day of your trip
A return ticket
Proof of acceptance into your program
Proof of funds to last through your entire stay
- Application fees
Benefits & Challenges
Bilingual Benefits. In today’s global society, learning a foreign language is exceptionally valuable, and there is no better way than through immersion! If you study abroad in South America, you'll be able to practice your language skills on a daily (and possibly hourly) basis with locals.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy. South America is full of life and laughter. Students who study in South America won’t have to venture far to find relief from a stressful study session or settle in to a more relaxed way of life.
GPA. With endless adventures and nightlife activity, students may find their grades suffering if they allow their studies to take a backseat to the surrounding distractions, so be sure to remember your purpose in South America at the end of each day!
From Patagonia and Iguazu Falls to the Amazon Rainforest, there is plenty to discover through study abroad in South America. The hardest part won't be enjoying your time abroad, it will be choosing where to kickback and enjoy yourself! Once you choose to study in South America, everything else will fall right into place!