Each year, between the months of May and August, the French city of Cannes comes alive. The sun shines down as beaches become crowded, small cafés are filled with tourists, and people from around the world arrive for the summer holiday. However, when the air begins to cool and schools start once again, something begins to change. Cafés are left to familiar locals and a calm falls over the city as it transforms back into its traditional role as a small fishing town nestled along the Mediterranean. It was at this point when I really fell in love with Cannes and was happy that I decided on a small city experience rather than the big city lights of Paris.
I first decided that I wanted to study abroad during my freshman year in college. The idea of living in a new and unfamiliar city was thrilling. I received my first taste of France during a trip to Toulouse with my dad the year prior. I’d been counting down the days to my return from that point on. When it came time to choose a city, I chose to study abroad in Cannes because it sounded unique. I wasn't sure that Paris was the right choice for me, and, after living in Seattle for most of my life, I knew I would enjoy living by the sea. At the time, I hadn't yet realized all the benefits a small town really offered.
As you decide on your study abroad location, consider these six benefits of studying abroad in a small city:
After just two short weeks, I felt like I knew Cannes par coeur - by heart. Getting to and from a restaurant or shop on the other side of town was a breeze. I knew where I was going and at least two different routes to get there. The small city very quickly became like another home to me. Studying abroad in a small city offers the best of both worlds: the thrilling experience of living abroad with the comfort of living in a smaller location. It can be hard to gain this type of familiarity in a larger city.
When studying abroad in a smaller city, you develop a much more intimate relationship with your surroundings. You gain a sense of understanding of the culture and are much more likely to find yourself living like the locals do. The collective identity, customs, and way of life in your new town will feel second nature to you. I felt myself picking up on regional phrases and cultural traditions that can be harder to spot in larger, more diverse areas.
3. Language Practice
One of the biggest benefits of studying abroad in a small city is the opportunity to practice the language. This is something I realized during my travels to other countries and regions within France. Depending on your primary language, it's likely that there will be people that will like to practice their language skills with you, rather than the opposite. While trying to speak with locals in Paris, I frequently received replies in English. This occurred on occasion when I was studying in Cannes as well, although it was more sporadic. More often than not, I found myself navigating my way through conversations, all the while gaining new words and phrases to add to my French vocabulary.
On a smaller locale, the opportunities to build relationships and bond (with others studying abroad in a small city and with locals alike) are plentiful. In the same way that you become familiar with the streets and buildings, you become familiar with the people. From social gatherings to community events, there are frequent opportunities to get involved and become better acquainted with the people living in your "home away from home".
5. Regional Foods
This was one of my favorite parts of studying abroad in France. The amount of delicious, classic Mediterranean dishes I was able to experience was merveilleux. While you will certainly be able to find classic, regional dishes in any location, they may be a bit harder to come across in larger cities that also cater to tastes from other areas around the world. You may not find some of the foods you're used to eating at home while studying abroad in a small town, but you will find yourself opening up to new types of foods. You may even find a new favorite.
6. Reduced Cost of Living
In most countries around the world, the cost of living in a small city is typically lower than that of a larger, metropolitan city. For study abroad students, this means that the difference can be saved or spent on other worthwhile experiences - exploring other regions of your host country or traveling on the weekends to nearby destinations, for example.
My time in Cannes left me feeling like I had gained another home. Studying abroad in a small city may not be the best fit for everyone, but I would certainly suggest looking into whether it might be the right fit for you. Think about the aspects of your hometown or your college town that you enjoy. Do you like knowing your neighbors or being a regular at a nearby cafe or restaurant? Do you like being surrounded by people or do you enjoy a bit more solitude?
There are many factors to consider when choosing a study abroad program, from academics to timing, but be sure to contemplate these types of benefits as well.