Eastern Europe, including Russia, has a distinct feel from the rest of the continent. With a long and complex history spanning thousands of years, most recently manifesting in its unification under Soviet control in the 20th century, Europe’s eastern half provides a truly fascinating environment for high school students to explore and learn about. From medieval castles and monasteries to rapidly growing modern cities, Eastern Europe has something to offer for students from everywhere.
There is not an agreed upon definition as to the precise boundaries of Eastern Europe, but most commonly it is considered to include those countries east of Germany which were former members of the Soviet bloc. This area also roughly corresponds to the European regions which have been historically influenced by Orthodox, Byzantine, and Turkish cultures.
Russia has for long been the most powerful country in the region, and continues to play a role as world superpower today. Russia spans across most of Asia, but its two most popular cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, are both very close to one another in Eastern Europe. Russia has been a central force in the history of great empires, revolutions, political experiments, and world wars. Its culture and art, too, are very distinct and enriching.
While not as large and powerful as Russia, the countries of Eastern Europe have been similarly formed by deeply rooted cultural ties and tensions, and each is unique in this way. Some other popular countries for high school students to study abroad in this region include Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. Central European countries such as Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are also often considered to be a part of Eastern Europe.
Programs & Placements
There are many different types of high school programs available in Eastern Europe and Russia, although they tend to fall into two major categories.
The first category is a cultural immersion program, where you will likely be rooted in one city while learning all about the country’s history and culture. Some programs will have their own staff and learning centers, but it is also possible in many cases to take classes right alongside local high school students. Language learning is also often featured as a primary component of these cultural immersion programs. If you are currently studying an Eastern European language, or want to learn the basics of one, there is no better way to improve than travelling to the country itself!
The other major category which many high school programs fall into is an adventure program. These are designed to give high school students the opportunity to move around and experience a taste of many different countries and cultures within Eastern Europe. Academic credit is sometimes offered, though less commonly than through the cultural immersion programs where you are rooted in one school. Students who are restless and want to tour as much of the region as they can while abroad should definitely consider going with these exploration programs.
Scholarships & Costs
Eastern Europe is generally much cheaper than the western half of the continent, a result of its economic lagging from the Soviet era. However the region is catching up rapidly, making now a great time to visit, before it becomes too expensive and Westernized.
The upfront program fees can still be quite expensive, covering the costs of transportation, housing, food, supervision, and sometimes airfare. If your ideal program’s affordability is an obstacle, then consider making use of all the available scholarship and fundraising opportunities out there to help cover the expenses.
Accommodation & Visas
Your accommodations will vary significantly based on what program you choose to enroll with. If you are rooted in one location, then homestays tend to be the most popular option for housing, giving you the opportunity to connect intimately with a local host family. If you are on a cultural exploration program then you will move around between different styles of accommodation, such as hotels, hostels, and other types of housing.
Visa considerations also vary significantly throughout Eastern Europe. If the country (or countries) you are travelling to are part of the European Union, then this simplifies the process. Residents of Europe can embark on the trip visa-free, while others are often allowed to enter for up to 90 days. If the country is not part of the European Union, then you will likely have to obtain a visa in advance, a process your program will guide you through. For more information about the visa policies of specific countries, you can also visit our Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Live Modern History – Many countries in Eastern Europe have only recently gained their independent statehood from the Soviet Union, and there are many still around who can tell you what it was like under the communist regime. If you take an interest in history, Eastern Europe is an incredibly fascinating place to visit.
Go Rogue – It is no secret that Western Europe is the more popular study abroad destination for many high school students. By choosing the East you will gain a unique picture of a side of the continent which travellers too often look over, and come back with many great stories to tell.
Get a Leg Up – Colleges will love to see that you studied abroad while in high school, and especially in such a unique region. Eastern Europe and Russia are increasingly at the spotlight of the global community, and having experienced life in these cultures will make you a stand-out candidate going forward.