Whether you’re trying to fill some electives or vamp up your second language degree, studying culture abroad is a no-brainer. Culture study abroad programs really put you in the thick of it; analyzing power structures and social phenomenon in other countries is serious fodder for reflection on your own. From a multi-country program in Europe to a semester long program centered around the Mayans in Mexico, students will be intensively immersed, both academically and physically, in their host culture. Books, cooking classes, nights out to the theater, exposure to entirely new systems and identities, need we say more?
Why Study Culture Abroad
Studying culture abroad allows students to delve into the finite aspects of the new society they choose to live in. Because of this, culture is actually one of the most exciting and interesting topics you can study overseas. Whether it’s finding out the deep dark secrets of torture practices in Medieval England or why pilgrims wear shells on their backpacks on the Camino del Santiago in Spain, cultural studies allow you backdoor access to the history of the place you’re living!
As well as gaining a deeper knowledge of the place you’re at, studying culture abroad allows you to learn under local professors that offer a different perspective from what you might find from a professor back home. For example, a professor of culture or history in Peru will most likely be Peruvian themselves (and will have grown up among Incan ruins, traditions, and culture) offering a first hand look into the subject you’re studying.
Finally, studying culture abroad is just plain fun. Many culture-oriented programs abroad are full of field trips to historical sites, contemporary examples of subject matter, and a TON of delectable samplings of the local cuisines (#foodselfies, much?!).
The great thing about culture is that you can literally go anywhere to study it. Virtually every university and study abroad program offers some sort of culture course, if not several. Whether you want to dive into the history of the political revolution in South Africa, Hinduism in India, colonialism in Brazil, or Jules Verne in France, the world is literally at your culture-lovin’ fingertips.
The most important factors in deciding where to study culture abroad are figuring out what credits count toward your major and what is interesting to you. Since cultural studies courses are so widely available around the world, many students choose to study abroad in non-traditional places, in order to learn about a culture they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to.
The most popular places, by far, to study culture abroad are Europe, particularly England and France, because both countries offer many choices in terms of elite universities. The diversity of cultural course offerings are more likely to transfer credits to your home institution too.
Another one of the most popular places to pursue cultural studies abroad is South America, where students can delve into subjects such as pre-Columbian history, contemporary dance, or modern aspects of multicultural countries, such as Peru and Brazil. Even though most of South America was colonized by the Spanish or Portuguese, each country has its own unique history that offers a vastly different experience for each student. Finally, for those who are interested in indigenous studies should seriously consider South America as an option due to the thousands of ethnic groups that live in each nation.
Culture Study Abroad Programs
Since there is such a wide variety of culture courses offered abroad, students can heavily customize the type of study abroad experience they want.
Those looking to cast a wide net in a short amount of time should sift through summer multi-country programs. In general, multi-country study abroad programs focus on subjects that can be intertwined with cultural studies, such as literature and history. Depending on the specific program, courses will usually last between two and three weeks in each country.
If you want to focus on a specific culture and get into the nitty gritty aspects of a particular place, take a look at semester and year-long study abroad programs that all take place in one country. More long term study abroad programs will take students deep inside the minutia of cultural studies, exploring topics related to fine arts and history. Many full semester culture study abroad programs are accompanied by foreign language courses, if you choose a non-English speaking country, along with three to four related classes.
One thing to keep in mind when selecting a culture-focused study abroad program is accommodation; any culturally curious students should opt for programs that involve staying with local host families, so as to get the most immersive cultural experience possible.
Benefits & Challenges
Cultures. Are. Dope. But we’re preaching to the choir, right? As a fellow social scientist, you know that you can’t familiarize yourself with all the layers of a culture in a short amount of time. The time constraint of most study abroad programs may pose a challenge to anthropologists-in-the-making who take their international studies seriously.
That being said, just because you can’t memorize the entire scope of Italian culture in a mere few months doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. There are many ways to experience a culture, many of them sensory ways that lead to a wildly fulfilling introductory cultural crash course (we suggest by way of belly).
Culture is a sum of many things, attitudes, perspectives, and trends, and is inescapable. Even those individuals who reject culture are subconsciously admitting of its existence. While we’re sure you’ve loved diving deep into your own culture as a college student, now’s as good a time as any to set your sights on a foreign one.