A little over two years ago(!!), I was working on my application to study in Amsterdam. It would be another year before I was there, but since my program was a scholarship program, we had to be considered far in advance. But this did make it a little easier, since Amsterdam was the only program I applied to.
Why Amsterdam? I get asked this all the time. I earned a French minor and I am a pretty fluent speaker, so why not pick a Francophone country? My simple answer- because Amsterdam was free. Not entirely free, but my tuition (aka the MOST expensive part of school) would be free if I was awarded a spot to study in Amsterdam, so there was quite a bit of incentive. If it was cheaper to pay for a semester abroad than a semester in New York, it was a no-brainer.
If I hadn’t had this opportunity? I probably wouldn’t have studied abroad. My school doesn’t offer a ton of semester programs unless you go through another school/program. Most are during the summer/January session and are wildly overpriced, in my opinion. So, Amsterdam it was.
If you are thinking about studying abroad, first of all, DO IT. It was amazing, as I’m sure you’ve heard 10048319384 times, but it really is. But before you get into all the paperwork involved, you have to find the city or country that is going to be right for you.
Home base vs. on the road
Do you want to stay in one country? Or do you want to hit the road and study in several countries at once? Hofstra offers a ‘European Odyssey’ that travels by van across the continent. I know several people who have done Semester at Sea and seemingly seen half the globe in a few months. Or, like me, do you prefer having a home base and visiting different countries on the weekends?
The Netherlands is one of the most English-friendly countries in Europe, and even if you speak a little Dutch, locals love to practice their perfect English with you. But some places, like Eastern Europe or parts of Asia may be more difficult. If you are really interested in learning a language, try studying in that particular country. Want to brush up on your Spanish? Try a semester in Madrid. Many people choose Ireland or the U.K. because they speak English, but be warned; just because a country speaks the same language as you does NOT mean that it will be the same. There are so many different words and phrases and nuances that foreigners just can’t understand. Do you know that it’s the tube, not the subway? Do you know what a queue is? Do you know what ‘craic’ means? Consider than language barriers are not the only thing that results in miscommunication. I could write a whole post on this! Cultural differences, even regional dialects, are things that cannot necessarily be taught in a classroom.
As mentioned, I chose Amsterdam because it was a scholarship program, and if I earned a spot, my tuition was covered for the semester. Conversely, summer programs were far too expensive. Find what is best for you and your finances- this is something good to talk with your parents about to find a budget. I made a document detailing how much it would cost for me to go abroad!
I had the option to study in Amsterdam for a year, but I chose only the spring semester as a year was too long to commit to. Some study abroad semesters are shorter, some are longer. If you are worried about being away from home, or giving up an entire semester, maybe a summer or winter program is better.
What do you want to do?
I wanted to travel and see as much of Europe as I could. Amsterdam was perfect; centrally located, lots of transportation options (the airport was a 15 minute train ride away), and plenty of things to do in the country itself. If you choose to study in, say, Prague, you may not have as many options to travel, as you are farther away. But, if you are set on exploring mostly your home country, take that into consideration! The Netherlands is small, so I saw many Dutch cities as well as 12 other countries. If you want to study in Italy and devote every weekend to seeing a new Italian city, then you’ve found your spot.
I didn’t know any of the other Hofstra students going to Amsterdam with me; we had lunch all together once before, but that was it. Some of them had been close since freshman year, but I was going in solo (I am so, so grateful that I automatically had friends there, though). Some people choose a location based on where their friends are going. I would say DON’T do this. If you really want to go to Paris but your friend is all about Barcelona, go with your gut. You can still see each other and travel together, but its important to get out and meet new people.
The Netherlands is pretty laid back, but this isn’ the norm. Think about the culture of the country. For example, when I was in the Czech Republic, you were allowed to smoke inside, something that doesn’t fly in America anymore. Is this going to bug you? Will you be annoyed when everything in Spain shuts down in the afternoon?
This can also depend on where you are going. I got relatively lucky with the weather in Amsterdam- we had more sunny days than rainy, gross ones!! If you can’t handle cold weather, studying in Northern Europe might not be best for you. Love beaches and warm weather? Try Spain or Italy. Do you love skiing and hiking and snow? Try Switzerland or Germany.
I wish I could just send you all to a super accurate BuzzFeed quiz that would tell you where you need to study abroad! But it is entirely up to you. Talk to your parents, your friends, your study abroad advisor/department head, and look through this list before you apply. But remember, no matter where you end up, it will be worth it!