If you are in college and considering a study abroad experience – do it. And go to East Asia.
Go to Shanghai like I did. Or northern Thailand to take in ancient Siam culture. Perhaps immerse yourself in the small but mighty city-state Singapore. Or venture off the beaten path and study in Vietnam, Cambodia or even Laos.
A single week in one of the aforementioned nations (minus Singapore, a polyglot nation where English is primarily spoken) will result in greater learning than a month in dominantly English-speaking Western Europe or Australia.
By leaving out countries in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East or even South Asia, I am not dishing them. I have not been to many in these regions; therefore, I cannot give a well-informed opinion. However, I am sure they all offer unique perspectives, cultures, art and most importantly amount to personal awakening.
On the contrary, I do know that my 2011 semester in Shanghai changed my life. It opened my eyes to a brand new world. I want everyone to have an experience like I did.
Since my semester in Shanghai, I spent time in other East Asian countries. I think they are all fair game to the prospective study abroad student. Keep in mind, however, when reading my reasons to study in East Asia that countries in the region vary. Not all points hold true for each. In the end, regardless of where one studies, it is very important to do research first beforehand.
Without further ado, reasons to study in East Asia:
1. It’s safe.
Certainly this fact differs from country to country; for instance, Japan is much safer than the Philippines. Nonetheless throughout all my time spent in the region I only had one bad experience: my iPhone was pickpocketed out of my purse.
Was it late at night? Yes. Had I been drinking? Yes. As a Westerner, I stand out in Asia. When a late night and alcohol came into the equation, I became even more of a target. I should have been more careful.
Pickpocketing is common in countries around the globe. It is a petty crime. Fortunately most of the crime I hear about in Asia is petty. At the end of the day, I would prefer to have my iPhone unknowingly stolen than to be held up at gun or knifepoint.
2. It’s affordable.
Again this depends on the country.
In Thailand, a meal can cost equivalent to US$1. A can of beer goes for a smidge more. Living in Thailand was inexpensive, too. When I was in Bangkok my apartment rent was about $150 per month. However if visiting nearby Singapore, you will see a different situation where things like alcohol and rent are particularly expensive.
Nevertheless, consider my actual study abroad semester in Shanghai. The cost of tuition plus housing was less than ⅓ the amount of a typical semester in Boston, where I attended college. That is about $12,000 versus $40,000.
3. Easy and cheap travel.
Sure, Ryan Air takes you anywhere in Europe for basically pennies. But travel in Asia is also very convenient and low-priced. Most Asian nations have buses, trains and planes that connect all parts of the country as well as the greater region. Weekend trips to nearby countries are easy, especially if located in a major city.
The most expensive part of a trip, if flying, will probably be the plane ticket. However buses and trains can be very reasonably priced. For example, I made it from one side of Thailand to the other for about $6 via train.
When it comes to accommodation, hostels can be even less. I have seen dorm rooms in Cambodia priced at $1.
4. There is a language barrier.
Yes, this is a good thing.
Before I made the decision to venture to China I was weighing other options: namely Australia. My father then offered some wonderful insight as parents always do.
He said something like: “Why would you go to a place like Australia without a language barrier? You’re in college. Challenge yourself.”
He was spot on. If you’re not going to take risks and explore now, when will you?
5. Friendly and helpful people.
On the whole, people I encountered in Asia have been very open to Westerners. And always helpful when possible.
By and large East Asian cultures value remaining calm and not displaying any intense emotions. It would be unsightly to express anger in public. For this reason, and many others, Asian people are generally very pleasant.
6. There are Western options.
Yes even I, the admittedly Asiaphile, get sick of the cuisine and in desperate need of American grub. Fortunately for me cherished American food abounds.
There are chains such as McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, Subway, Cold Stone Creamery and many others. There are also more upscale Western options like steak houses. Most of the upscale Western-style restaurants operate privately.
Outside of dining, major Asian cities also have Western shopping and entertainment options. Basically if you seek American culture, you can find it. Some places more easily than others.
7. Moments of frustration.
Experiencing difficult and unknown situations is beneficial in the long run. It teaches patience and adaptability. It is also quite rewarding once you work your way around the given dilemma.
For instance figuring out the way home after a pub crawl in London, where street signs are in English and asking for directions comes at ease, is not a challenge. However trying to navigate the way back after a pub crawl in Hanoi is a whole other story. Sure, you may end up lost. Or worse having your iPhone swiped while asking for directions. Yes, this happened to me.
It was frustrating. And being phoneless in Vietnam was a challenge. But out of challenges comes personal growth. A semester overseas should be filled with new experiences, both good and bad. Living in Asia can be tough. But, in the end, tough times create more worthwhile memories. Perhaps, most importantly, they also create a stronger self.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re considering studying abroad this year or the next, consider East Asia.
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