So you want to study away. You’re stoked, but where should you go? The world is full of choices, and it’s overwhelming. I’ll narrow the field for you: you should study away in a developing country.
First, be fearless. Think of all of the places you’ve been to or would want to go on vacation. Now, cross them all out.
Chances are, most of the “first world” is now off your list. When I chose my study away location, I circled the parts of the world that were so foreign that I would almost certainly never visit them on my own, and I chose from those countries.
Study away is your chance to spend some serious time somewhere. Don’t waste that opportunity on a tourist town. If you could show up in a country and treat it just like home, cross it off the list. Don’t go somewhere easy.
Don’t spend your four months on vacation, that’s a cop-out and not worthy of you.
Choose without fear, in spite of fear, perhaps because of fear.
Traveling in a developing country is hard, especially if you are purposely avoiding the tourist-track. I once stood for the entirety of a six hour, un-air conditioned train ride. You will almost certainly get sick, but you’re young and (presumably) healthy.
When you’re older, climbing into a bus with a third more passengers than seats will not just be an inconvenience, it may be a deterrent.
You should study away in a developing country because it is a chance you may not be able to take advantage of in the future.
There’s only one way to understand what it’s like to live in poverty, and that is to live in it yourself for at least a few months. Visiting a poor community for a week to build a library, while admirable, is not going to teach you much about what true powerlessness is like.
Live in the community, don’t visit it. Go to a part of the world where you are not privileged. And don’t let yourself be a spectator.
Experience oppression, become familiar with disenfranchisement. Learn what it is like to live in a country where you are officially second class based on your gender, race, or age. Live in a place where your religion is a minority—even a widely mistrusted one.
The insights that you will have cannot be gleaned in two weeks or even two months, but a semester can help show you experiences without which true understanding is impossible. This will make your more aware; some forms of oppression are much easier to recognize having experienced them first hand.
Study abroad, but don’t go somewhere easy. Study someplace frightening and strange. Be fearless; Europe can wait.