Opinion | Study abroad outside tourist traps

Navigating the world of study abroad can often be overwhelming, but it is important to choose the right country for you.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay. Prior to this trip, I wasn’t sure I could point Uruguay on the map. But now I am grateful that I chose it.

Ideally, we would have plenty of opportunities to travel to foreign countries and experience other cultures in our lives. The unfortunate truth is that studying abroad may be our only chance to travel the world for months on end.

While choosing to study abroad is one thing, the next one may be more difficult: Where are you heading?

When choosing a country, the pressure is on it. What if I made the wrong decision? What if you hate him? There are hundreds of study abroad programs offered at the University of Iowa, and this choice can be overwhelming for many.

It is easiest to choose a safe option in popular tourist destination cities such as Paris or Rome.

I’m not saying in any way that this is the wrong choice. As a French citizen, I guarantee these sites will provide a cultural reset for many. It should be noted, however, that less visited countries have their perks.

Uruguay may not be at the top of people’s wish list abroad. But for this reason, I believe I had a unique study abroad experience that could not be replicated in a well-known tourist destination in a country.

To start, a country like Uruguay has far less tourism than its neighbor Brazil, or many other popular study abroad destinations.

For this reason, my experience seems more real to the people of Uruguay. On the other hand, a hot spot for tourists, like many cities of Brazil, has many features specially designed for tourists which can give the experience a pseudo-feeling.

Danilo Paes, a native of Rio, Brazil, said that while he has met many students studying abroad in Rio, it doesn’t feel as though they have truly absorbed Brazilian culture, as the city often reflects a tourist trap.

Without having to navigate the added layer of what is considered an authentic event compared to what is meant to attract tourists, it is much easier to get to the core of the culture.

During my time abroad, I was able to make friends with many locals who showed me many parts of the city I might not have seen before. This includes hidden beach fronts, dive restaurants, and many other gems.

In addition, many people study abroad in the hope of improving their foreign language skills. Regarding the lack of tourism, many locals do not speak English which forces you to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

While this can feel overwhelming at first, from what I’ve noticed, this lack of a safety net increases students’ language proficiency.

Lauren Buffington, another Montevideo student, said that within two weeks of being there she was confident speaking to almost anyone in Spanish.

Overall, being able to study abroad is a privilege that I strongly feel anyone should have if they can. No matter where you end up, studying abroad is an amazing experience you will never forget.

Columns reflect the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the editorial board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.