How to Determine if an Urban or Rural Study Abroad Experience is the Right Fit for You
Big cities and small towns are very different, and the environment you choose to live in will impact your study abroad experience greatly.
Once you have decided to Study abroad and you have figured out which country interests you the most, one of the things you need to think about next, is the location of the school. Do you want to attend a school that is located within a buzzing metropolitan city, like New York, Sydney or London? Or would you feel more comfortable in a small but lively college town in rural America, or some picturesque village in the English countryside?
Urban and rural destinations each have their own benefits, and downsides that will affect your study abroad experience. Thus it is important to take the following things into consideration before sending off your applications.
1) Urban Areas Are More Expensive
It is no secret that big cities tend to be expensive. Business Insider recently ranked Hong Kong as the world’s most expensive place to live, and London and New York both made the top 17. Boston, New York and San Francisco were also recently found to be the world’s most expensive cities to be an international student. London came in fifth, and Sydney sixth. International students in Boston paid an average of $5,810 per month in fees, expenses and living costs. Whatever their ranking, major metropolises are all up there price-wise. This means that you will spend more money on rent, food and most likely tuition too. If your parents have deep pockets, no worries. But if you are relying on scholarships, loans and your savings to pay for your studies abroad, you could save a pretty penny by choosing to live in a small town.
2) Public Transportation Is Better In Big Cities
While big cities are generally more expensive than rural areas, transportation is one exception to the rule. Since urban environments like London and New York are packed with people, they have been forced to develop extensive public transportation systems. Within big cities you can get anywhere with buses, trams and the underground rail. In small towns, especially in the USA, you will most likely need to buy a car if you want to explore life beyond campus. Your own vehicle is a big investment: besides the purchase price and gas, you will need to pay for car insurance. This can easily cost you a couple of hundred dollars a month - more than the $116.50 you currently pay for a monthly subway pass in New York.
3) Small Towns Help You Focus On Student Life
When you study in a small town, your life revolves around the university. You probably live on or near campus, your classmates are your closest friends and your extracurricular activities include student association meetings, Greek life, and maybe even playing in the school’s tennis team. Basically school is your life. You are totally immersed into the university experience in a way that you might not be in a big city, where there are a billion other things vying for your attention. In New York, for example, not a week goes by without great concerts, impressive Broadway shows, new nightclub and restaurant openings and art exhibits. In urban environments your classmates may also live scattered all over a big area, which means that spending leisure time together is not as easy.
4) Big Cities Offer More Variety
Though living in a rural environment can help you focus on student life, small towns may leave you yearning for more cultural variety. Perhaps you are a theatre buff who wants to see new world-class shows every week, or maybe you really like unwinding at smoky jazz clubs after exams. Perhaps the thought of living in a town without haute couture clothing shops sounds dull to you, or you fear you would miss international cusine too much. The benefit of studying in a big city is indeed the incredible diversity of thoughts, people, activities and food. An added bonus is that you will always be just a train ride away from Chinatown, Little India, Little Senegal or other diverse neighbourhoods that can remind you of home, or offer exciting new global adventures.
5) Small Towns Are Closer To Nature
The benefit of studying in a rural environment is that you will never be far from nature. Perhaps your school is located near a beautiful beach, or just around the corner from a calming forest. Sometimes even mountains are not too far, and you can spend your weekends hiking with your classmates. If you enjoy the great outdoors, you will probably be better off in a small town surrounded by nature. Of course, big cities have parks as well, but they are often populated with other city dwellers and cannot offer the type of solitude you may crave after a hard week of hitting the books.
So in short: Whether you choose an urban or a rural study abroad environment, you’ll have some perks and some drawbacks either way. Make sure to do some soul searching to find out what it is that you really want. That way you can be sure you will love your international student experience to the moon and back.
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About the Writer: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.