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Studying Abroad in Spain? Try Eastern Europe Instead

Every year, tens of thousands of international students (many American) descend on Italy and Spain to study abroad for a semester.

The practice has become so ubiquitous that when you tell someone you’re studying abroad, they reflexively ask whether you’re going to Italy or Spain.

And this is understandable – both countries offer fantastic food, culture, landscapes, and tourist attractions. But I’m here today to propose something different.

What about studying abroad in Eastern Europe?

Crowded street in Gdansk, Poland
Street in Gdansk, Poland

Often overlooked as a premier locale to spend five months of your student life, Eastern Europe offers several sneaky benefits.

Let me try to convince you why you should alter your plans and pick Ukraine, Poland, or the Czech Republic instead of Spain or Italy.

Make Your Dollars Go Further

Eastern European countries are undoubtedly cheaper than their Western counterparts.

Everything is more agreeably priced in Eastern European countries, from rent prices to bus fares to food and nightlife.

To put some numbers on it, the cost of traveling (and living) in Eastern Europe is on average 25% to 30% cheaper than in Western Europe.

What would cost a budget-conscious backpacker $100 per day in Western Europe, costs $70 per day in Eastern Europe.

This has some far-reaching implications for those studying abroad on a budget.

It means more weekend getaways, more rounds at the bar, and eating out more often.

As any experienced backpacker will tell you, Western Europe requires sacrifices – it’s simply too expensive.

By contrast, the depressed prices in Eastern Europe allow you to stretch your dollars and do more, see more and eat more.

Great Jumping Off Point

While people will argue that Spain and Italy are great jumping-off points for weekend trips, I would contend that places like Hungary are better.

Though labeled as “Eastern” Europe, countries like Ukraine and the Czech Republic are probably more fairly called “Central” Europe.

These nations are closer to Greece, Croatia, and Scandinavian countries.

This is a crucial point when coupled with the fact that transportation costs are lower in Eastern European countries.

In short, you’re physically closer to your destinations, and your train and flight tickets cost less.

This is especially true if you want to travel within Eastern European countries.

For example, Prague to Budapest is cheaper than Paris to Amsterdam in terms of transport costs.

Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest (photo: Victor Malyushev)
Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest (photo: Victor Malyushev)

Try Something Different

Everybody goes to Western Europe to study abroad.

Pull up Facebook and look at the pics of anyone you know who has studied abroad in Europe or made a backpacking trip.

You’ll see the same photos over and over – the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, Buckingham Palace.

So if everyone is doing the same thing, why not try something different?

Life shouldn’t be about following the crowd and being a sheep (at least in this humble traveler’s opinion). There’s always time to see Western Europe later.

When you’re young and have energy (and little money), go for it with something out of the ordinary. This point is particularly salient for social media lovers.

If you’re trying to impress people on social media and maximize your followers, likes, and comments, give people something they haven’t seen before.

Better For Business

If you’re studying business, Eastern Europe may offer some hidden benefits.

Tech companies are pouring in to places like Poland and Slovenia to escape the high taxes of the West.

When was the last time you heard someone say that a company relocated to France because it’s such a “business-friendly “ environment? I’ll wait.

Tech companies and startups are popping up all over Eastern Europe due to their low taxes and talented and affordable workforce.

For business or computer science majors, this might give you a unique chance to score an internship or even an excellent job.

You never know when you might want to kick off your career by working for an SEO software company in Wroc?aw, Poland.

Downsides

In all fairness, studying abroad in Eastern Europe is not all sunshine and roses. There are downsides too.

Not nearly as many locals speak English in places like Hungary and Ukraine as in the Netherlands and Germany.

And though transportation costs are cheaper, it is also less predictable and comfortable in Eastern Europe.

When a train says it will arrive in Munich at 9:24 a.m., you better believe it will.

When a train says it will arrive at 9:24 a.m. in Warsaw, well, that’s anyone’s guess.

But I have a couple of solutions for these less rosy aspects of Eastern Europe.

Wherever you’re going to study abroad, learn a little bit of that language.

Language apps like Rocket Languages and Pimsleur have made it incredibly easy to learn a new language.

With their focus on memory science and the incorporation of machine learning, learning a language like Hungarian or Polish is easier than ever.

Pick up some conversation skills in your target language, and you’ll be just fine.

And as for the less reliable or secure transportation, my advice: deal with it!

Such experiences are part of the adventure and make for great stories.

Some of my best tales are riding on chicken busses in South America and breaking down on boats in Malaysia.

It’s the crazy little things in traveling that make your trip, so embrace the out-of-the-ordinary and have a great time.

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This story is brought to you in partnership with Test Prep Insight.

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