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Choosing a country for your studies abroad can be a tough decision to make. Big countries and cities can be very alluring, especially if you have dreamt of visiting them for years. But sometimes smaller countries can be much more entertaining and bring you great and exhilarating experiences.
1. Undiscovered land
After your visit to Paris or London, how many people can react to your travel stories with ‘Been there, done that’? I’m not suggesting such huge and well-known countries or cities aren’t worth visiting, but keep in mind that your expectations, especially when studying abroad, don’t always meet the reality. Big countries and cities are often populated with tourists. While that can be okay when you are on a short trip, would you want it to follow you for an entire semester?
Meanwhile, studying abroad in a small country will give you a unique experience. The name of your chosen country might be often mispronounced and people might not know anything about it - making you their source of information when you return home. Moreover, the less you know about the country yourself and the less you expect from it, the more surprises await you upon your arrival.
2. Exclusive travelling
Fewer tourists also mean fewer troubles at the airports, less crowded views for observing and taking pictures at the main sights, fewer queues in famous places, as well as commonly cheaper entrance fees to museums, castles, galleries or local events. For students, there can be even more benefits. Did you know that in Slovakia all students can travel by train for free? Now you do. And this country is not the only one offering cheap ways to travel for incoming (and local) students. Do a little bit of research and you might find a dream country amongst the ones whose names you were misspelling for most of your life.
Tiny countries give you plenty opportunities to travel abroad too. Crossing borders can be done within a few hours from your host university, hence, neighbouring countries and beyond are within your reach, even if only for a weekend. Studying in Croatia? How about visiting Slovenia or Bosnia and Herzegovina for a short trip? Exchange in Estonia? Take a ferry and visit Scandinavian neighbours or all the Baltic states in a couple of hours by cheap bus rides. Popular bus companies or airlines can be a good place to start looking for travel inspirations: by checking random connections you might find very tempting offers.
Furthermore, when a country is small, it’s incredibly easy to visit more towns and cities. Don’t settle for knowing only your place of stay, become an expert of the whole country instead. And when will you have a better chance for that than while living there?
3. Mysterious language
If you look at the smaller countries in Europe, you can see most of them have unique languages. Take Lithuanian, for example, which is the oldest surviving Indo-European language. Learning such an exclusive language can, no doubt, be a challenge. But also, it is a gift to any linguist or language-lover out there. Plus, after studying such a language, any other European language might seem like a piece of cake.
Don’t stick to your comfort zone: if you are fluent in Germanic languages (other than English), try Slavic for a change. If you’re a Romance language speaker, look up Germanic or Scandinavian, something new to challenge yourself and your language skills. By learning to speak in a new tongue, you also discover more about the culture so don’t give up an amazing chance or you might regret it later.
4. Exchange students and locals
Students who also choose a small country might be motivated by such a decision for the same reasons you are – diversity of culture, less touristy places, good ways to travel. They might not necessarily be up for ‘trendy’ destinations but adventures and mystery instead. Plus, it can be a preferred option for introverts as smaller countries also receive fewer exchange students. Meeting a couple dozen of students can be less tense than a thousand, even if you don’t consider yourself an introvert.
Besides, lack of exchange students can always be compensated by meeting the locals. Often, they might start by asking why you chose to study in their country (prepare a good answer). But in the end, they can become the friends you come back to that country for. Also, locals from smaller countries will appreciate your visit more. And if you learn their culture or start studying the language, they will love you.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether you study abroad in a small or big country. An exchange experience is always unique and often life changing. No one knows better than you do what you like and prefer, hence you should know and feel which country to choose for your exchange and in what ways it will benefit you. Whatever it will be, you won’t make a bad choice.
Written by: Laura Klusaitė