Country Specific Advice
● French: There is very little English spoken there
● ‘Authentic' experience
● Beautiful location
● Active opportunities: It’s convenient for hiking and skiing
● Interesting: Haute-Savoie has a distinct and lovely culture
● Quite touristy
● Size: It's a very small town so it can get boring after a while
● Isolated: It doesn't have great transport links to the rest of France, and there aren’t many young people there.
- Lots to do: Paris is full of tourist attractions, as well as theatre, music, and art events. There are lots and lots of cinemas, which is great if you love film. Many cinemas have a pass where you pay a fixed fee per month for unlimited films
- Travel links: Paris is easily accessible from pretty much anywhere. The city is relatively small so you can walk around easily. If you’re working, your job wi cover half your transport fees. That means you can get the navigo pass (unlimited travel on all buses, trains, trams) for 35€ a month.
- Student-friendly: You’ll have lots of opportunities to get involved with Erasmus events and do things with other young people etc. The city is buzzing and vibrant and there are lots of cafes and bars open late. The nightlife is good. There are lots of other international university students and normally a large group of Cambridge students.
- Experience: Living in the capital is a great French cultural experience! There is always something to do - lots and lots of exhibitions and great art galleries. For students, a lot of the museums and galleries are free, which is great!
- Gym: Neoness is a cheap gym chain that includes exercise classes, which are good for meeting people.
- Cheap accommodations options available: There is cheap accommodation for 18-25 year olds in residences all around Paris called ‘foyers’. Note: they are cheap for Paris accommodation! Mine (anon) was 565€ a month. It’s a great way to meet young French people and other students. There’s a friendly and safe environment and there are always people to help if you have a problem.
- Beautiful place: It's Paris, so no need to explain this really.
- Great place to be, culturally: Museums, art galleries, theatres, all of which are free for people from the EU who are under 26. Lots of sporting facilities: I (Ian) joined a hockey team when I was there, which was a great way to make friends.
- Opportunities: As a capital city, Paris has a lot of job opportunities and a wide range of universities if you're doing Erasmus. I was able to switch from a job I didn't enjoy, which is something I would not have been able to do so had I been in a smaller place.
- Large Erasmus communities: I attended Erasmus nights and met a lot of other Europeans or French people hoping to meet internationals. There is generally a large contingent of Cambridge students so it is also easy to stay with friends from university.
- Living arrangements: Accommodation is expensive, so you might have to live far from your workplace.
- Closeness to home: For someone with a propensity to go home, it's almost too easy and you find yourself escaping a little too often.
- City: It’s quite noisy and polluted.
- Living costs: Supermarkets and restaurants tend to be quite expensive. Club entry is expensive! 15€ for most clubs. Drinks in bars and clubs are very expensive (10€ for a cocktail). Finding accommodation can be very difficult and expensive (700-800€ seems to be average price).
- General vibe: Parisien people aren’t super friendly. Of course there are exceptions, but many young people already have their group of friends and aren’t that interested in meeting new people or in making an effort with foreigners. It can even feel quite isolating in Paris. It can actually be quite hard to make friends and you can find yourself feeling lonely more than you would expect.
- Expensive: Since I (Ian) was earning a wage, receiving an Erasmus bursary and my normal student loan, I didn't have any financial problems but I didn't have much spare cash either. (Monthly rent was around 600 euros, plus 500 more for living costs.)
- Not the friendliest place: I met a lot of great Parisians and enjoyed spending time with them. But I never felt fully integrated in groups and, for the most part, my best friends remained other Cambridge people.
- A lot of English speakers: Not sure if this is a pro or a con. My (Ian) French improved a lot from working in French and living with other French speakers. But I did speak a lot of English and, occasionally, my perceived lack of language progress got me down. If you want an immersion experience, other areas in France or other French-speaking countries would be more ideal.
- Very student orientated city: There are lots of nice cafes and bars and events for young people.
- Culture: There are good art galleries and cinemas and also a film festival in October.
- Pretty: The city has lots of beautiful monuments, big town squares, and churches.
- Efficient transport: There’s a really good tram system, a train station in the centre of town, and an airport nearby (with cheap flights back to UK).
- Nature: The beach is only a tram ride away and there are also flamingos in the city!
- Cost: There is cheap rent and you can get government subsidies.
- Safety: The streets aren't very safe at night. There is lots of vandalism and homelessness. There are often creepy men on the tram.
- Heat: June to October can be very hot. In September, when I arrived, it was over 35° and I had no aircon, which was unpleasant.
- Cost: The centre of town is quite touristy and expensive.
- General vibe: I found that people, both at the university and generally in Montpellier, were inefficient and unhelpful, which was frustrating. For example, I encountered disinterested, disorganised and dismissive admin staff, doctors, bank staff, which made things more difficult than they should have been. It wasn't just me who found this to be the case.
- Nature: There are lots of mosquitos.
- Beautiful city with lots to do: There are museums (Le Musée de Beaux Arts and various silk and cinema museums); Vieux Lyon is very pretty, with two cathedrals and lovely old streets; Croix Rousse is a trendy neighbourhood. There are lots of lovely cafés and restaurants (Lyon bouchons are the speciality) and there’s the Fête des Lumières, which is a huge Light Show in December.
- Language: There are less English people there than in Paris and so there are more opportunities to speak French. I especially found this at the ENS, where there were only five Cambridge students on exchange at any one time.
- Size: Lyon is has an ideal and manageable size: it’s not too big, like Paris, but it’s still a large, student city. It’s especially ideal in the warmer months when you can hire city bikes and cycle along the river - it feels much less scary than cycling in Paris! It's also possible to walk pretty much everywhere.
- Location: It is very well situated - it's near the Alps, Italy and the south of France, so an ideal place from which to take excursions.
- Price: It’s cheap to rent compared to Paris.
- Area: If you're living at the ENS (as I was), the university isn't in the centre of town and the area consists mostly of banks and estate agents.
- Connections to UK: More difficult to get to than Paris.
- Things to-do: After 8 months it began to feel small and like I'd seen all there was to see.
- Environment: It’s a very beautiful place.
- Money: You can do lots of great shopping, the rent and living costs are both cheap.
- Weather: There’s lots of sun and it can be quite warm, even up until November.
- Environment: Salamanca is a very small place, which is fine if you like that but it can be quite suffocating.
- Language: There’s a really international community, which means it’s not very easy to meet native Spanish speakers.
- Travel: It’s difficult to get to - whenever you want to travel (home or around Spain), you have to travel to Madrid first (2 and a half hours by coach).
- Work: I worked at the university as a language assistant and was very unsatisfied with the experience as a whole. Meanwhile, friends who studied here told me that the courses were not very challenging and that Spanish students weren’t very openly friendly towards Erasmus students.
- Things to do: Milan is a buzzing city that seems to host a different event each week. Among these are Milan fashion week, design week and food week. There are loads of free events and exciting things to do throughout the city and they make for very good people watching!
- Young people: Milan is home to dozens of universities so there are thousands of students from all over the world and student events happening practically every day. They are easy to find and a great way of meeting new people.
- Art and culture: This aspect of Milan is really undervalued; it is not just an ugly industrial city like everyone seems to say. It has some beautiful buildings, a really interesting history and some fantastic art galleries and museums. Lots of these are free or have great student discounts so you don't need to break the bank to visit them. In the summer months there are some great (and free) outdoor cinema/music events.
- Lack of green spaces: Milan has a few parks but these are small and become very grey during the winter (and watch out where you walk because no one seems to ever pick up their dog's mess). It is also a very polluted city. Luckily it is easy to escape for a day trip to the nearby lakes for a dose of fresh air and nature. Lago di Como, Lago di Garda and Lago Maggiore are all between 1-2 hours away on the train.
- Not typically "Italian": Everyone says that Milan is more "European" than other Italian cities, and it doesn't live up to the Italian stereotype of laid-back afternoons in coffee shops. The city centre is full of businessmen shotting espressos and is generally very fast-paced in comparison to other Italian cities.
- Outskirts: Beware of living in the city's outskirts. The city centre is lovely but the further out you go, the more run-down and dodgy the area becomes. This is definitely where the ugly industrial city stereotype comes from and unfortunately this is where you will find the cheapest accommodation. You don't have to live right next to the Duomo but I would advise staying as close to the centre as you can afford to.
- Variety: Turin is a big city with lots of students and things going on, but also near to beautiful countryside (mountains and sea).
- Culture: Great access to a huge range of museums and galleries with Pyou card.
- Travel links: Turin has good connections to other cities in Italy and Europe
- Big city: There is not much green space in the city. It does feel quite busy and polluted.
- Cost: Accommodation/living costs in the city are more expensive than other Italian cities.
- Far away: It is located in the corner of Italy so despite good transport connections, travel times are sometimes quite long.
- Size: Small, which means it's quick to feel at home and get to know the city. It also has a more concentrated centre making it easier to meet more people.
- Student-friendly: loads of young people and students, which means lots going on and a buzzing atmosphere.
- Travel links: Well-connected to other cities in Italy by train and bus, as well as close to lots of small towns and beautiful countryside.
- Cultural: Beautiful, old and full of culture and interesting things to do (particularly if you like Medieval/Renaissance art).
- Cost: The city is cheap both in terms of accommodation and food/drink (€2.50 Prosecco….).
- Safety: The area near the station is less safe/a bit dodgy, which means arriving back from a trip late in the evening isn't ideal.
- Weather: It's freezing cold in winter and far too hot in the summer because it's always very humid.
- International: There is a very large intake of Erasmus students, which can make it harder to make yourself speak Italian (though this is also a pro as it meant lots of events are put on, organised by the ESN!).
- Size: Florence is a good size, big enough so that you never get bored as there are loads of exhibitions and things going on, but not so big that it's hard to navigate or to meet people.
- Travel links: It is very well connected by train to other cities so you can get around Italy easily.
- Interesting: Florence is incredibly beautiful and full of art and amazing food.
- Transport: Public transport in the centre is pretty bad and there are very few bus lines; luckily you can walk between most places, but it's a pain if you have to go further afield.
- Tourists: There are lots of tourists.
- Social life: The city is split into 17 medieval districts called contradas that hold many events and street parties throughout the year, including the Palio (a horse race in July/August which takes place in the main piazza).
- Transport links: Siena has easy bus access to many areas of Tuscany - the bus to Florence takes 75 minutes.
- Good size: It is a small, safe, relaxed city that feels quite a lot like Cambridge. It is also very beautiful and has a rich history.
- Nightlife: Siena has limited nightlife - no clubs, few bars, and no music scene.
- Tourists: Around the time of the Palio the centre is completely full of tourists.
- Accommodation: Accommodation can be hard to find because Siena is a small city with a relatively large university.
- Trains: Train journeys from Siena are rarely direct and involve many connections
- Friendly: The people are lovely.
- Tasty: The food is great.
- Historical: Naples has the oldest historical centre in Europe.
- Crime: There is a lot of petty crime as well as large crime.
- Size: Pisa is a very charming small town. Its small size means it's easy to get to know your way around within a few weeks. You'll quickly find your preferred cafes and Tuscan trattorie, of which Pisa boasts many! You'll be amazed at just how cheap everything is, making Pisa a great choice for a student on a budget.
- The River Arno: Pisa is situated on the River Arno, with the Lungarno providing a great spot to relax with friends in the sun with some gelato.
- Location: Pisa has very good transport connections, both within Tuscany and further afield. Its Galileo Galilei International Airport is a 15 minute bus ride from the city centre and is the biggest airport in Tuscany, making Pisa very easy to reach from the UK. Pisa's train station also has a very regular service to Florence, which you can reach in just 40 minutes!
- Size: Pisa's small size might not be for everyone. Its nightlife is not particularly raucous by any means, so if you're a big club-goer then Pisa might not be for you.
- Technological restrictions: Pisa is less modern than the big Italian cities, so technophiles beware! Some of the blocks of flats have limited or no access to internet, and very few public places offer a wireless connection.
- Lack of Chain Restaurants: There are very few chain restaurants. This could well be an advantage as it makes a nice change from the capitalist culture of urban centres, but worth bearing in mind if you're someone who can't live without their daily Starbucks fix!
- Small: There are lots of very small, rural towns that have such a lovely strong sense of community.
- Friendly: The people are so friendly, they are definitely always more than happy to help with anything and are very welcoming.
- Cultural: There's a very rich and unique culture and many usually religious festivals celebrated in a very traditional way.
- Rural: It might be too rural for some people. Small towns are obviously limited in what they can offer in terms of entertainment and opportunities.
- Transport: Public transport is pretty awful. Coaches are the main way of getting around but they're slow and there aren't many of them.
- Local Dialect: In small towns people speak mostly dialect and this linguistic barrier can be difficult to deal with when trying to integrate.
- Isolation: There are very few foreigners which might be a little daunting for some as there isn't any form of network for foreign students living abroad. But, that said, you do end up speaking Italian all the time and really integrating into the community.
- Chaotic, but fun: The fun you can have getting lost is immeasurable.
- A lot to explore: The most interesting parts of Venice tend to be avoided by tourists.
- Cost: Going for drinks is incredibly cheap.
- Sometimes annoying: There is a large number of tourists and pigeons.
- Bad food: Venice isn't renowned for its cuisine, other than squid.
- Mosquitoes: There are lots of mosquitos.
- Political activism: Bologna is known by Italians as 'la dotta, la grassa, la rossa' for its ancient, prestigious university; its vehemently defended cuisine and its reputation for political activism. It sometimes feels as though certain sections of the student population embrace this last one a bit too self-consciously but I really enjoyed the levels of political engagement in the city.
- Live music and film festivals: Lots of small Italian bands play in the locali on Via del Pratello and in the centri sociali - larger venues include 'Il Covo' and 'Estragon'. The cineteca screens loads of classic films and organises several international film festivals throughout the year.
- LGBT+: Compared to other Italian cities I think Bologna is meant to be good for LGBT+ people. It hosts the Gender Bender film festival and has a few LGBT+ bookshops and libraries as well as a LGBT+ centre, Cassero.
- Transitory feeling: Because of a large student population (and many students are Erasmus or fuori sede, Italian students not attending their home university) Bologna doesn't seem to have a very fixed population and this does give the city quite a strange 'passing through' atmosphere.
- Crowded: Lack of green space (and space in general!). The city centre is always really packed. Bologna isn't a massive city but it does feel like there are too many people for the size of the city itself sometimes.
- Accommodation: Maybe because there are so many students, it can be difficult to find decent accommodation. It's definitely worth going before all the Italian students arrive in September to try and find a room.
- Beautiful city: There are rivers, a big harbour (nice to be near water), nice parks.
- Lots of things to do on the weekend: There's something for everyone - art, shopping, history, food, sport, etc.
- International and friendly: There's a good community of international people to meet, opportunities to meet Germans through groups, and a friendly atmosphere - if you look lost on the street someone will almost always come and help you.
- Costs: The city is pretty expensive for rent/eating out (my rent was around 500 euros a month).
- Weather: Gets very dark and cold in the winter, lots of rain.
- Busy: People walk/knock into you ALL the time (is this a thing anywhere apart from Britain?)
- Atmosphere: Würzburg is small and extremely pretty, with two castles and a river. There are lots of lovely walks and cheap places to eat/hang out. It feels very authentic, and there's a great range of dialects, from Frankish to Bayrisch to Hochdeutsch. They are justifiably proud of the local wine and beer, and there are festivals happening all the time.
- International community: Würzburg has a strong cohort of international students, but only a few students from the UK, so the lingua franca is mostly German. There's a well-attended language exchange once a week around town. There are also a lot of students from Trinity College Dublin, so you do get the chance to make English-speaking friends too.
- Cost of living: Würzburg has a range of supermarkets, and there are plenty of cheap places to eat or go clubbing. New arrivals to Würzburg receive a book of coupons which makes visiting museums and the water park cheap. The university guarantees accommodation to international students if you apply before June and there's plenty of choice for price, area, and type of accommodation. You receive a bus pass as part of your semester fee (and can claim back on it if you're organised), which is good, as Würzburg is very hilly. It's fairly easy to get part-time work (especially tutoring).
- Transport links on the continent: Flixbus operates a really good network of super-cheap buses, and changing is rarely necessary (but if it is, expect to be waiting for the next bus for hours). They are pathologically late (but on time just often enough to make showing up on time necessary), but so long as you factor that into your travel arrangements they're a great way to get around, both within Germany and all over Europe. Deutsche Bahn is pricey, but usually fairly reliable.
- Transport links to the UK: The nearest airport is Nuremberg, where Ryanair runs a brilliant afternoon service to and from Manchester. Unfortunately, the London Ryanair flights are either 7am or 10pm. However, there are lots of airports nearby, including Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig, and Memmingen. Frankfurt Hahn is miles away from anywhere and inconvenient, so I recommend avoiding that one even though it's cheap.
- Extracurricular activities: Seem to consist mostly of clubbing or pricey trips to other cities, although there are some societies around. They tend to be more expensive than Cambridge societies.
- Variety: You can always find something to do if you feel like it (but no pressure if you just want to chill at home). Being in a very international capital city, there is an abundance of parks, markets, bars, exhibitions, museums, restaurants, cafes, places to meet friends, work (on YAP lol), read, go for coffee/dinner, and you will have no problems finding food from all continents, and many vegan and vegetarian options.
- Local flavour: There are lots of different neighbourhoods and there's a strong sense of loyalty felt by Berliners to their 'Kiez'. It's nice to attend smaller, seasonal festivals and get a sense of the locals, not just the big city internationals.
- Nightlife: If you like clubbing, Berlin is one of the best places in the world to go out. There's an appreciation for the music (especially techno) and you can meet people and make lots of friends on nights out.
- Connections: Berlin is well connected. It's easy to visit home / other German and European cities, so it's good for travel.
- English: So much English is spoken in cafes, restaurants, social situations - you will need to establish that you want to speak German from the start and force it through to avoid getting used to speaking English
- Big city: This can be isolating, especially if you do not know anyone, and overwhelming if you don't know what to do / feel the pressure to explore and see everything
- Nightlife: Nightlife isn't always inclusive, actually quite exclusive (people can often be rejected from clubs, which can be disheartening).
- University culture: Uni life here is not the same as Cambridge Uni life! A lot less work but then a lot less to keep you busy, plus there is no collegiate system, nor any student socials or ways to make student friends (since everyone just lives at home / in WGs / in mixed student accommodation outside the city (for Freie Universität)).
- Accommodation: Searching for a place to live is quite stressful. It might be a wise idea to find somewhere before you leave - WG gesucht or Facebook groups are the best places to do this, looking at a price range for a room between 350 - 500 euros, depending on location and amenities
- Travel Links: Good connections for travelling home/visiting people and maintaining connections.
- International: Munich is very international so it's easy to find people of your own nationality, which you sometimes just really need.
- Nature: Munich has amazing access to Nature Parks and Mountains, which is really nice.
- Interesting city: It's a place that makes you want to get out and explore, rather than sitting at home with nothing to do.
- Isolating: It's not so easy to meet people unless you have contacts there already or you are native. Münchners are stereotypically a bit 'up themselves', which makes it harder to make friends, but you can find the non-up-themselves/non-natives.
- Accommodation: Flat-finding can be a nightmare, and the rent is very expensive.
- Beautiful city: There are lots of green spaces, it has an old-style architecture, there's a canal, etc.
- Transport: It has efficient, clean public transport, and it's free to use with a student card.
- Cheap rent: I paid 256 euros a month and my friend paid 199 euros.
- Cultural: There are lots of cultural events, good clubs and bars, and you can find cheap tickets to exhibitions and plays.
- Welcoming University: You get allocated a German 'buddy' at the university if you sign up, so it gets a bit easier to meet Germans. There is also a student-run organisation which puts on events and organises trips specifically for international students.
- Good, cheap connections to other bigger cities: Berlin is 2 hours away by bus and Prague is 4 hours away.
- Vegan-friendly: Leipzig is apparently the friendliest city in Germany towards vegans, with lots of big supermarkets and cheap, good places to eat out.
- Nightlife: Complete range of nightlife to try out, and lots of pubs and bars too - there is a surprising abundance of Irish pubs.
- Chaos at University: The University was quite disorganised and I'm not sure how much welfare support they could provide. Students tend to make friends outside of their classes and lectures so can feel like a bit of an austere atmosphere.
- Accommodation: Flat-finding is less of a nightmare than in main cities such as Berlin or Munich, but it can still be competitive, so give yourself enough time to do this, or just go with university accommodation.
- Admin: The bureaucracy can be a pain and you have to figure it out for yourself.
Unfortunately, it is necessary to start with the very big con that if you are not studying at the university it is very very difficult to find a place to live. It is likely down to luck, but I had to move house 5 times in 6 months between sublets and eventually a hostel. However, if you study there, accommodation will most likely be allocated to you.
- Beautiful location: There are a lot of lovely old buildings and it is surrounded by the mountainous Black Forest, which can be reached easily by public transport and is especially breath-taking in the snow. Being in the South-west means it can also be quite convenient for visiting France or Switzerland. It's an international place but, that said, almost all of my interactions were conducted in German.
- Size: It has most of the advantages of a city whilst often seeming like a village - it has everything from an ice rink to a tram network (5 lines), plenty of shops and facilities, yet also a peaceful river side and old-world market squares. And, whilst the city centre can be covered by foot, there is still a lot to explore further out. Lots of people cycle. Seems a progressive and friendly place - housing problem aside. It feels safe to walk home at night on the whole.
- Cultural and student-friendly: Having a university means having a well-stocked library for your YAP, Eduroam around town, and other young people to meet. There's a celebrated student cinema club (1,50 euro tickets!), as well as loads of other societies, orchestras and sports teams. The city is full of galleries and has a wonderful theatre and concert house, making for some good cultural internship opportunities (if you can find somewhere to live…).
- Living situation: Finding accommodation is very difficult, meaning applications become very competitive and personal, and prices are often driven up. I had well over a hundred rejected or ignored applications, which was very time-consuming and disheartening.
- Airport: Not a hugely serious problem but the nearest airport is in Switzerland, which can be a faff.
- Atmosphere: The village vibe might seem a bit claustrophobic/outdated to some people. A lot of people still sweep leaves from their doorways with brooms in the morning... And I think it can get quite packed with all the holidaymakers in the summer.
- Unfortunately, there is no women's ice hockey team...
Overall, I found Vienna to be a really great city and, in many ways, it was very easy to live there. The biggest con for me was the people and the atmosphere of the city, as I didn't find it to be very welcoming or community-focused, which did have a significant impact on my experience there.
- Environment: The city is beautiful and very clean
- Weather: It's sunny every day (well, almost - but, seriously, it only rained a handful of times during my 9 months there!)
- Green: There are lots of parks and green spaces.
- Transport: Public transport is cheap (compared to southern England), reliable and quick.
- Culture: There are always several different events going on in the city - e.g. the Rathaus has a Christmas market and ice skating at Christmas and then various different markets throughout the year.
- Cheap opera: You can get standing tickets at the opera for €3!
- It's a very safe city.
- Travel Links: It's easy and cheap to get to other cities in central Europe
- Vegan-friendly: Loads of vegan options can be found in supermarkets and in vegan cafes and restaurants!
- Living Arrangements: Accommodation is cheap compared to southern England.
- Cheap Eating-Out: Restaurants are not too expensive.
- Hostile (at times): The people aren't the friendliest (I had people literally walk into me in the street instead of moving out of the way).
- Annoying: There is no queueing system - people just barge past (this is a very English con but it does get annoying when you're just trying to buy some food from Aldi!)
- Expensive shopping: Food in supermarkets is more expensive than in Cambridge
- Fines: If you get caught without a valid ticket on any public transport, they can be quite aggressive and ruthless and the fine is more than €100.
- Quiet on Sundays: The town feels deserted on Sundays (when lots of people go to the countryside). Almost all shops are closed on Sundays.
As Kyoto is the default Japanese year abroad destination, here are various perspectives on the destination:
NB: The author of this piece has tried their best to be objective, but they admit that they personally didn't enjoy their time in Kyoto. They do want to add that most of their classmates did enjoy their time in Kyoto and that there is every chance that you will, so please be aware this is just one person's personal experience. In their words: don't take my word as gospel!
Kyoto is the default Japanese year abroad destination as the faculty has a partnership with Doshisha University. You can apparently go elsewhere but you must make all the arrangements yourself. I believe some colleges have their own individual partnerships with other Japanese universities (e.g. Downing/Keio, St Catz/Waseda, Emma/Rikkyo). Alternatively, you can apply for the MEXT scholarship which lets you put down 5 preferences for where you would like to be placed, but this isn't guaranteed.
- Size: Kyoto is a decent-sized city of 1 million people, and it is well-connected to other cities in Japan by shinkansen, rail lines etc. It isn't too crowded, either.
- Well-connected: Kyoto is close to Osaka - you can get there in about 30 mins by train.
- Culture: There is lots of traditional stuff to see e.g. temples, shrines.
- Easy fees-wise: The faculty pays your tuition fees.
- Accommodation: University accommodation is decent and not too expensive.
- Plenty of Amenities: Nice restaurants everywhere, and the downtown district has plenty of shops, karaoke etc.
- Conservative: Kyoto is quite a conservative city and the people there aren't quite as friendly as those in other places.
- Quieter: It isn't as lively as bigger cities (such as Tokyo and Osaka) in terms of nightlife and events. It feels more like a large town than a city.
- Isolating: There isn't as much of an international presence as there is in Tokyo, which can feel a bit isolating.
- Far from Tokyo: It's a fairly long way from Tokyo if you need to go there to go home or visit family - 2-3 hours and £80 by shinkansen or 7-8 hours on the night bus (around half the price of shinkansen ticket)
- Awkward route to Airport: It's a bit of a pain to get to Kansai International airport - the options are: either pay 4000 yen for the special train service, or you can do it the cheaper way which involves changing trains several times (but this takes longer). I had to stay overnight the night before in an Airbnb closer to the airport to be able to catch a flight at 9am.
Additional, mental-health-specific, Advice:
Advice from a previous YA student: If you are on a Japanese Year Abroad in Kyoto and are in need of a counsellor, do not be afraid to see the English speaking counsellor. If you get the same one who I saw, he is lovely and so helpful! He referred me to the psychiatrist so that I could get antidepressants and he wrote me letters when Cambridge asked for medical evidence that I needed to come home.
- Lots of traditional culture: temples, shrines
- Beautiful river kamo: fireworks in the summer
- Convenient: structured like a grid, you can get to know your way round very quickly.
- Great cafes and restaurants
- Transport: There are good bus and train services, you can get to Osaka and Kobe very quickly and cheaply.
- Good access for foreigners: Popular tourist drain ratio, so you won't stand out as much as in the countryside.
- Great festivals
- Far from Tokyo: Taking a long overnight bus or going by plane is best - the shinkansen very expensive.
- Nightlife: There aren't many clubs, the atmosphere and music are not the best (but there are good bars).
- Atmosphere: It's not as open and relaxed as Tokyo.
- Size: It feels more like big town than a city sometimes and it can be pretty quiet at points.
- Shops: The shops aren't bad, but their selection is not as good as in Osaka or Tokyo (I'm tall, so I found it really hard to find clothes and shoes and I could only shop at H&M - a bit trivial but it got annoying sometimes!)
- Good-sized city: Kyoto is easy to get to know and get around as it is not too big (especially for a Japanese city) and the transport is not expensive whilst being incredibly well developed.
- Beautiful landscape: While the city can be fairly average-looking in places, the surrounding nature is stunning and easy to get to. There are multiple beautiful spots to go hiking/picnicking, including the Kamogawa river which is less than 5 minutes walk from most Doshisha University accommodation.
- Great for sightseeing: Kyoto has some of the most ancient and beautiful temples in Japan. They are all over the place and you can find lots of beautiful historical landmarks around every corner.
- Proximity to larger, busier cities: It's 20 minutes by fast-train to Osaka, 40 minutes by fast-train to Kobe. Neither journey costs more than £10 each way.
- Accommodation expenses: It's much cheaper than in Tokyo, but the quality of room varies from dorm to dorm.
- Safe, clean, quiet: I never had anything stolen, there's little to no litter in sight, and people are friendly and accommodating.
- Convenient: A note on Japan in general - convenience stores are open 24/7 and have all the basics, including food/underwear/stationery.
- Student atmosphere/Nightlife: I found that, while Kyoto is great for tourism, it could be a little dull to live in. Student life was not too great as many Japanese students live at home (not necessarily in Kyoto) and there are not many great clubs. Cafes were nice but could be quite expensive, especially western food. The vibe in Kyoto is generally quite quiet and conservative so students looking for more of a wild year would be best to look in Tokyo or Kobe.
- Grocery costs: Food in supermarkets is expensive, especially vegetables, fruit and bread...If you like cheese you will have to either live without or splash some cash…
- Dorm rules: Our university (Doshisha) dorms were generally separated by gender, and those that were had strict rules about not having guests of the opposite gender. Would strongly advise getting own apartment or arranging a homestay.
- Hard to integrate: While experiences vary person to person, I found that it was difficult to make lots of Japanese friends and fit in in Kyoto. Perhaps this is because Kyoto is less international than places like Tokyo.
- Weather: Winters are not so different from the UK, but summer can be very hot and very rainy - buy one of the huge umbrellas from a convenience store and treasure it with your life.
- No visa: You don't need a visa! (for under 90 days)
- The city: It's a phenomenal city. It's beautiful and much warmer than I expected in Spring onwards. It can get pretty hot, which is great because there's a beach there in summer!
- Language: They speak both Russian and Ukrainian so you can go there to get experience in either.
- Friendly: People are lovely and chatty overall so I found it really welcoming. This also means you get lots of language practice!
- Price: It's so cheap! A beer is under a pound, and a meal in a restaurant averages £2. I've seen tickets with a budget airline for £60 return. You can live like a king because you can get taxis, go for meals, go to the theatre, etc as much as you like as it's so cheap.
- Culture: There are loads of theatres, ballets, operas, shows, rap battles (!), etc... you can go to the cinema for a very low price too.
- Safety: I felt very safe there. There's a good metro system (that's about 12p a trip) and if you feel worried you can easily get taxis. Men were generally pretty respectful.
- Longer-term not possible: It's very difficult to get a visa for over 90 days.
- Host families: It's slightly harder to find a host family than in smaller places.
- But...To be honest I don't have many negatives for Kyiv. Like many big cities, it can feel isolating at times. Overall, I had a really good time in Kyiv and would definitely recommend it!
- City: Odessa is a beautiful city on the Black Sea, with a lot of historic architecture, large parks and beautiful beaches.
- There is plenty of culture and entertainment: The city has a famous ballet/opera house (with very affordable tickets) as well as other theatres, museums, restaurants and bars.
- Climate: The climate is very mild compared to the rest of Ukraine and other Russian-speaking countries - summers are very hot, while winters are relatively short and temperatures rarely go below -10.
- Language: The city is very Russian-speaking, so you'll be totally fine without any knowledge of Ukrainian! On the other hand, almost everyone speaks fluent Ukrainian as a first or second language, so you can practice/learn if you want to.
- Student community: There are a few different universities in the city, so there is a large and friendly student community, including quite a lot of international students.
- Transport: Good transport links, so it's easy and affordable to travel (by train, bus or plane) to Kyiv, Lviv, and other Ukrainian cities.
- Tourism: There is a lot of tourism in Odessa, so the city and the beaches can get very busy and noisy (especially in summer/autumn).
- Quality of life: Outside of the city centre, there is a lot of industry and Soviet-era architecture, and living standards are generally quite low compared to western Europe.
- Meeting people: The universities don't have a lot of societies, events, clubs etc, so it can be difficult to meet people outside of lectures. The people are very friendly but you have to be quite proactive about making friends.
- Cost of living: Because of the large numbers of tourists, living costs in Odessa are generally a bit higher than the rest of Ukraine (but still very affordable compared to other parts of Europe).
- Size: St. Petersburg is so big that you can easily spend the entirety of your Year Abroad there and still have things to see by the end of it! But it's not too big that you feel drowned by the city - you could cover the main parts of the city by foot if you wanted to/public transport let you down.
- Opportunities: The city has a vibrant student network (there are nearly 50 universities in the city!) and so it's pretty easy to meet young people and get involved in things (I joined a university choir, for instance). And there's a reason why it's called the cultural capital: there's always some kind of event or exhibition going on (Russians love their праздники) and, especially if you have a student card, it's almost always free.
- Russian-speaking: People often say 'don't go to St. Petersburg/Moscow, they all speak English there…' but this is far from the truth! Wherever you go in Russia, the majority of people will speak Russian. You will have plenty of opportunities to speak Russian in St. Petersburg, trust me.
- Beauty: This city is so unbelievably beautiful! Even when it's raining or windy or sleeting, the lit-up facades of the 19th-century buildings will really catch your eye. St. Petersburg is pretty unique in that a lot of its historic buildings have been preserved, even post-war.
- Well-connected to other cities: Although St. Petersburg is sometimes hard to get to (you can't, for instance, go direct from Ukraine to St. Petersburg, and there are less budget airlines that go to St. Petersburg compared to Moscow), it's well-connected to Moscow (4hr train) and northern parts of Russia (6hr to Petrozavodsk and the beauties of the Karelia region). Although that might seem like quite a long time, when you compare it to average journey times in Russia, you'll realise just how well-situated St. Petersburg is! What's more, it's a very short train ride away from Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Riga (Latvia).
- Western 'luxuries': When you're feeling a bit homesick, those Western brands can really help to ease the pain. St. Petersburg has pretty much everything, from Western vegetarian/vegan restaurants (there's a whole chain of them) to Lush and H&M.
- Relatively cheap: It's cheaper than Moscow, but not as cheap as other Russian cities. You'll find that food and mobile data are very cheap compared to English prices, as are some apartments (you can find very posh apartments in the very centre of the city for a mere fraction of the price that you would pay for a central apartment in, say, Paris). However, if you compare this to prices in the lesser-known cities of Russia, of course, it's not that cheap.
- People: Perhaps I'm biased, but I really did find the people in St. Petersburg to be friendly and open. Yes, you will have the occasional бабушка shout at you for walking too slowly, but this could happen in any Russian city. In my experience (and others have agreed), the general atmosphere in St. Petersburg is more relaxed than the atmosphere in the capital.
- Accommodation: This might be a problem for the whole of Russia, but it is quite hard to find accommodation with Russians. Young people will, most likely, be living in student dormitories, and anyone living in an apartment will probably be older and married etc. You could stick it out in the university dormitories (they are very cheap), but this will require you to share a room, which can be quite intense (especially if your mental health takes a turn for the worse), and it also does not guarantee that you will be sharing with a Russian. As mentioned above, it is very easy to find apartments in the centre, so you could do this with a fellow Year Abroad student. Or, try living in a homestay - this worked really well for me and I would definitely recommend it.
- Weather: It may seem like quite a trivial problem, but it really does get to you. The lack of sunlight (daylight can be as short as 6 hours in the winter) can cause SAD (it affected me, and I never suffer from it in England). The weather is completely unpredictable. It might be sunny one day, and then snowing the next day. And when it's cold, it's really cold (it's wet cold, which is so much worse than the dry cold you get in Moscow or Siberia). It can rain at any point in the year - summer is not really a season in this city. The only positive is that you will have a lot of solidarity with those around you - everyone agrees with the fact that the only downside to this 'Venice of the North' is its weather, and Russians just love (almost more than the English) to talk about the forecast for the day.
- The bridges: This is also quite a trivial problem, but it does dampen a good night-out. The bridges go up in the early hours of the morning, meaning that, if you haven't kept track of the time in the club, you could be stuck on the wrong side of the city until 6am…
- Prices: As mentioned above, compared to other Russian cities and some Eastern-European cities, the prices for transport and accommodation is a bit more expensive. However, compared to Moscow or Paris prices, it's still incredibly cheap.
- Environment: The air and the water aren't very clean, which is probably due to the city pollution. It made my skin pretty bad.
- Flights from London: British Airways pretty much has a monopoly on flights from the UK to St. Petersburg, meaning it's quite hard to find cheap flights to the city. If you don't mind flying indirect (and risk losing your luggage in Amsterdam), there are cheaper alternatives.
- Russian-Speaking: There are far less English-speakers in Kazan, so Russian students are always eager to meet up with you. Also, speaking English in public tends to gets noticed so you meet new friends on the bus or get to have a conversation with a curious Tatar babushka!
- Well-structured teaching: The Russian language course at the Philology faculty (of Kazan Federal University) is very organised and I had lessons 5 days a week (including Saturday lessons!). The teaching was a good standard and I found most of the lessons useful. However, they do expect you to attend most/all of the lessons, unless you ask for prior permission.
- Tatar Culture: My time in Kazan gave me a totally new perspective on Russian identity. The Islamic influences and Tatar language give Kazan a unique characteristic which I would never have otherwise encountered.
- Cheap: The cost of living is extremely low in Kazan. The student accommodation that they provide is also relatively modern and low-priced, and was a great way to meet other international students and feel safe.
- Tourism: Kazan has lots of great tourist spots that are unique to the area (the Blue Lake, the Temple of All Religions) and it is also a good starting point for visiting towns such as Vladimir, Suzdal, Nizhnii Novgorod and Moscow.
- Wholesome Fun: Now this may sound silly, but if you're not so much into partying and prefer meeting up for coffee, going to the cinema, or going to art galleries, then Kazan has lots of great options! Also, Russian students often prefer these types of meetups anyway, especially in Kazan where the Islamic culture means many of them do not drink. That said, shisha is a popular alternative in the region.
- Size: The city-centre is relatively small and all based on one central street (Bauman Street). You can find everything you need around there, but after a few months I found it a bit monotonous that there seemed to only ever be one place to visit for shops/coffee/life outside of student dormitories.
- University Accommodation: University-provided accommodation in Russia often means sharing a room. The main student accommodation complex in Kazan offers rooms shared by four students. I shared a bedroom, a bathroom and a small kitchenette with three other girls. Usually they place international students with other international students, so along my corridor there was a mix of German, Korean, Chinese and Slovakian students.
- University Facilities: Kazan University is not as equipped for welcoming Western students as St. Petersburg. It was a challenge to properly register my visa, pay for accommodation, and organise lessons. They are trying to improve this already, with better connections being established with Nottingham and Exeter university. However, Cambridge do not offer the same support for their students and going it alone can be a bit of an uphill struggle. I definitely recommend messaging someone from Cambridge who has been to Kazan Uni for advice! Furthermore, the actual Philology Faculty building itself is not as modern as I had expected (e.g. toilets without toilet seats!)
- Weather: Kazan is generally colder than St. Petersburg and Moscow. It is certainly manageable with a good coat and lots of layers, but it's worth saying here.
- Lack of Nightlife: Kazan is not really a party city and there is not the same type of Erasmus social scene. Most of the Russian students do not go out to clubs or bars, and there is a very slim selection of places to go. Also, it is not as safe to go out alone in the evenings if you are a woman, and I found that I would always need a male friend to walk with me to places after dark or in the early hours.
- Atmosphere: Petrozavodsk is a small city (around 200,000 people) and this means that the atmosphere is very friendly. People are very friendly and open, and are understanding when your Russian sometimes may not stretch to the most niche vocabulary (everyone apart from mean ladies at the supermarket checkout). With few foreigners in the city, you are novelty, which is very easy to make friends because people will often approach you via VK etc to get to know you.
- Language: Being a small city with few foreigners, there are plenty of opportunities to practice your language with native speakers. I unwittingly became somewhat of a local celebrity as everyone wanted to get to know me and to find out more about life in the UK. Very few people speak English, especially among the older generation, so you really are forced to speak Russian most of the time. However, if you do want to have a much needed convo in English, the undergraduates at PetrSU studying International Relations tend to have very good English and are always keen to practice!
- Good transport links: Everywhere in the city is pretty much a walkable distance (in the daytime when not too cold) but there are loads of marshrutki and trolleybuses that connect the whole town. Transport is extremely cheap and generally efficient, though there are no timetables so you just wait for one to show up. After 11.30pm, public transport stops operating and so you will need to get a taxi. RU taxi app (Russia's answer to Uber) means it'll be about 100 rubles to get home which is fab. Petrozavodsk is well connected to other cities with a beautiful 'commuter' train to St Petersburg (4 hours), and it sits in the middle of the Moscow-Murmansk line (about 16 hours to either destination). This is a more traditional Russian train but very reasonable. The Murmansk reason is worth a visit for a couple of days in the summer for the white nights, or in winter to see the northern lights!
- Cost of living: Petrozavodsk is much cheaper than the bigger cities. I lived in a host family which was relatively pricey, but food/ transport/ going out etc are very reasonable. Student tickets to the cinema or to the theatre are roughly 100 roubles so mega cheap.
- Nature: Karelia is one of the most picturesque regions of Russia, dominated by beautiful lakes and forests. There are stunning waterfalls such as Kivach, and many impressive geological features. In the winter, you can cross country ski and ice skate within the city limits at Kurgan or further afield. You can also learn to husky sled at various parks around the city, where you can get a taxi to for not too high a price.
- Size: Whilst I didn't feel claustrophobic, I can imagine that it certainly could do if you are used to living in a bustling busy city. The atmosphere is generally pretty relaxed, and a lot of people talk about leaving and going to the big cities but mostly don't. You do end up doing similar things every week, which could be quite monotonous, although not unlike life in the UK really. One of the advantages of Petrozavodsk though is that if you do need a city break, the train to St Petersburg (or a Bla Bla Car for cheaper) is around 4.5-5 hrs direct, which is ideal for the weekend.
- Weather: Being so far North, Petrozavodsk is not a hot and sunny destination. Even in summer the average temperatures will be 15-20 degrees, and in the winter months it can be as cold as -20, though apparently the average is around -10.
- The darkness: In December the days in Petrozavodsk are only about 4 hours long (from about 10am-2pm). Factor this into your time spent there as it really does have a huge effect on your mood. If you need sunlight, go in spring when the days are longer (very similar to UK day lengths) or in summer when the white nights are spectacular.
NB: I didn't study at the university, hence why there is no information on studying!
- Easy to meet Russians: If you go to coffee shops and make mistakes in Russian/speak on the phone or to a friend in English, people may well notice and get talking to you. There aren't many European foreigners here, so you can use Russian curiosity to your advantage. A good shout is Этаж https://vk.com/onfloornsk, a третье место (apart from work and home, the idea is it' a place where edgy youth go and hang out) - they have lots of events, discussions etc. so it's a natural way to make friends. Also Бродячая собака http://sobaka.su/ has events going on, so you can go and if you're brave get chatting to people.
- Things to do : Академгородок is a university suburb not far away, which is definitely worth a visit, as it has a much more friendly atmosphere. The universities also have various clubs and societies that are worth investigating, though most shut down once the exams begin in May, so get your act together early on. There's also the ботанический сад and Обское море, which is a fake but pretty beach which is walkable from Академ. There are quite a few parks (Сквер Славы, Первомайский парк, Заельцовский и т.д.) which are again nice in the summer. Shopping wise, out of the city there is a big complex with Auchan, IKEA, etc., where there's more choice than at smaller supermarkets in the centre. Fruit and veg is generally cheaper at the stalls on the streets. Even if you don't like ballet or opera, it's worth going to НОВАТ just for the experience, tickets are very cheap compared to British prices, and even the cheap seats give you a good view. There's Russia's biggest Аквапарк as well. There are museums and art galleries, but they're not particularly famous so kind of a last resort if you run out of other things to do!
- Cheap to eat out: Eating out is cheaper here, although drinks are about the same price. There are loads of Traveller's, Чашка кофе, Кузина, Organic Coffee, Кофемолка, Mr Cup which are all nice chains, sadly not many indie coffee shops…however, there is a cat café, because why wouldn't you. https://murchim-cafe.ru/ Restaurants - if you like Georgian food, Тифлис http://www.tiflisnsk.ru/ and Аджики не жаль http://adjiki.ru/ are a must! Бизнес ланч is a good way if you're on a budget. Перчини is a nice Italian on Площадь Ленина http://perchini.ru/, another is Дровамука http://www.drovamuka.ru/. Loads more restaurants and coffee shops all the way down Красный Проспект, go exploring!
- Would also massively recommend the Trans Siberian Railway as a way of seeing the country, meeting ordinary Russians and travelling on the best train ever. It's a lot of fun!
- Architecture: It's a big ugly Soviet city, but if you're going to Siberia, you might as well go the whole hog.
- Climate: It's cold in winter, got down to -40, and summer up to +35, but the climate is dry which helps a lot. The cold makes the atmosphere less friendly, so summer/autumn is when the city is at its best to explore.
- Biggest piece of advice (sorry, this is not Novosibirsk-specific): if someone offers you the opportunity to do something, whatever it is (obviously, use your head and be wise/safe), do it, even if you think your Russian isn't good enough or you don't think you'll like it. I did a presentation on Cambridge for students (even though my Russian was still quite sketchy at the time), which led to me being interviewed for a national online newspaper, which led to having a conversation partner, which led to me translating a book… if I had said no to the first thing, the chain of events wouldn't have happened and I would have missed out on so many things!
- Size: Big city with around a million inhabitants and lots of things to do: plenty of museums, theatres, restaurants, interesting events etc.
- Very friendly and welcoming local people: There are very few international tourists/students/residents, so the local people are often very interested in meeting people from other cultures. This makes it really easy to meet people and make friends!
- Beautiful natural surroundings: Krasnoyarsk is ideal for anyone who is interested in hiking, skiing, or wildlife. The city is surrounded by mountains and there is a large national park about 30 minutes from the city centre. The river Yenisei runs through the city and there are several large islands which are also great places for walking, ice-skating, cycling etc.
- Cheap living costs: Rent is very affordable and restaurants, supermarkets, theatres etc also cost a lot less than they would in Europe.
- Travel: The Trans-Siberian Railway runs through Krasnoyarsk, so it's a great base for travelling across Siberia and the rest of Russia.
- Meeting people: There is a really good university in the outskirts of the city (the Siberian Federal University) which organises a lot of events, societies, youth projects, language clubs etc. This is a great place to meet local people and other international students!
- Architecture: The city itself is not very pretty. Most of the architecture is from the Soviet era and there are several large factories in the suburbs which create a lot of air pollution.
- Small international community: There is a very small international community, so it can be difficult to find English-speaking friends.
- Distance: It's really far away! So it's quite expensive to get there and it's difficult to visit home during your YA. The time difference with the UK is 6-7 hours so it can be difficult to keep in touch with friends and family.
- Climate: The climate is quite extreme - temperatures can drop to -40 in the winter, while most of the summer will be above +25 degrees.
- Small and beautiful: I wanted somewhere that would feel homely quickly and where I would know my way around relatively well within a couple of weeks. The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and the architecture is very pretty and low-rise, I loved walking around there in summer. Also lots of cathedrals dotted around if you're into that. There are also the surrounding woodlands where you can go tobogganing in the winter.
- Easy links to Moscow and elsewhere: Moscow is a 3-4 hour train ride away (sounds like a lot but is not by Russian standards!) and perfect for a weekend trip, or for a pit stop on the way to other destinations, such as Kazan or Ekaterinburg.
- Cheap: going out for drinks and to eat was not expensive and of decent quality.
- Accommodation: if you go through the university (which I would recommend if you want to study there) the coordinators can find you a host family and are supportive and flexible if it doesn't work out. They also found a flat nearby for some friends of mine who didn't want to live with a family, and rent was very cheap. I would not recommend the university dormitories as, although the cheapest option, they were 40 minutes outside town with shared bedrooms and (very) limited facilities.
- Easy to speak English : there is a cohort of Oxford students there from September to April, and from UCL and Bristol every term, who were very welcoming and friendly. Great to make English friends who provide support when you just need to speak without trying to improvise adjective endings.
- Easy to speak Russian: as there is a relatively small international community, few people speak English and Russian students are generally a lot more interested in you and keen to chat. A university-run group organises meet-ups and lectures on aspects of Russian culture.
- Ice hockey: the local team is one of the best which means exciting games
- Shops: lots of supermarkets and there is a big shopping centre called Aura which is full of familiar brands and has a cinema, where you can see releases for £4.
- Can feel very small: there are a few touristy sights in Yaroslavl but you get through them pretty quickly, it can start to feel a bit boring and samey after a few months.
- Transport: I never understood how the buses worked, and I'm convinced even the drivers occasionally didn't either.
- Weather: summer came late to Yaroslavl, and there wasn't really a spring, it can feel a bit grim when it's still snowing but transforms when the sun comes out. However, I think this, and the previous point on transport is pretty much the case in most parts of Russia.
- People are not super friendly: not the kind to rush to your aid if you slip on ice, and I experienced the occasional snigger at my Russian. Although, people are initially a lot colder but became a lot friendlier once you got to know them. Because it is not a main city some views can come as a bigger culture shock.
- Language: Although Spain might be an easier and less expensive option (in terms of flights), Latin America does help you to improve a lot. As not many locals can speak English (especially in shops, etc.), you will definitely see a great improvement in your language skills within a short period of time. Don't be afraid to speak, even if you are an ex-ab-initio student - Colombians are, in general (or at least what I've experienced so far) friendly and patient people and they are more than happy to help you with your language.
- Cost of living: Generally speaking, Colombia is a relatively cheap place to live, in comparison with Europe. Food, even in very good restaurants, will still cost less than average pub food in London. If you're planning on cooking, which I highly recommend because of the freshness of the fruit and vegetables, you'll end up spending way less than you would in a European country. The same applies to transport: buses and taxis are relatively low-cost.
- Accommodation: Many people choose the Airbnb option, which is the easiest and safest way to settle in. I was quite lucky in finding an international house (ran by two lovely Polish girls). Although the quality of the rooms is not the best, it's definitely worth it if you want to be social and make as many new friends as possible. I wouldn't recommend renting, as many landlords rent their places without furniture (it's because of their 'home' culture), but, sure, if you find any reliable websites, go for it! Just make sure you always check with previous tenants that everything is fine with the room, location, landlords, etc. The same applies to Madrid, too.
- Transport: As there's no metro in the city, the only way to get around apart from walking and biking (not recommended - pollution!) is by Transmilenio, which is basically a bigger version of a bus. The taxis are also quite cheap, so make sure you don't walk during the night and you take a taxi instead!
- Food: Colombia is one of the countries with the most variety in terms of fruit and vegetables, which means you'll have access to incredibly tasty and fresh fruit and vegetables. It might be bit more difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get used to the food, but, as Colombia is welcoming more and more tourists each year, you can definitely find some tasty vegan and vegetarians restaurants. What's more, the portions are a lot bigger than what you get in Europe.
- Safety: Safety in Bogotá has improved a great deal since Pablo Escobar and, even though you still find soldiers and police on the streets, it is quite safe now. However, you have to bear in mind that it's not like Europe and that things work differently here. For example, it is not common to use your phone on the street or on public transport, as you risk getting mugged. I would also not recommend walking around during the night or when it gets dark. The locals know that you're a tourist. Don't take your passport everywhere you go. A paper or phone copy might be enough to prove your identity when paying by card etc. You can also use your driving license. Always look around when you get off the bus, out of a taxi, or when you take money out.
- Pollution and traffic: One of the most annoying parts of the city is the pollution and traffic. If you're an outdoor runner, you might need to give up on this during your time in Colombia. It's not common to go for a run outside, either, because of the lack of safety. It might take some time for you to get used to the pollution and you might often feel out of breath (either because of the altitude or because of the pollution). The traffic will never get better. Avoid any rush hour and don't panic if you're late to work or school because of the traffic (many Colombians use it as an excuse).
- 'Machismo': It is, in many ways, still a sexist country. Unfortunately, you might have to get used to the male gaze on the street and public transport. However, do not feel that it is because of your gender. Colombians, generally speaking, like to keep eye-contact with the people they pass on the street. Yes, it might be bit uncomfortable, but it is how it is. You might come across some sexist comments, but I, personally, did not experience any sexual harassment other than that (although I did try to blend in by wearing certain clothes, i.e. not jeans, t-shirts or skirts, as these are not very common in Colombia). These are just some practical tips and I'm not saying that it's acceptable or anything. One thing I did see (that was certainly an exception and not a common occurrence) was a public masturbation. Be careful in the area of Macarena, especially if you're going to work for One Foundation - its building is located up the hill, and just before this hill is a park which, as this incident revealed to me, is quite dangerous.
- Friendly locals: Colombians are the warmest of people, and are very keen to welcome new people into their groups. I made a lot of friends at university and had a great time socially.
- Travel opportunities: Bogotá is very well-connected, with flights or buses to all major cities or tourist destinations. Travel is also very cheap, meaning you can get around quite easily on a student budget.
- Low living costs: Once you've paid for flights to Colombia, living costs are very low. Having saved money from my job and Erasmus bursary in Paris, I was able to pay for flights with this. My Lent term student loan installment paid for ALL my living expenses for my five months in Bogota, and the Easter term installment covered my summer travel.
- Culture and nightlife: Bogota is the main cultural hub in Colombia and boasts all of the countries best museums, galleries and points of interest. It also has a very varied nightlife: I went to techno, salsa, pop and grunge nights throughout my time there, again saving a lot of money.
- International: There are a lot of exchange students in Bogota and other internationals working here. As many of these exchange students are Mexican or Spanish, you'll be able to practice your language skills with them. Bogota is very cosmopolitan by Latin American standards and the rest of Colombia feels very provincial by comparison.
- Chaotic: Traffic congestion is a big problem, as is pollution - not the healthiest city to spend six months in.
- Far away: I was excited about moving far away but the distance and the impossibility of visiting home or Cambridge is something you should bear in mind.
- Safety: Getting mugged is a bit of a rite of passage. It happened to me within a few days and was not an enjoyable experience. Don't walk about alone after dark and avoid dangerous areas. The north is generally safer but, if you're unsure about an area, always ask a local. It's also a good idea to use a taxi app (Uber and others) when you're booking taxis after dark.
- Food: The fresh produce and juices are great but Colombian food quickly gets very bland. Thankfully, Bogota has quite a lot of international cafes and restaurants but don't expect anything special outside of the capital.
Despite this, I couldn't recommend Colombia enough. The people are brilliant, Bogota is a really vibrant, exciting place to be and I had the best of times.
- Beautiful: Buenos Aires is a very stunning city in terms of the buildings. There are also open, large green spaces, such as rose gardens and parks.
- Cheap public transport: Buy a SUBE card the cost of each trip is about 10 pesos (~40p)
- Cafes/restaurants: Particularly in Palermo, there are some wonderful places to eat or to grab a coffee. There's also a lot of vegetarian places despite it being a very popular place for meat-eaters!
- Good nightlife/sociability: There are many, many international students and lots of events/trips going on. The nightlife in terms of bars and clubs is also world-renowned.
- Culture: There are lots of museums that put on a host of events and talks throughout the year.
- Sports: There are lots of different types of free exercise classes run by the Buenos Aires municipality. It's generally a very active city!
- Safety: If you stick to areas such as Palermo/Belgrano/Recoleta during the day, you shouldn't have too many problems. However, phone theft (particularly iPhones) is very very common, especially on nights out or if you are walking with your phone in your hand. Of course, like in any big city, a lot of care should be taken when walking at night.
- Clothes prices: Brands such as Zara/Topshop or any other imported clothing brands - which can be affordable in the UK/Europe - are very expensive here.
- Environment: It's a big metropolitan city with lots of things to do.
- Travel: It's easy to travel around the city and the rest of the country. It's very easy and cheap to get around to some beautiful places throughout the country by bus and plane.
- Work: There are loads of job opportunities.
- Leisure: It's got a great nightlife.
- Cost: Comparatively within South America it is one of the more expensive countries but compared to Europe it can be pretty cheap, for instance the rent for a nice room in a shared house was approximately £300.
- Some beautiful areas: Barrios such as Barrio Italia, Barrio Lastarria and Las Condes all have lovely restaurants, cafes and nice green spaces
- Language: It's maybe not as easy to totally immerse yourself in the Chilean community because there are lots of international pockets in the city. Also, this may be a pro or con depending on your point of view, but Chilean Spanish is pretty hard to get accustomed to! On the other hand, your listening becomes very good!
- Aesthetic: It's not the prettiest place in the world - there are lots of concrete buildings.
- Lack of internationals: Apart from in the university where I was teaching, I came across very few other international students.
- Environment: There aren't a lot of parks or green spaces and those that exist can be kind of dangerous at night. There is also quite a lot of pollution.
- Money: It's more expensive than other places in Chile. My rent was around £300 per month, but this was for a really central place with a double bed - still very good but, relative to the rest of the country, it was expensive.
- Language: Porto Alegre is not touristy so you'll speak lots of Portuguese (there's not much English around) and you'll be made to feel like a citizen, not a tourist.
- Edgy vibe: Lots of lovely cafés / bars etc., really good nightlife and lots of cool cultural events going on throughout the year.
- Weather: Chilly in winter but hot in summer (and not as hot as in the northeast), typically bearable weather all year round.
- Cost of living: Brazil is expensive at the best of times but Porto Alegre is more affordable (especially in terms of rent and uber costs) than Rio or São Paulo.
- Student-friendly: There are lots of young people around, making it a great place for students. The University is also really welcoming - UFRGS is great! They really look after you and, if you study Letras, you'll meet some amazing people.
- Friendly in general: Brazilian people are the friendliest in the world (this goes for anywhere in Brazil, not just Porto Alegre).
- Lots of things to do: Museums, shopping centres, parks etc.
- Safety: You have to be really careful (avoid going out alone, don't get your phone out in public unless absolutely necessary, don't carry valuables, don't walk around outside after sunset even in a group etc. etc.). That said, Brazil is dangerous no matter where you go, so this is not specific to Porto Alegre.
- Location: It's not on the coast / near a beach.
- Ugly parts: It's not the most beautiful city in the world - there are definitely some really nice areas etc. but don't expect an overly clean / shiny / modern city.
- Transport: It's very cheap and easy to get to pretty much anywhere in Costa Rica (and Panama / Nicaragua) from the capital.
- Weather: It's sunny pretty much consistently in the dry season; cooler and much less humid than elsewhere in the country so the heat is much more bearable.
- Things to do: Lots of free cultural events are put on in the capital throughout the year (art & music festivals, concerts, markets etc.).
- Fewer bugs: There are fewer mosquitos / cockroaches / other horrible insects here than everywhere else in Costa Rica.
- Transport: Get used to no one knowing how to get anywhere / knowing where anything is. Addresses aren't really a thing so it can be quite frustrating being told to go to 'the house with the green gate, 350m east of the palm tree on the corner by the petrol station 200m north of the supermarket'. Bus timetables / routes don't exist.
- Weather: I wasn't there for the worst of the rainy season but apparently it's really bad & rains A LOT. So be mindful of when you're there (rainy season is July/August until around December).
- Not a beautiful city: It's not the kind of place where you'd go for a nice stroll on a sunny afternoon.
- Not near the beach: San José is about as far from the beach as you can get in Costa Rica but I felt like this was a fair trade-off for much more bearable weather than on the coast. It does take a while to get anywhere though due to poor quality roads / terrible traffic / quantity of main roads in general.
- Weather: Obviously this is the major advantage of living in the Caribbean: the weather is usually absolutely stunning. There are two seasons in Guadeloupe: the dry season (from November-June) and the wet season (June-October).
- Beautiful natural surroundings: Your Instagram will be lit. White sand beaches, black sand beaches, a volcano, jungles, sugar cane plantations. You name it, Gwada has it. You can swim with sharks, turtles, sting rays etc etc on the coral reefs at Petite Terre or Ilets Pigeon. Then head to Deshaies in the evening to the bar where they film Death in Paradise.
- Outdoor lifestyle: being outside all the time is good for the soul, with great food and a friendly atmosphere. Every night is apero night on the terrace, and I spent every Monday and Thursday night playing volleyball on the beach with friends.
- Language: almost no-one speaks English on the island, as until recently English-speaking tourism barely existed. This means that you are forced to speak French all the time, although be aware of the strong Guadeloupean accent, and the fact that many families will speak Guadeloupean Creole as their mother tongue at home. I lived with a family from metropole, which was good in that I didn't have to struggle with the accent!
- Friendly culture: people in Guadeloupe are very friendly and welcome you into their homes very openly and kindly. There are few foreigners (non-French speakers) living on the island and so you are somewhat a novelty. They are keen to share Guadeloupean culture with you and take you to some of the more quiet spots off the beaten tourist track.
- Small island: After a while the island began to feel quite claustrophobic. You end up existing in a very small bubble, both culturally and socially.
- Touristy: This depends hugely on where you live and what time of year that you go, but towns like Sainte Anne and St Francois are full of tourists from November-April. This means a lot of traffic and very very crowded beaches, especially on weekends. Top tip: go to the beach around lunchtime to grab a space from the French OAPs whilst they have a 3 hour lunch and siesta.
- Young people: There is a university on Guadeloupe (but it was situated a long way from here I lived), but a lot of young people leave the island to go to university. This means that there is a smaller crowd of young people of a similar age to befriend. As a result of this, the majority of my friends were much older than me and were young professionals living on the island. Many of them had children and so weren't free to do stuff a lot of the time.
- Things to do: There are loads of outdoor activities, but when the weather isn't ideal (i.e. when they have a cyclone), there is really nothing to do. There is one big shopping centre at Jarry where there is a Decathlon etc, but the choice is very limited. There is a Mango, but no H&M, Zara etc. Costs to get clothes delivered online are extortionate, so think about this ahead of going as some clothings products are simply impossible to find.
- Cost of living: The cost of living is undeniably higher in the overseas departments, as most of the products are imported. Rent is also quite high, though it depends on where/ how you live.
- Inefficient & bureaucratic: Think French inefficiency combined with the Caribbean laidback attitude to life. Nothing gets done quickly. Don't expect anything to be done when you expect it to. It took me six months to even try and open a bank account and I still failed (just use Revolut and cash….)
- Lack of public transport: Don't go to Guadeloupe unless you have a driving licence and the funds to rent a car (c. 400 euros a month). The buses don't run according to the schedule, and often end at 5pm, and don't run on Sundays or when it rains. Taxis are extortionate due to the roaring tourist trade. Walking isn't an option as there are no pavements on the road/ it gets too hot/ its too dangerous at night.
- Safety: Despite being an idyllic paradise, Guadeloupe is the most dangerous department in France. Whilst I lived in the 'nice' (more touristy) part, there were regularly stories of organised gang crime etc on the island. That being said, I never felt personally in any danger, although that's partly because I wouldn't walk home alone at night because I was told that that was very dangerous. The best way to keep safe is to have a car, and to keep the doors locked as soon as you get in. This avoids anyone trying to get in whilst you're stopped at a junction (genuinely happened to me). During the day everything is fine, and usual rules apply as anywhere. Don't leave belongings unattended on the beach or out of sight, and don't leave any valuables visible in the car as petty crime & theft is rife in touristy areas.
- Diverse: Amman is a huge city with very distinct areas, so there's a lot to explore
- Transport links to lots of amazing sites: Really easy to get to incredible places like Petra/Jerash/Dead Sea.
- "Authentic" experience: Amman isn't as Westernised as somewhere like Beirut so you're more likely to get an "authentic" experience and speak lots of Arabic.
- Expensive: Food and rent in Amman is much more expensive than most places in the Middle East.
- Conservative: If you are female and/or BME you are likely to get a lot of harassment, and homosexuality is very much not accepted.
- Too big: Nothing is really in walking distance in Amman so you spend a lot of time in taxis.
- Insight into the Occupation: You really get to understand what life is like for Palestinians living under Occupation and can visit the Wall etc.
- Friendly people: Everyone is genuinely lovely and helpful and will be patient with your Arabic - and nothing ever gets stolen, I left my passport and all my money in a taxi and it was returned!!
- Close to everything: Ramallah itself is such a small place so you can easily walk around, and there are great transport links to places like Jerusalem/Bethlehem/Nazareth etc.
- Border crossing: It can be really difficult to get to Ramallah and you will have to lie at the Israeli border (as it's impossible to get a visa otherwise) which isn't fun - risk of deportation etc.
- Distressing: Not an easy place to live with constant raids, unpleasant interactions with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints etc.
- Small city: Ramallah can get a little cramped if you like big cities, and there is a very tight-knit foreigner community so it's easy just to stick with them and not make Palestinian friends.
- Cheap: Cheap in comparison to other middle eastern countries in terms of living costs
- Things to do: Lots to see and do, museums, historic sites
- People: Outside of touristy areas, people are generally approachable and keen to help
- Weather: Weather is a bit cold in winter but other than that wall to wall sun
- Teaching: Good quality teaching at ILI (the language school)
- Well-connected: Ideally placed to go south further into Africa or explore more of the Middle East
- Easy to make friends: Good number of students from European/UK universities so easy to make friends.
- Shopping: 2 major shopping centres with good range of recognisable brands if you want some familiarity
- Environment: Pollution and chaotic streets.
- Hassle: You can encounter a lot of hassle in tourist areas.
- Teaching: Teaching is not always with university-level language students at the school, so proficiency levels vary and it can feel a bit slow sometimes.
- Meeting Egyptians: Not being at a university can limit the amount of Egyptian friends you make.
- Easy transport links: You can get to many other places in Morocco via the train lines.
- Food: There's a good variety of food, including some international food options like sushi!
- A fair amount to do: There are lots of pool halls, cafés, etc. And you will see female Moroccans using them, unlike in the rest of the country.
- Feels very safe: Tourists are a hot commodity in Morocco, so police do a lot to protect them. Even walking around on my own at night, I felt safe.
- Size: It's small-ish for a capital city, so most things are within walking distance. If not, taxis are easy to come by.
- Relatively cheap for a capital city: This is, unfortunately, with the exception of language schools whose tuition is VERY expensive. I think Cambridge cover at least some of these fees though...
- Beautiful: The Oudayas and beach in particular are stunning.
- Lovely weather: I was there January - March 2016 and barely had to take a coat out with me. I understand that in the summer it's very clement without being overly hot, unlike cities further South.
- Costs: Language schools are expensive.
- Harassment: Men do have a tendency to yellow 'gazelle' or 'hello beautiful' at you in the street. However, it never escalated, so I never felt unsafe.
- Boring: It is sometimes a little boring (constantly playing pool gets a little repetitive after a while!)
- Accommodation: Homestays through the language schools are expensive, as is accomodation provided by language schools. However it can be hard to find your own accomodation. I luckily found a flat with a friend from Cambridge and a Moroccan, but this was technically illegal as Moroccan men shouldn't live with women they are not related or married to...I was reassured that if we were found out, he'd go to prison, not me!
- People: The people are so friendly and generous and even though some are very poor, they will invite you round to their house and give you such a wonderful feast.
- City: It's an absolutely gorgeous city.
- A surprising amount to do: There's a couple of gyms, hotels with pools and one hotel which even serves alcohol!
- Proximity to Agadir: It's not the nicest city in the world, but if you are missing Western comforts (wine, beer, bacon...), you can go and find them in Agadir.
- Proximity to coast: There are loads of gorgeous coastal towns which are only a short drive away.
- Weather: It has absolutely beautiful weather 90% of the time. I think in my 6 months staying there it only rained once.
- Safety: It feels incredibly safe. I heard one story of a Western girl having her bag stolen, but I myself never experienced or witnessed any crime.
- Costs: It is incredibly cheap to buy food and other day-to-day essentials, e.g. transport tickets.
- Transport: The trainline in Morocco ends at Marrakesh, and, as Taroudant is about 4 hours drive south of Marrakesh, getting around can be a little tricky. However, there are many grand taxis and coaches which, while not the comfiest of options, are cheap at least!
- Weather: whilst it is beautiful, in the summer it can get up to 45 degrees, which can be a pain for those not used to it. Especially as there is little air conditioning!
- Work: Unless you want to volunteer for Moroccan Children's Trust (which is what I did and would thoroughly recommend) there aren't actually many options for getting a job or voluntary work in Taroudant.
- Lack of language tuition: When I went on my YA, Cambridge didn't require you to go to a language school at all, just to have a few hours a week tuition. However, I found it really difficult to find a tutor as well and ended up asking a local teacher for help! So, while not impossible, it is difficult to find language tuition!
- Conservative: Most of the women wear a hijab, if not a full body covering more akin to a burqa. Whilst this is not necessary as a Western woman, it does make you stand out and therefore a target for harassment. Also, views on LGBTQ+ are incredibly conservative and sexism is quite strong, less so for Western women, but, for example I found it impossible to get my female friends to meet me in a café as that was "where the men went". There are also some random behaviours that are not massively approved of if done by a woman (for example, having tattoos, or smoking).
- Alcohol: It's very hard to get hold of alcohol and many Moroccans will be quite upset if you drink in their presence.
- Harassment: Female Westerners are harrassed almost constantly in the street. However, as in Rabat, it never felt like it would escalate to more than just verbal abuse.