Independent Study… Abroad!


Every year, college students pack up their laptops and lab goggles and set off for semesters of study abroad. It’s a fantastic part of higher education – doubling up course credit with cultural exchange.

But you don’t have to be a college student to indulge your brainy side abroad!

Any Go! Girl with a thirst for knowledge and a sense of academic adventure can create her own cross-cultural curriculum. Try taking a class on the road to really take advantage of how educational travel can be.

Here’s your syllabus for Independent Study Abroad 101:

  • Course Catalog

What kind of classes can you take while traveling? Anything your geeky heart desires!

Language classes are very popular and you’ll find in-country courses for almost any mother tongue. And when school’s out, you’re smack dab in the middle of your subject matter, making practice fun and easy.

That other international language – food – has also spawned numerous courses for the culinary traveler. From the crème de la crème at La Cordon Bleu in Paris to home cookery sessions in Uttar Pradesh, learning recipes from local masters is the way to go.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Be it a hands-on demo class or a keynote speaker’s lecture of the year, you’d be amazed what you can find if you’re simply seeking education as a part of your travel experience.

As a bibliophile in England, I was reading up on bookish British offerings and happened on the London Palaeography Summer School: five days of ancient tomes, faded parchments and great lectures by superstars of the field. I signed up, headed to London and reveled in a week of geek chic.

  • Campus Visits

If you have a specific interest in mind, it won’t be hard to track down an international study opportunity with a little bit of research, Google-style.

But another excellent way to join a class while on the road is simply to plan a trip to any university town the world over. University of London? Nanjing Normal University? Just stop in and see what’s going on. There’s nothing like investigating in person to nab a seat in your preferred course.

I used to live there!

Don’t be shy, raise that hand! Write to university staff and find out if there will be classes on for public enrollment while you’re planning to be in the area.

Or, do your homework!

If you’re still at home and want to discover interesting classes abroad, drop by a local university and ask about international institutions they run exchange programs with. It will let you zero in on institutions abroad with international ties, where it’s likely they’ll also offer single courses for foreign visitors.

  • Make Sure A Class Makes The Grade

Always check up on an educational program’s reputation. Online reviews are a great way to get a feel for student satisfaction. You can sometimes ask instructors for the contact information of previous students, to get the inside scoop.

Whether you’re intrigued by a particular university program, a special-interest school or a class run by a municipality or individual, you want to make sure it’s a valuable experience. After all, you’ll be using your precious travel time to take advantage of the class – you want it to be A+ material!

  • Extra Credit


Travel is always a learning experience. So why should you diverge from the “no more pencils, no more books” philosophy when traveling?

Taking a class – from a one-day drop-in session to a long-term enrollment – comes with some unique benefits that can really make a trip memorable.

No matter how intriguing you find a certain subject, studying that subject on-location makes it come alive! If you loved reading about Greek mythology from the musty stacks of your local library, wait until you try it with the Parthenon looming outside your classroom window.


Study can be independent, but taking a class isn’t an isolated endeavor. You’ll be side by side with fellow students from all walks of life and from all around the world, who share a common interest. Taking a class generates instant camaraderie, making it a fantastic way to meet people and make friends on the road.

Finally, enrolling in a course often offers fringe benefits.

Remember my class in London? It culminated in a field trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where instructors took us behind the scenes and let us study rare books usually tucked away in their special collections. I ended up with my nose in a 12th Century illuminated manuscript.

Sometimes being part of a class gets you special access to the things that really light your nerdy fire.

The lesson here is, you don’t have to choose between hitting the books and hitting the road. With a little research and a bit of roaming, a Go! Girl can make her way to the front of the class… wherever it may be.

Have experience with classes or schools abroad? Looking for that one particular course or the perfect place to learn?

Take a study break and tell us what subjects get you going!


About Author

When Julie was a little kid, she conspiratorially whispered to her dad, "You know what? I have powers." It took the world, and Julie, about 20 years to figure out what the heck she meant by that. But in 2010, when a chance backpacking adventure turned into a year of transformational travel, she cracked it: her super power is Wonder Wandering. Her mission? Using her powers of volunteering for globe-trotting good, not evil. Her kryptonite? Stayin' put.

1 Comment

  1. I totally relate to that post! I spent a year studying abroad at the University of Kansas through the ISEP (INternational Student Exchange Program) and it was probably one of the best experience of my life so far!
    I got to actually experience college life in the US and I met so many wonderful people, some of them have become my best friends, and I will never forget them!
    Plus, it’s an awesome way to meet people from all other the world that you can then visit 🙂

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