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5 Easy Ways to Experience Culture Without Going Abroad

The cost of studying abroad isn't feasible for many students. If you’re looking for cheaper ways to get intercultural experiences, check out these alternatives.

Studying abroad is often seen as the pinnacle of experiential learning in college. It provides students with opportunities to learn about other cultures and improve their language skills. However, for many people, studying abroad is not a realistic option due to financial limitations or travel restrictions. Fortunately, there are other ways to get exposure to other cultures. With the help of the technology and resources available today, there are plenty of opportunities to get some elements of the international experience you desire without leaving the country.

The challenges of studying abroad

While studying abroad can be an invaluable experience, current travel policies and expensive programs can be significant drawbacks to keep in mind.

Travel restrictions

With the ongoing pandemic, your study abroad options may be limited as some countries still have strict travel restrictions that dictate who can enter the country and why. For example:

  • In Japan, travel for tourism and short-term purposes like study abroad is currently not permitted.
  • In Sweden, there’s currently an entry ban that applies to travelers outside the European Union or European Economic Area. For US students, that means you’ll be unable to visit until the entry ban is lifted.

Other countries are still allowing tourists to visit, but your experience may be affected by regulations for public venues. For instance:

  • In Rome, tourists who want to see the Colosseum have to book their tickets well in advance now, and mask requirements are strictly enforced.
  • In Paris, visitors who want to see the Eiffel Tower must get a vaccine pass—and tourists from the US will have to visit a Parisian pharmacy to get one since the US-issued vaccine card isn’t accepted.

Study abroad costs

Many students are excited about study abroad opportunities, but the cost may be prohibitive. On average, a single semester abroad costs $14,295. However, some study abroad programs can be significantly more expensive. For example, Semester at Sea starts at $26,874 for one academic period. Plus, those costs aren’t comprehensive. Students will have other expenses along with their program and room and board, like travel, visa fees, transportation, and extra spending money (you can’t study abroad without bringing home great souvenirs!). Keep in mind that an entire year of tuition at an in-state public university is $10,740 on average, so a single semester in another country costs significantly more. To cover the cost, study abroad student loans may be necessary, so studying in another country may be out of reach.

5 alternative options for studying abroad

If studying abroad isn’t realistic for you due to cost, travel restrictions, or other concerns, you don’t have to sacrifice your goals and self-growth. With today’s technology and resources, there are ways to get exposure to other cultures and see famous sites without leaving your home country.

1. Volunteer with AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains volunteers to provide help with disaster response, community education, and more. Though not international, you can help people in your area or another state while gaining valuable experience. For example, you could be dispatched to aid with recovery efforts after a tornado, or you may provide support to students in low-income high schools. As an added benefit, AmeriCorps volunteers may be eligible for a living allowance and an education award to pay for college or student loans.

Related: Want to Join AmeriCorps? Here's What You Need to Know

2. Enroll in a virtual language school

One of the biggest reasons people want to study abroad is to practice and hone their foreign language skills by interacting with native speakers. If you can’t study abroad, you can still perfect your skills by enrolling in a virtual language school. Many schools offer live instruction or group chats so you can engage with native speakers. For example, Verbling connects you with live tutors, and you can book sessions that are convenient for your schedule. Plus, virtual language schools are significantly cheaper than studying abroad; you can get started for just $5 per session.

3. Get an internship

You may be surprised to find out that you can apply for virtual global internships. More and more companies are accepting interns from all over the world. Landing one of these internships would allow you to learn about the business and organizations in other countries and interact with your international coworkers remotely. While you can find internship opportunities on your own, you may want to consider paying to participate in a virtual internship program through IES Abroad, a nonprofit organization. Although there’s a cost, IES Abroad offers a range of benefits. It can connect you with eligible employers based on your interests, field of study, and available working hours, and it provides you support throughout the placement process and your internship.

Related: 8 Network and Etiquette Tips to Help You Find Internships

4. Participate in a global exchange program

In virtual global exchange programs, you can work collaboratively with students in other countries on projects that improve communities. You can talk regularly with other students, share your experiences, practice language skills, and gain valuable perspective and insights. For example, United Planet’s virtual exchange program allows students to regularly join classrooms through video, chat, phone, or social media.

5. Take virtual sightseeing tours

While nothing can replace an in-person visit to the Louvre, a virtual tour can serve as a useful substitute when your budget doesn’t allow you to study in France. Many major museums and tourist destinations offer thorough virtual tours to get a feel for the place without visiting, including:

By taking advantage of virtual tours, you can see and learn about history, art, and science from another country’s perspective.

Related: 5 Unique Locations to Consider for Your Study Abroad Travels

Although studying abroad may not be an option for everyone, there are ways to get international experience and broaden your horizons without it. Through domestic volunteer work, internships, and virtual programs, you can learn about different cultures and see famous landmarks without ever leaving your home country.

Want more information on different intercultural opportunities in college? Check out the tag “study abroad” to read more articles and advice.

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