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Top Study Abroad Destinations for 2022

By Diane Selkirk

Sometimes the biggest challenge is deciding where to go.

The reasons for studying abroad are well-known: It’s a great way to become more independent, make connections, advance future careers, and see a new part of the world. Living in another country or region gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and broaden your perspective. Future employers also value the skills studying abroad imparts, including the hard-to-articulate “soft skills” that allow you to adapt to changing circumstances, connect with across cultures and persevere during difficult times.

The challenging part? Deciding where to go.

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), young Canadians traditionally head to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and France. And while these destinations have a lot going for them, some may be more about tradition than the future.

New programs and scholarships from Canada’s International Education Strategy focus on a different set of countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America. The hope is that by encouraging students to study in less traditional locations, it will foster the kind of specialized technical and cultural knowledge and new economic relationships that give these students an edge in an ever-evolving job market.

With 2022 is shaping up to be another complex travel year, we’ve checked in with the QS' World University Rankings 2022, and a variety of interest groups including the CBIE, the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) and Canada’s International Education Strategy to look at trends and determine the best places to study abroad this year.

Best Country for Cultural Experiences: Italy

In an independent study commissioned by Flywire that surveyed more than 1,000 college and university students in five countries around the world, 44 percent of Canadian students cite new cultural experiences as their top reason for studying internationally. While culture can be defined in a lot of ways, a survey by Educations.com found of the 2,700 students they asked, Italy came ranked first for people wanting to experience a new culture or lifestyle.

With a new language to learn, access to incredible museums and cultural sites, excellent food and world-class schools (with lots of course options in English), it’s no wonder Italy came out on top. About 30,000 international students head to Italy each year and spend time in some of the oldest schools in Europe: The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, the University of Padua in 1222 and the University of Naples in 1224.

Best Country for Studying STEM: Nordic Nations

Finances are often listed as the top reason students don’t study abroad—it can be a daunting experience to sort out how much the whole thing will cost. The big budget items tend to break down into two: there’s tuition and there’s the cost of living.

One way to save money is choosing a country with low or no tuition costs. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all offer opportunities to study free or at low cost (though in some cases this only applies to students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland). This fact earned a few Nordic cities places in the QS World University Rankings for best cities for student living.

The region is also considered an up-and-coming one for international students—especially those interested in technology and sustainability at a master’s level. Nordic countries are known for their cutting-edge companies and economies focused on a clean, environmentally conscious future—and English-language school programs often attract engineers and environmentalists.

Best Country for Affordable Student Living: Mexico

Mexico is listed as one of QS’ 10 most affordable places to study abroad. It’s also a destination that both Canada and the US are eager to strengthen ties with, meaning that career opportunities are growing, as are the number of scholarships available. Canada offers Organization of American States (OAS) Academic Scholarships of up to USD$10,000 per academic year “to promote the economic, social, scientific and cultural development of the member states in order to strengthen ties and achieve a stronger bond and better understanding among the peoples of the Americas.”

About 45,000 international students choose Mexico for some part of their postsecondary education each year. With a low cost of living, affordable in-country travel and a fun loving culture Mexico is the 12th most popular study abroad destination worldwide among U.S. students.

Best Country for Finding Work While Studying: Germany

Being able to work while studying is essential for many students and can be an important factor in choosing an international destination. Several countries permit students to work including the USA, UK, France, China, Australia and Germany. Some countries make this process easier though; the pay is higher, the restrictions are limited and the unemployment rates are low enough there are jobs for students.

German universities offer free and low-cost education for international students (check out the German Academic Exchange Service, known under their German acronym DAAD for more info), and it is both legal and common to work with a student visa (hours are restricted to 120 full days each year or 240 half days). As an additional incentive, if you want to stay in Germany after your degree, international students with a residence permit can extend their stay up to 18 months, as long as the job you’re doing is related to your field of study.

Best Country for Study Abroad Diversity: Australia

Australia has long been incredibly popular with Canadian students looking to gain teaching qualifications, but now there’s even more reason to head down under. The country topped the QS Best Student Cities 2022 survey with four cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide) in the top ten for “Student Mix”—a metric that takes into account the number of international students and how likely it is the city and schools will be hospitable to those from diverse social, economic and racial backgrounds.

In 2018, 693,750 international students coming from more than 170 countries were attending post-secondary school in Australia, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. Thanks to efforts to make schools more inclusive, Australia has also seen a 123 percent increase in students with a disability attending university, a 105 cent increase in Indigenous students and a 66 percent increase in students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Best Country for Student Safety: Japan

Prior to the pandemic, Japan had been growing in popularity with international students; coming in ninth for outbound US students, right after Australia. Part of the appeal is universities in Japan have a mandate to increase their international student population to 10 percent by making life easier for foreign students.

By streamlining the education experience—from the application to post-graduation employment, adding more courses in English, and building international student dorms—Japan hopes to attract more students who are interested in getting to know the country. Another benefit for students (and their parents) is that Japan is frequently rated among the safest countries in the world. Crime is low, healthcare is excellent and the infrastructure is modern and well-maintained.

Best Country for Sustainability: Switzerland

Whether you are looking for a top ten school of environmental science (ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, #7 on QS Top Universities), great organic markets, strong environmental laws, or fantastic outdoor adventures Switzerland has you covered. Coming in third on Educations.com best places to study in Europe list, Switzerland attracts international students who are interested in outdoor adventures including hiking, biking, boating and skiing.

Switzerland is also the third most eco-friendly nation in the world according to the World Population Review, which recognizes a country’s environmental trends and progress. Switzerland is a nation of recyclers, manages its water well, and businesses are constantly striving for more sustainable solutions.

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Travel with purpose; travel for good. Articles, resources and events for ethical and meaningful travel, volunteering, working and studying abroad.

Verge believes in travel for change. International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better. This belief is at the core of everything we do.

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