The pros and cons of studying in Latin America
Latin America is full of wonderful things with a smattering of the not-so-savoury... Source: Shutterstock

For adventurous international students, the world is your oyster.

The principal calling card of the location they will one-day call their study home should be one of curiosity and excitement. One continent usually springs to mind when these words are deployed: Latin America.

For far too long, this continent has been ignored as a potential study destination. Living in the shadows of the traditionally more popular countries like North America and the United Kingdom, and now with Asia harbouring a wealth of rising newcomers, some of Latin America’s most renowned universities are yet to be given their moment in the spotlight.

Hearsay may be compelling for the ears, but as in many cases, research will be the best way to truly get in the know (hello Internet!). This is how you can lay to rest all concerns about your new study destination, from its policies towards immigrants to how the climate changes through the year.

Likewise with all countries, your research will result in some favourable and not-so-favourable information. It can be hard to decipher so many (after all, there are 20 countries in the region) and so many angles to look from.

To ease this process for you, we summarise three pros and cons you should be aware of if you’re keen to head to Latin America for your studies:

Pro: Academic reputation

With economies developing rapidly, so is the region’s higher education sector. Over the past decade, the number of students in higher education has doubled across Latin America and the Caribbean, World Bank data shows. Currently, there are about 20 million students,10,000 higher education institutions and 60,000 study programmes across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). It’s a thriving academic scene.

Some of the region’s most renowned institutions include Brazil’s State University of Campinas (Unicamp) which is ranked 1st in the Times Higher Education’s Latin America University Rankings 2017 and 2nd in the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018. (Pro tip: Tuition at Unicamp – like other public universities in Brazil – is free for EU students).

Con: Lack of focus on research

Many LAC governments do not invest enough in university research and development. Coupled with the limited attractiveness of academic profession here – in terms of pay, prestige and working conditions – many research universities are not able to fully reach their potential in science and technology endeavours across the region.

Things look to have improved in recent years, with more efforts by local research communities to collaborate internationally, particularly with North America and Europe.

Pro: Affordable

Studying at a Latin American university will most likely be relatively cheaper than other countries like North America, the United Kingdom or Australia. Two factors lie behind this: tuition fees and living costs.

In countries like Brazil, free public education up to postgraduate level is a right enshrined in its Federal Constitution. At its private institutions, tuition fees can range from around US$2,000 to over $10,000 per year.

As for living costs, this would depend on the country you choose. In countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, it’s possible to comfortably live on just US$800 per month. For countries like Argentina and Brazil, the cost goes up to US$1,000 per month – still a steal compared to the average living costs in the UK and North America.

Con: Safety and Crime

According to The Economist’s Safe Cities Index 2017 – which measures 60 cities based on 49 indicators covering digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security -Venezuela’s Caracas, Ecuador’s Quito and Colombia’s Bogota are among the least safe of the 60 cities analysed. The highest ranking is Chile’s Santiago, but only at 35th spot.

Meanwhile, in Numbeo’s Crime Index 2018, Honduras’s San Pedro Sula and Venezuela’s Caracas are first and second-ranked respectively, followed by Brazil’s Forta Leza and Salvador in 4th and 7th spots respectively. While we may disregard statistics as mere numbers, first-hand accounts do not paint a picture of cities safe enough to walk through without at some point encountering danger.

Pro: Breathtaking landscape and culture

Source: Giphy

Rainforests, white sandy beaches and majestic mountains – what more can a traveler ask for? Travel is one of the biggest perks of studying abroad and if you head to Latin America, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to destinations to travel to during semester breaks.

For the rest of the year, be prepared to be blown away by the lively and passionate way Latin Americans so famously live their lives. Also, who can ignore their week-long street celebrations like the carnival in Brazil and Chile’s Independence Day street fairs?

Con: Language

Unlike Europe and Asia, the region is still lagging in terms of the number of English-medium courses offered within its universities. Most courses are taught in Spanish while in Brazil, Portuguese is the official language of delivery. While the schools in the region do teach English, increasingly so in private courses, it is still not widely spoken.

It’s one of the biggest barriers in attracting international students to the region although in recent years, reports show that Latin American universities are starting to offer more courses in English, seeking accreditation from the US in a bid to attract more English-speaking students.

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