Travel: so much to do, so much to see, so many places to go; but what about those inevitable stationary moments? Let’s face it; if you are a regular person, you are going to need some down time every now and again to mentally and physically recharge. If you are an exchange student, you probably also have financial limitations on how much you can travel, and dare I say, some studies to attend to. For one or more of these reasons, you are staying put for a while. So now what? The obvious answer is make the most of the time by discovering local culture, customs, foods, attractions, and above all, people; but is this the best bang for your buck? After all, time is limited, and if you are like me, you want to maximize every minute of your time abroad.
Now don’t get me wrong, no matter where you end up, it’s probably going to be great, but to really maximize your time, you can’t do any better than that unique strip of territory less than an hour’s travel from an international border. Here, for your consideration, are 5 reasons why borderlands are better:
1. Borderlands expand your travel options.
If you end up with only weekends for travelling, or are biding your time for one big trip, being close to the border just amped up your travel plans. No, I’m not going to the next big city for the weekend; I’m just popping out of the country for a bit; and for vacation, three more countries are in easy travelling range! Talk about making the most of your time.
2. Borderlands are the first stop for international products and people.
Let’s say, for whatever reason, you can’t get to the country next door, but you still want to get a taste of it. If you’re in a border region, chances are you’ll have way more access to food and commercial products from neighbouring countries, as well as the chance to meet people from there. If you can’t go to them, let them come to you.
3. Borderlands are more culturally layered.Customs, costumes, architecture, languages and more! Borderlands bear the marks of times when those regions changed hands, were occupied, or when they just copied something cool from the neighbours. To illustrate, the town of Besançon, in Eastern France, is surrounded by Franco-German fortifications, hosts Roman ruins, medieval Germanic houses, and a mixed Italian and French renaissance downtown surrounding a part Flemish – part Spanish palace. The town was controlled by all of those groups over its long-history, and while architecture is the most obvious legacy, they all left much more to be discovered. Speaking of which…
4. Borderlands have cool stories.
Fewer changes, fewer stories, simple as that. As countries evolve and history is written, most of the exciting stuff happens at, or because of borderlands, which rack up impressive amounts of stories to discover. Try talking to elderly locals, or checking out museums; failing that, check Wikipedia.
5. Borderlands look better.
While this may not be true for every border of every country, a lot of borders are decided along convenient natural barriers. Rivers, oceans, mountain ranges, deserts, forests, valleys…I’ll stop before I sound like a geography textbook, but you get the picture.
As you can see, living by the border offers a lot of advantages to the temporarily grounded traveler. So far I’ve been emphasizing the fact that borderlands maximize your stationary time, but even that maximization can be taken to another level by the really ambitious. That next level is achieved, simply enough, by going where countries are smaller, and borders are abundant. Europe is by far the best choice for this, as a high density continent with a shared visa system. But if Europe doesn’t spark your interest, do not worry. While the border-dense areas of Africa and the Middle East are often unfortunately limited by strife, strict entry requirements, or a lack of hosts for the aspiring exchange student, Central and South America, as well as Southeast Asia also have lots of countries in close proximity, and a host of universities open for exchanges. Most of these countries also have short term tourist allowances, which may require an easy-to-get visa or none at all; perfect for quick trips. If you end up in a border region and want to know if you’re allowed next door for a short trip, www.projectvisa.com has good summaries of visa-requirements which can save you from navigating potentially complicated or foreign language government websites.
At this point, I had planned to come up with a witty concluding line about living on the edge, but the info pretty well speaks for itself. Instead I’ll just restate that to maximize your time abroad, you’ll find no better than the border.
Written by: Preston Arens (History Student at Thompson Rivers University & 2013-2014 Study Abroad Ambassador). Studied abroad for 2 semesters at Université de Franche-Comté in Besançon, France and travelled extensively around Europe 🙂