Study abroad advice from the talking picture box.

Image of a man on a TV looking for a study abroad program



Studying abroad is about more than just picking a cool place to bed down for a semester. It’s also about what you get from the whole experience. But you don’t want to be caught in such a culture shock that the trip ends up being a bad time. If baguettes and wine make you queasy than you can cross France right off your list of choices. If kangaroos are a source of torment and anxiety than perhaps Australia isn’t for you. But as the Aussies would say, ‘no worries.’ I would be a bad American if I turned to anything other than television shows to tell me what to do. Thus, here are a few shows to help facilitate your choice of Study Abroad destinations.

Parts Unknown

If you didn’t think Anthony Bourdain was going to be on this list then shame on you. This guy has made the better half of his living on the Travel Channel’s No Reservations but now has an even more compelling program on CNN titled Parts Unknown. The two shows are like a PC and a Mac; mostly the same except they are not.

Parts Unknown follows the familiar voice of Bourdain throughout many exotic locations. Some notable mentions include Copenhagen, Johannesburg, Spain, and more. Unlike his previous TV stint, Bourdain takes a little bit of a back seat in this series and lets locals squire him about town. What? You don’t like the idea of watching a famous celebrity chef and entrepreneur eat at Sizzler in L.A.’s Koreatown? The food on the show is stellar and takes the stage while witty humor, local flavor, and an overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity make this show perfect for a preliminary dissection of your potential host city.

PBS Nature

Yes I said it. PBS. Please, hold your cries of boredom back because public broadcasting can do you a lot of good. It’s surprising how many fellow 20-somethings I know don’t indulge in the wealth of material available through the Public Broadcasting Service.

Nature could actually be what reveals some of the most enticing beauty about where you’ll be studying. I had a friend go to Africa for a while and his instagram turned into a tangible form of all that stuff you see during “The Circle of Life.” Here’s the lowdown on the PBS nature docs. First of all, they are spectacular and have a fair amount of production value. They’re shot beautifully. Second, they are free to watch so for those of us (raise your hand) Netflix junkies will have no problem watching them online.

These docs have gorgeous pictures of the landscapes and wildlife in the regions they’re filmed. I already know that if possible you are all going to Snapchat everyone with the obligatory shot of the plane’s wing when you’re airborne but how about when you actually land? If aesthetics are important to your vibe and you need an idea of what the rainforest really looks and feels like then you can turn to PBS and the Nature series for a helpful preview.

Music Voyager

This show is more of a bonus because as far as I know it’s only available on Amazon Instant Video. You can probably score the service for free temporarily if you haven’t exhausted an Amazon Student account (free Prime and Instant Video). Music Voyager features Ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar around the world as he explores foreign beats. The slogan is ‘Tune in to the World.” Sounds “Study Abroad” enough for me.

The locations he’s covered include the West Indies, India and East Asia, Louisiana, and beyond. Music is a spectacular way to explore a region and culture due to the fact that even instruments are location based objects. The rhymes and rhythm of another country can tell you the history of its people, and its future. For those of us that want to capture the true essence of a specific region and culture Music Voyager is there to offer some guidance.


– Mark Melchior

image of mark melchiorMark Melchior is a recent graduate of the Park school of Communications, Ithaca College. 

Connect with Mark through LinkedIn. 



How Much to Tip While Studying Abroad? A User’s Guide

2010-08-20 Brazilian currency

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A great way to experience your new country is to check out the local restaurants and cafe’s. Experience the food, practice your language skills and absorb the new culture. It’s important however, to know the tipping etiquette. Not all countries are created equal in this manner so it’s important to know the individual customs.

Here’s the first piece of insight. America is the only country where people tip as much as 20% of the bill. This is extremely high compared to many countries who tip 10% at the most, if at all.

Below see more of what is customary around the world. If you find yourself unsure, just play it safe and follow what the locals are doing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask locals!

Anyone have any funny (or not so funny) stories of tipping gone wrong? Tell us about them in the comments!

Paris Cafe

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Mr. Mystery

Most European Countries: Look on the bill to see if a “service charge” has been added. This often can replace the need for a tip, but typically it’s courtesy to tip 5-10% in addition to the charge. This ends up being a very small amount and many people simply leave extra change as the tip. (As is the case in France) The exception is the UK where tipping in addition to the service charge isn’t necessary.  Many Eastern European countries don’t include service charges, so tip 10-15%. When in doubt, leave 10%. You won’t risk insulting anyone, and they’ll likely be happy to make extra money off tourists who don’t understand the local culture.

Latin America: The rules for this continent align closely with Europe, although everywhere has exceptions. Many restaurants will include a “service charge” in which case, it’s a safe bet to tip an additional 10% just in case. There may be places where it’s not necessary, but you won’t risk insulting anyone if you do leave a tip.

Restaurants and fountains in Xi'an

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Asia: Here’s where things get complicated, so pay attention. There’s no cut and dry answer as each country varies dramatically. Sometimes if the location is very westernized, it will be better to leave a tip as they will expect the western customs.

Singapore: It’s not necessary to tip in Singapore. Some luxury hotels or restaurants may accept a small tip, but that’s it. Note: Don’t tip at the airport as it’s actually outlawed. Want to read more about Singapore? Our Global Ambassador, Theresa, wrote about her trip to Singapore.

Japan: Don’t tip, ever.  Wait staff won’t know what to do with the extra money and may even be insulted.

Thailand: It’s not necessary, yet it may be a good idea to leave a little extra for exceptional service. You may also be expected to tip a small amount if you’re at a luxury hotel or restaurant.

South Korea: Tipping is not expected and some nicer restaurants or hotels will add a service charge. No need to tip anything extra.

Taiwan: Restaurants will likely add a small service charge and tipping extra is not necessary. Want to know more about living in Taiwan? Our Global Ambassador, Jake, writes all about it in his post about cultural differences between Taiwan and America.

Cambodia: Like the rest of Southeast Asia, most establishments don’t require a tip, but leaving extra change on the table is ok. Nicer restaurants will include a service charge.

India: There’s no concept of tipping, yet it’s ok to leave extra change at nicer restaurants.

New Zealand: Servers at restaurants make a decent wage, so there’s no need to tip on top of the bill.

Australia: Like New Zealand, servers are paid well so there isn’t a need to tip, yet it is expected at very nice restaurants. There is some debate about tipping in this country. What do you think? Ever been?

Did we leave anything off? Let us know your experience in the comments and we’ll update the post!

Want to read insider reviews from fellow study abroad students? Click here to find your perfect program!