Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice […] Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Once you’ve experienced the feeling of travel, discovering new landscapes and cultures you hardly need a better excuse than Twain’s words to justify continuing to do it. However, it can be difficult for students and teachers alike to globe-trot without falling behind in work and life. Below is a compiled a list of resources and tips, ranging in prices of cheap to free, in order to help you keep your head in the academic game whilst studying abroad.
First and foremost, my favourite resource in languages is Duolingo. This wonderful site allows you to learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese or Dutch (Netherlands). While fairly similar to other programs such as Mango Languages or the well-know Rosetta Stone, Duolingo stands apart, even if based solely on the factor of cost. If you’re anything like me, you have probably already opened a side-tab to this article, searched “Duolingo”, and found that the program is totally free. Not only that, but it remains so–forever–and not just when your month-long free trial ends. This site teaches language in a way that is quite similar to the way Khan Academy teaches maths. Once you set up your profile, you test into your proficiency level in the language you have chosen to learn. You will then be asked to complete sets of challenges designed to build-up your skill as far as your ability and drive will take you. The interface is easy to understand and is presented in a way that is both fun and challenging.
If you’re feeling a little starved for a new topic of academia and have some listening time, Education Podcasts on iTunes are usually free or very inexpensive. Often times reputable universities upload whole course lectures as audio files. This means that you can effectively listen to an entire course of study even from Ivy Leagues on your mp3 player for free in your spare time. There are also many other sites that allow you to download free audio courses, a few of which are listed here:
While this list is a mere drop in the ocean of resources for free class audios, these are a few of my favourite and you can learn more than you probably ever dreamed of, just by using one of them.
This innovative site is what made democratizing education both popular and so controversial. Reading about some of its users’ experiences you find the stories of people locked into lives of poverty in third-world countries, but lucky enough to get to a computer for a few hours a day for a few months, learned a marketable skill like programming, and landed a job at some massive tech company. These stories are real examples of how Coursera is making the world a fairer place to live in. If that doesn’t raise a lump in your throat, then maybe I haven’t been sufficiently clear. Go to Coursera and find out what a free Ivy League education is all about.
Khan Academy is a lot like Duolingo, except that it teaches maths. Just like its linguistic counterpart, Khan Academy runs you through a series of fun challenges that suit your skill level. The interfaces are fun and you can work your way through a list of awards and badges which can be shown off to the site community or shared on other social media. If you’re like me and never thought you could be competent in mathematics, let alone calculus, navigate over to Khan Academy and let them prove you wrong.
Everybody knows about Skype, but it’s good to sometimes have alternatives (preparedness is sometimes everything while traveling!). Probably the most robust substitute is the South Korea-based VoIP service, Kakao Talk. Like with Skype, it is free for unlimited use with other Kakao Talk users and supports group text messages. Downsides include its inability to call non-Kakao Talk users, its dependent on Wi-Fi or 3G, isn’t available on Symbian or Nokia phones and there’s no video, but so long as you set up folks you need to talk to back home with the program before you go, you’ll be guaranteed a line of communication as long as you’ve got battery and a signal.
Another rising means for video communication is Google+ Hangouts–so long as your contacts also have a Google account, you can send messages, photos, or use video through computers, Apple devices, Androids, etc. If you’re looking specifically for a means of texting/calls and less for live-time video capabilities, WhatsApp is downloadable to a number of different phones.
Similar to having iMessages between iPhones while you’re on a 3G network or wifi, WhatsApp allows you to send texts, photos, voicemails, videomessages, and make calls, so long as you’re in wifi at least. This is particularly nice when you have your device’s roaming off and you’re avoiding paying for SMS, but you want to call home. Find contacts with the app and somewhere with wifi and text/call away.
Sometimes you won’t have access to some juiced-up computer, wireless signal or AC power to charge your device–so is the nature of travel. In times like these you may need a real textbook; tree-meat and ink. This is where services like Jekkle can come in handy. Jekkle is an Australia-based service that rents and sells textbooks for as cheap as they can possibly come. They go out of their ways to get you your books as well and they even have a buyback service and a trial period wherein you’ll only have to pay for postage if the book you get doesn’t meet your needs. While shipping costs are higher outside of Australia, they may be comparable to the cost of ordering the books elsewhere, or having the stress of carrying them with you from home.
Note of importance: if you choose to rent your books and take them globe-trotting with you, try to keep them in your carry-on luggage. The airlines haven’t gotten any better at keeping track of check-bags and trust me, the anecdotes are ugly.
I hope this list will help to lessen the hindrances to your wanderlust. Remember that it’s best to think of these resources as types of solutions to your travel/academic needs and not absolute solutions by themselves. The world is wide and often strange and the best resource for anyone who wants to keep tending that neural garden upstairs while remaining up-rooted, is flexibility. Remember that there are as many ways to consume information as there are ways to store it. Once you’ve learned something new there are that many ways-plus one.
Andre Smith is a freelance content writer living in the United States. He studied creative writing at Griffith University (Australia) and today writes for Knoji and Elance. When he isn’t writing or chasing his twin toddlers around the Atascadero Ranch in California, he is exploring Baja on his enduro-motorcycle or searching the Sonora Desert for evidence of Carlos Castaneda’s tutelage under Don Juan Matus.