What to Know About Earning a Degree in Latin America
Latin America universities can offer international students an affordable education and cultural immersion.
When Mason Taylor spent a semester abroad in Chile – while an undergrad at the University of Oklahoma – he says he fell in love with the country. So much so that after he graduated he returned to Chile to work as an English teacher and pursue graduate school there.
“The challenge of learning Spanish, of the deep immersion, brought me back, which is why after I graduated I came back to work and study,” says Taylor, who graduated in 2016 with a master’s in international relations and foreign affairs from the Pontificia Universidad Catòlica de Valparaìso.
Latin America is made up of the continent of South America as well as Central America, Mexico and islands of the Caribbean. For international students looking to go abroad, Latin America’s growing economy and education sector may provide favorable conditions for an affordable and culturally enriching experience.
Prospective international students should be aware that universities in Latin America typically use Spanish as the language of instruction, or Portuguese in the case of Brazil. Here are three factors prospective international students should keep in mind when considering this region.
Scholarships. Finding scholarships can help international students narrow down which Latin American country to study in.
Experts say students considering full degree programs should look into government scholarships. For example, the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation, part of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has scholarships for international students interested in pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate.
Nongovernment scholarships to consider include the Roberto Rocca Education Program for students seeking undergraduate study in engineering, geosciences and materials science at select universities in Argentina, and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization’s scholarship for U.S. citizens to study medicine in Cuba.
Taylor says contacts he made while working as an English teacher in Chile led him to work at Pontificia Universidad Catòlica de Valparaìso, which offered him financial help to complete his master’s.
“My advice for students who are interested in studying abroad in Latin America is to reach out to both the international offices at a local university and to the potential thesis coordinators for the program of their choosing,” says Taylor, a U.S. program officer for Fulbright Chile.
Taylor says U.S. citizens looking for a post-bachelor’s nine-month research project abroad may also consider the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for study in Chile. He says it provides young researchers an opportunity “to meet with Chilean academics; and establish contacts for their future careers, in academia or otherwise.”
Affordability. Prospective international students may also want to weigh the cost of living and university tuition compared with other regions.
Experts say countries like Ecuador and Mexico are; on the lower end for cost of living in Latin America, with Brazil, Argentina; and Chile on the higher end but still affordable in comparison to the U.S. or Europe.
When it comes to the cost of attendance, Claudine Vainrub, principal of consulting firm EduPlan; says that universities in Latin America; cost significantly less than many of their peers in the U.S.
Whereas Columbia University’s cost of attendance – tuition, living expenses and other fees – amounts to at least $65,000 per year for four years, the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina only is a fraction of that cost,” Vainrub says.
Gabriela Rivera, associate dean for international affairs at Centro de Enseñanza Técnica Y Superior, or CETYS, in Mexico, says tuition for a four-year undergraduate degree is approximately $5,000 per semester, and the cost of living in the Mexican state of Baja California, where the university is located, is about $600 per month.
In addition, Vainrub says finding and keeping a job while completing an undergraduate degree in countries in Latin America can be less difficult than in the U.S.
“With laws being less restrictive regarding work permits and opportunities; for international students to hold jobs, it is easier for any international student; to find other means to subsidize their education,” Vainrub says.
Academic and professional growth. Latin America can also provide international students with opportunities for language; and cultural immersion that can benefit their degree program and future careers.
“Since day one I fell for Ensenada life. Such a beautiful and relaxed place,” says Albi Hysa, an Albanian student who is; a senior engineering major at the Ensenada campus of CETYS. The school’s other two campuses are in Mexicali and Tijuana. Mexico is a great place to study and live, Hysa says.
Rivera says CETYS’s location along the U.S.-Mexico border gives international students the best of both sides of the border; “bicultural sensibility, bilingualism and close ties to multinationals and other universities; in both Mexico and the U.S.”
International students can greatly benefit from learning Spanish; the second most widely spoken language in the world; Talia Haim, coordinator at Learn Chile, a consortium of Chilean higher education institutions, wrote in an email.
She says the language “is indispensable for achieving better results; and opportunities in the workplace and an invaluable tool to connect with millions of people.”
It was the Spanish language that initially pulled Taylor back to Chile, opening up numerous opportunities.
“I have been blessed to see and incorporate different perspectives; from people from all walks of life, to experience different geographic settings; and different understandings of how the world works; with an especially South American centric point of view,” Taylor says.