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Lesser-known Erasmus destinations

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Joanna Hughes :
France. Spain. Germany. Italy. The UK. These are the first countries that come to mind with mention of the word Erasmus. However, if you're looking for more of an "off the beaten path" Erasmus experience, you're in luck. These five European destinations may not be as famous, but they're well worth discovering.
1. Liechtenstein
Spanning just 62 square miles, landlocked Liechtenstein is small in size (the sixth smallest country in the world, to be exact), but large in charm. Bordered on the east by Africa and on the south and West by Switzerland, it is the only country located entirely in the Alps.
But amazing Alpine scenery is just the start of what you'll find waiting for you in this German-speaking country. From delightful villages to an annual garden party for the entire country hosted by the reigning Prince Hans Adam II, Liechtenstein boasts a unique and vibrant culture.
A booming economy, central European location, and status as one of the safest countries in the world round out the reasons why Lichtenstein is an attractive study spot for international students.
2. New Caledonia
As a "special collectivity" of France and therefore technically part of the EU, this island located just off of Australia's northeast coast is eligible for Erasmus. Says Lonely Planet of this dazzling destination, "New Caledonia isn't just a tropical playground. There's a charming mix of French and Melanesian: warm hospitality sitting beside European elegance, gourmet food beneath palm trees, sand, resorts, and bungalows. Long gorgeous beaches are backed by cafes and bars, with horizons that display tiny islets to attract day trippers. Be lured into kayaks or microlights, rock climb, sail, dive into a world of corals, canyons, caves and shipwrecks, go whale watching or snorkeling, or relax on the warm sand of a deserted isle. Natural wonders and manmade delights are at your fingertips."
But don't take our word for it. Here's what one Erasmus exchange student had to say about her time in New Caledonia: "Take two pairs of swimsuit and get prepared for the best time of your life."
3. Gibraltar
Located between Spain and Morocco, this British territory boasts an abundance of wild monkeys, gorgeous sunsets,amazing dive spots and unusual cuisine. And then there's its rich history: Historians think Neanderthals may have died out in this picturesque peninsula.
Home to just one university which offers programs in business, health science and sports science, life and earth science, and tourism and hospitality, Gibraltar offers a truly unusual study abroad experience.
4. The Azores
Says Portugal.com of this breathtaking, nine-island autonomous region, "There are many stories to tell of the archipelago's beauty, of fishermen or shepherds, but among them there is one which was told by a holidaymaker. As a foreign couple was silently looking at the Caldeira das Sete Cidades when they were interrupted by their six-year-old son, who asked them: 'Is this God's home?'"
Echoes TripAdvisor of this enchanting destination, "The nine islands that make up the Azores are in fact the peaks of some of the world's tallest mountains, reaching from deep beneath the Atlantic. The once-uninhabited, volcanic archipelago now hosts thousands of tourists every year who flock to the islands for sun, sand and verdant mountain scenery. From the beaches of Praia da Vitoria to the bustling marina of Horta, to the bubbling volcanic ground 'ovens' of Furnas, these islands offer unparalleled-and unusual-adventures to discover."
This volcanic archipelago located in the mid-Atlantic has just one university, but the experience of studying here is packed with opportunities for international students seeking the extraordinary.
5. Åland
Located in the Baltic Sea at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia between mainland Finland and Sweden, this autonomous Finnish province boasts stunning scenery and many fascinating and accessible things to see and do.
Says VisitFinland.com, "The Åland archipelago consists of around 6 500 islands, but only more than 60 are inhabited. Åland has its own taxation system, its own postage stamps, its own flag and Swedish as its only official language.
For travelers, the Åland islands offer activities from adventurous island-hopping to boating, fishing, golfing and lots more. It's easy to get from one island to another thanks to the many bridges and ferries, and Åland's roads are terrific for cycling holidays."
Approximately 60 students attend Åland's sole university, which welcomes students from partner universities throughout Europe. And while courses are typically taught in Swedish, some are also available in English.
But these five are just the start when it comes to uncommon Erasmus destinations. If you're curious about other opportunities, be sure to check out Erasmus's list of participating countries.

(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

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