It’s occurred to me that most people here did not make it here on financial aid.
I’m extremely fortunate and privileged to be able to study abroad in absolutely any case. Many people don’t have access to the supportive resources I received from my school in order to get here, afford food, and spend on travel within Italy. Many, even if provided the support, still aren’t able to accept the offer to study abroad due to other financial, health, or familial circumstances. I’m truly fortunate to be here and I don’t take this experience, the ability to spend on leisure, or the resources that got me here for granted.
However, I fall on the lower end of the financial spectrum within my program, and although I should have expected coming here that I’d be among those with more money, many interactions have left me baffled with the unawareness of many of my fellow students. Here’s what you should brace yourself for as a low income student studying abroad.
Firstly, I’ve received a mind-numbing number of insensitive comments from students with money. Derogatory comments on having an android phone, the quality of my clothes, my lack of travel experience, the quality of products I use, my hesitation to spend, my unfamiliarity with brand names. At first, I wondered whether these were intentionally meant to hurt me; it was so sudden, all these interactions. It was never like this at home. But in these interactions, when I mention our financial differences, I’m met with a strange, guilty, almost apologetic awkwardness; it’s as though they didn’t consider this. I try not to mention money in these situations, and do my best to simply brush off the comments. It’s much easier than carrying their strange guilt too.
I’ve also seen stark differences between our priorities. I don’t believe that everyone should share my priorities when it comes to being abroad, but I’m certainly a little put off by the emphasis many place on country counting. It seems the more countries we hit, the more successful our semester abroad was. Travel is expensive, and although I like to assume it’s well-intentioned, the casual “I upped my country count by three this weekend. What did you do?” still throws me off.
Finally, the repetition of “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” has become tiring to hear each time I hesitate to spend money. They mean well; they want me to have fun with them. But it seems that to many people here, the decision to spend is as easy as “will I get another chance?” It’s tough being held to that same standard, even when intentions are kind. It’s just something that many people here don’t understand, and so they misinterpret my hesitation.
Again, I don’t pretend to truly struggle; I can afford to study abroad, after all, and that’s a privilege many don’t have. But I wanted to write a little on the experience I’ve had, and I hope that it can help some of you know what to expect.
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I'm Abigail, a junior studying English and music at Macalester College, and I'll be in Milan, Italy for the spring semester. This is my first time leaving the country, and I want to share my experience as a low-income never-traveled-like-this-before student with you. My interests include writing stories, making art, writing music, learning languages, and exploring the outdoors.