Entering college, study abroad wasn’t even a blip on my horizon. I was focused on feverishly securing multiple jobs and affording my looming tuition bill on my meager salary and non-existent family financial support.
Living from paycheck to paycheck has become a reality for me, as well as for a variety of other college undergrads who embark on the journey of education, knowing full well their debt may soar into the six-figure range. Yet even with this knowledge, I began sheepishly scrolling through study abroad catalogs sophomore year, beginning to entertain the idea of buying airplane tickets and expanding my cultural knowledge.
So here I am, almost finished with my second semester abroad, which I funded entirely on my own. This was possible only with the help of financial aid, multiple jobs, pre-planning and the harsh realities of adaptation. Here are some facts and resources I’ve gathered throughout my experiences. If you’re in a similar financial situation to myself, hopefully I’ll provide you with some hope that going abroad is a possibility that will be beyond worth it.
Financial aid has been my dearest companion throughout my entire college experience, and especially during study abroad. I was shocked to learn how inexpensive international schools are. For instance, where my home school of the University of Rochester is about $70,000 a year, the IES Abroad Quito program has an estimated cost of $17,585 while my IES Abroad Amsterdam program has an estimated cost of $19,900. The two costs clearly add up to significantly less than my home school tuition, yet my home school requires I continue to pay their tuition price. At first, I was aghast, but then realizing the significant drop in tuition that comes from excluding on-campus housing and meal plans, the cost evened out to be much less than my typical semester tuition.
My financial aid counselor Carrie was truly my saving grace. From the moment I contemplated study abroad till my second semester in the experience, she has offered guidance and has given me any and all financial information I could think of asking for. I recommend finding out who your home school financial aid counselor is and utilizing their expertise. Carrie arranged my financial aid and scholarships so that I took out more in loans than the actual cost of tuition, enabling me to receive a “refund” from my school. This extra few thousand dollars is what enabled me to be financially stable abroad, even though I lacked a work VISA and was unable to obtain an income for the past year.
Both IES Abroad, my home university, and outside sources offered numerous scholarships to help me afford a semester abroad. I took full advantage of the IES Abroad scholarships, obtaining a few thousand in aid each semester. IES Abroad also offers a program discount; if you do two IES Abroad programs, you get a percentage off your second semester tuition. The scholarship that I was most thrilled to receive was the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The Gilman scholarship is a prestigious scholarship offered to students studying abroad who have limited finances and who receive a Pell Grant. Through this scholarship, I’m connected to the large Gilman community and have access to alumni services. With the acceptance of this scholarship, you also have the requirement and wonderful opportunity of fulfilling a sort of service project. This project should emulate what your experience abroad means to you, and how receiving the Gilman scholarship aids this endeavor. For my project, I’ve become an ambassador at my home university Education Abroad office so that if students have questions or need guidance through their process of going abroad, I will be available as a resource. This IES Abroad blog is also a component of my follow-up service work.
Saving and adapting
If you’re struggling financially, working extra jobs is almost a requirement of pre-abroad planning. But those 14 hour double shifts were worth it in the end. The harsh reality about going abroad is that the cost of your semester will always be more than expected. And of course, as in any unexpected situation, you must adjust and adapt. Start off this adaptation early on, by saving up more money than you expect to spend. For me, this included making adjustments while abroad as well, turning to my saving account when times got rough, and spending some weekends at home in leu of venturing to another town or country.
Last semester in Quito, I decided to go to the Galapagos Islands, which was one of the best trips of my year abroad. But it set me slightly over my spending limit and resulted in me having to spend the following few weekends at home with my host family instead of traveling with friends. It was a relief to know that although I felt that I had pushed myself too thin financially, there were ways to correct it by altering my budget for the following weeks to spend almost nothing.
Europe was an entirely different reality check. In Quito, my host mom provided all my meals, so eating was never an issue. In Europe, the daily cost of life is incrementally higher than in Ecuador, and I’m forced with the task of cooking for myself. Traveling wasn’t just a $6 bus ride and a $10 hostel with friends anymore. I have been slapped in the face with the cost of plane tickets, hostels, and eating while traveling. Again, adaptation was a skill I quickly picked up. I travel far less in Amsterdam than I did in Ecuador, yet still have plans to travel for a more extended period of time at the end program when airlines are cheaper because I will be flying shorter distances. It’s also useful to look up estimated costs of food and travel of the country you’re going to, as money differs across the EU. A hostel for 20 pounds in London is about $30, while $20 in Prague is about 436 CZK. Money matters, and the cost of living in the county you visit should be researched before you buy your plane ticket.
Although budgeting can be a drag and listening to friends speak of the seemingly endless supply of cash they receive from their family is grueling, I’m here to tell you that with or without familial support, going abroad can be an opportunity of a lifetime. Although embarking on a year in foreign lands has drained my bank account, I’ve become fluent in Spanish, gathered friends from around the globe, delved into academic opportunities that are not accessible at my home university, successfully traveled alone, and have expanded my cultural knowledge and sense of self.
If you’re determined to go abroad, do what you can to get yourself there. It’s worth it.
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<p>I’m studying psychology and gender studies at the University of Rochester. I just came back from studying in Quito, Ecuador for a semester and this spring semester I will be studying in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I feel most at home when I’m backpacking and climbing mountains, I’m a lover of pancakes and language, and I’m skilled at sleeping on all forms of public transport.</p>