Studying abroad changed my life.

No hyperbole here – even being a kid raised in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the US (holla at ya gurl, DC peeps!), I gained a whole new perspective by living – and traveling – overseas. I actually went to college knowing that I wanted to study abroad, but that intention was cemented by a simple set of questions I asked all the seniors when I started my program:

  1. What is the best thing you did in your four years here?
  2. What is the one thing you wish you would have done?

Almost to a man, they said either, “I’m so glad I studied abroad” or “I wish I had studied abroad.” And that was it. I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to go.

How to Pay for Study Abroad

But overseas travel, lodging, and classes are expensive! If you’re thinking that, you’re absolutely right. I was paying about $7,500 a year at my university and my study abroad program in the UK cost me over $16,000 for a semester. Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I got that totally covered by scholarships and everything was just peachy. I did have an almost $4,000 scholarship that covered about a quarter, which was great; I had a little bit of savings earmarked for the trip, which definitely helped; and ultimately, I asked my grandparents for a loan to cover the rest, which I paid off in part by selling my first car and later had a portion of it forgiven due to their incredible generosity. But the good news is, there is lots of funding out there for students who, like me, are looking to broaden their horizon.

  1. Program-specific funds
    If you’re looking at studying abroad as part of your program,¬† you should definitely ask your department or college if they have funds set aside for students in that major track. The worst they can say is ‘no,’ and if they do, then you’re that much closer to your goal. My husband is currently in a Masters program that requires a summer study abroad – asking the department was our first line of attack when looking at how to fund that trip.
  2. Grants
    Studying abroad is especially attractive if you’re gaining a language skill. There are federal programs and grants that will help students pay for their trip if they are acquiring a critical language like Mandarin or Arabic. The government recognizes our need to communicate and they might even pay you to learn how.
  3. Scholarships
    There’s actually a surprising amount of scholarships available to students who are planning to study abroad. Like I mentioned above, start with your global education office at your school, but then search high and low for organizations looking to help students become more global citizens. It’s definitely worth the time and effort if you don’t want that trip to become more of a liability than an asset.

Managing Your Expenses

The other part of keeping a study abroad trip reasonable is a) knowing what you’re getting into and b) having a plan.

Know What You’ve Signed Up For

When I studied overseas for the first time, I knew there would be several weekend excursions that were rolled into our trip cost. I took advantage of about 85% of those because I realized that first, I might never get another chance to tour the UK, and second, I would be losing money if I didn’t take advantage of the planning that the group had done on my behalf. I actually got to see the University of Cambridge on that trip – little did I know that I would live there five years later. I also knew the exchange rate, did research on what bank would give me the best deal on currency, and more. I was fairly prepared (except that¬†one time when I realized that I didn’t know my PIN – oops! thanks Mom….), but I know that in the long run even those simple steps saved me a bundle.

Have A Plan

While I wasn’t as budget-savvy then, I did have a pretty good grasp on how much money I had to put toward weekend trips that weren’t part of my program, what I could afford to eat, what kind of transportation I could take, etc. I highly recommend having an actual budget laid out for your whole trip, as that will probably make your experience much less stressful.

Tips and Tricks for Saving When Studying Abroad

Like I said, I had a plan.

Transportation

After going through our little orientation and seeing where I would be living in relation to everything else I would be doing, I realized really quickly that I was going to be walking A LOT. I was terrified of biking due to some stories that I now think were specifically told to discourage us from purchasing a bike – a decision I would undo if I had it to do over. The bus stopped right around the corner, but it was expensive to take every day or — heaven forbid — multiple times a day, so I walked more that semester than I probably ever have in the same time period in my life. This choice definitely limited my activities, but I got a lot of great exercise and time to think, not to mention it made me more selective in what I chose to do, so I think overall, it was a win.

Groceries

Most of the other people who were also part of the program ate out. A LOT. I was aware that eating out more than a few times wasn’t in my budget if I wanted to travel beyond the arranged excursions or enjoy some of the location specific experiences that I couldn’t do anywhere else, so I found the closest grocery store and ate cheap. I’m a bit of a foodie, so it was a little bit of a sacrifice, but, in hindsight, I know it was one of the best decisions I made since it freed up funds for other things.

The Fun Stuff

I did travel beyond the organized excursions – I went to Ireland near the beginning of our semester and Paris at the end. Both were life-changing and I’m so so so glad I walked and ate cheaply so I could go. I also went to a black tie ball at the student union. The ticket was a little pricey, but it was a night I’ll probably never forget. And it was on my birthday, so that was pretty amazing. But I also did a bunch of free stuff that was key to how studying abroad changed my life. I got really involved with a church there, serving with a ministry team and really bonding with some native students. The experiences I had with them have shaped the rest of my life. I played basketball for my college. I took long walks by the river and through the parks. I got kebabs at 2am. I did things that changed how I looked at the world and even how I saw myself. I stretched and grew in ways I didn’t know were possible – and it changed my life.

So if there’s one thing I’d encourage you to do while you’re in college, it’s to study abroad. But don’t worry – you don’t have to go into debt to do it.