Don’t Let Money Hold You Back
Overcoming the fear of being able to afford studying abroad.
Financially savvy, good with money, a saver, a little cheap; if you can label yourself with any of these titles, first of all, you’re just like me, and second of all, you can still afford to study abroad!
Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity that should be available to anyone. Some of us might be lucky enough not to worry about the cost, but for others, money is a huge factor and sometimes an obstacle to pursuing these opportunities. I’m here to tell you from personal experience that money should never hold you back from pursuing global exploration.
I’m a first generation college student with parents who, with a little convincing, were willing to let me go abroad but who left it up to me to fund my travel. I’ve had a job since I turned 16, but I of course wasn’t earning too much more than minimum wage for most of that time. I knew if this was something I wanted to do I was going to have to really put my mind to it. With a lot of determination and a little extra work, I was able to get funding for my entire semester, even down to my flight.
This funding of course did not come easy. I started planning my semester abroad a year ahead of time so I had time to do plenty of research to find the best option for what I was looking for in a program while also making the best financial choice. I also slowed my coffee drinking and Target visiting habits (which saves a surprising amount of money). Finally, I looked into every scholarship known to man that I was eligible for.
Scholarships. As much as I would like to believe that money grows on trees, it unfortunately does not. Scholarships are the next best thing! Don’t let anyone tell you the process of applying is too much work or that you barely have a chance at receiving any. Schools, organizations and individuals are willing to give you money for something you’re passionate about, so why not do a little research and write a few essays? It could have a major impact on the cost of your study abroad experience.
The one that provided me with the most help is the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, which offers grants to U.S. citizen, undergraduate students with limited financial ability. If you are a Pell Grant recipient, you are eligible to apply. I would suggest looking into this scholarship first, as it involves a little more planning and work than the others. You will need to develop a plan for both a project you will work on while abroad as well as a follow up project you will complete shortly after your arrival back home. Other big opportunities include the Boren Award and the Fulbright.
Beyond large grants, look into what you’re home university offers. The location of your study abroad program might have an impact on the amount of money you could receive as well as what you’re studying while there. For example, there are a lot of funding opportunities for studying a critical needs language, such as Azerbaijani, Bangla, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. I can’t stress enough that if you put the work into applying to a few, you’re likely to receive at least a little help!
Timing. Try to find a program that will accept any financial aid you’re already receiving toward your home university. These programs usually fall within the regular fall and spring semesters or breaks during these semesters. I also looked into programs that were the longest in length, but still under a full year. I found this was the best amount of time abroad to feel like you really lived there, getting the most out of your money (the costs didn’t seem to very much with length differences), and not being away from home for too long.
Location. Pay attention to the exchange rate in the country you’re traveling to. If you’re tight on money, I’d suggest avoiding places where the dollar is worth less than the local currency. No need to find a place where you can live like royalty, just somewhere where you don’t have to cringe every time you pay for a meal. Also consider a location where you’re able to travel freely at a low cost if you’re looking to check a few countries off your list all in one trip.
Ask for help. Talk to your financial aid advisor at your home university. He or she can explain exactly what financial aid can be applied to certain programs as well as offer guidance in searching and applying for aid. Your study abroad office will be equally as helpful in planning. Many universities have countless resources for this process, take advantage of them!
Don’t let the cost of studying abroad hold you back. Working hard for this experience will build your confidence and allow you to prove to yourself that you can make anything you put your mind to possible. If you’re as determined as I was to make dreams of studying abroad a reality, start planning and working now! I promise you it will all be worth it when you get on to that plane and begin your own incredible journey.