Last year, I decided to study abroad for a year. I spent a semester in Bilbao and a semester in Puntarenas, which you can read about here. A big part of studying abroad in general is money, and budgeting for a year is enough to make some people think they can’t afford to do it. However, I’m here to tell you that you can, and it’s totally worth it!
Graduating on Time
At first, I was concerned that studying abroad for a year was going to delay my graduation and that there would be complications by switching programs. I’m a double major in Marketing and Management with a minor in Spanish. In the course of the year I took 35 credits (5 more than I’d normally take at home) and an internship. I nearly finished all my Spanish requirements, completed nine business credits, added some rather interesting/ impressive bullet points to my resume, and not to mention, lived in two foreign countries, visited seven, participated in numerous cultural events, and made incredible friends whom I shared exceptional memories with.
The only time wasted or delayed was waiting to book my ticket. I studied abroad the entirety of my junior year which is what I would recommend to students considering to go abroad. Being that I was further in my degree, my classes were a little more specific so it did help determine where I would go (many of the programs specialize in a department). If there is a specific country/region you’re interested in, then I would recommend looking at going during sophomore year. This way you likely have more general ed classes you can take abroad which are available mostly everywhere.
Budgeting for a Year
USAC is a nonprofit and many of their programs are cost equivalent, if not cheaper, to some universities tuition. After applying to USAC’s general scholarship and my universities general scholarship, I received about $8,000. Knowing that I wanted to study abroad since high school, I had saved a decent amount of money as well.
I organized a “Bon Voyage” BBQ, invited friends and family and encouraged them to help sponsor my trip. I believe I was given nearly $3,000, spent $150 on the party, and saved about $200 to send each of them postcards and little knick-knacks from the countries I traveled to.
I was still a little short and was afraid to get abroad and not have enough money to really travel or experience things, so I took a subsidized loan from my university. Loans are not as scary as they’re made out to be… if you do it right. In fact, it can even be beneficial.
My loan doesn’t start accumulating interest until after I graduate, and even then it is at a low-interest rate. I’ve been paying $25/month towards the principle since I took it. Having this transaction on my credit report is great because it shows I have a credit history which will make buying a car or home in the future easier, and potentially at a lower interest rate.
I ended my time abroad having money left over and was able to put that back towards the principle as well. While abroad I accepted a paid internship, other students took paid teaching positions and some did freelance projects to make a little extra money while abroad.
Finding deals online or little outlets to save money becomes a game. For example, I used my credit card for most purchases and my cash back rewards paid for all of my plane tickets and transportation. My friend group constantly invited one another to different apps, such as Airbnb, Uber, Lift, etc., and each time we’d get money off and apply it to the expense. I joined a group called ESN who organized events and gave free entrance to parties/ events to members.
Being financially creative is a part of college, not just studying abroad. Don’t be afraid! With a little planning, applying for scholarships, and relying on your network of friends, family, and peers you can make any study abroad term dream come true.