When people ask where I went to college, I don’t really know how to answer. While technically my degree is from Youngstown State University in Ohio, I spent nearly half of my college education studying abroad, learning languages, and living lives all over the world.
People are usually extremely confused when I try to explain how I was able to study and live in Brazil, Chile, Italy, and Thailand… all while obtaining a degree in Political Science. People are, of course, usually even more confused by how I was able to afford all this as a student. To add to this confusion, some people just do not understand why I would want to choose random countries to move to where I do not know anyone or speak the language. Clearly, they do not understand the thrill of travel, right? The two years I spent around the world shaped my life in literally every way possible. From giving me the opportunity to enhance my skills as a videographer, learning three languages, and meeting people who changed the course of my life, I do not know where I would be without my study abroad experiences. Because of this, I want to share how I was able to turn my college career into something extraordinary – and how you can too!
STEP ONE: UNDERSTANDING YOUR COLLEGE’S STUDY ABROAD POLICIES
Study abroad opportunities and policies vary depending on your university. Learning everything you can about this can help determine how much you can “work the system” to travel as much as possible. For example, does your university offer its own study abroad programs (ex: NYU in Shanghai, Kent State University Florence, etc)? If not, they may partner with outside study abroad organizations, such as USAC. You may also want to find out if your university has exchange programs with universities abroad. Usually, in an exchange, you and an international student will swap schools for the semester.
Ask the study abroad advisor whether there is a limit on how much time you can study abroad. My university did not have a limit, but some may not allow you to study abroad for more than two semesters.
STEP TWO: CHOOSING AFFORDABLE STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS (AND COUNTRIES!)
This step is VERY IMPORTANT and will make a difference in how affordable your study abroad experiences are! I was able to spend three semesters and a summer abroad because I chose my programs and countries wisely.
I studied abroad with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), which I would recommend as one of the most affordable options out there. Whereas CIEE Study Abroad had a semester in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for over $16,000, USAC’s Florianópolis, Brazil program is $8,000. This simple difference in choosing one program over the other can mean you are spending double the price! While sometimes the more affordable program may be in a smaller, less well-known city, this can often bring the most immersive experiences.
Another tip is to choose an affordable country for your study abroad experience. I spent a semester in Thailand for around $5,500, including tuition, housing, trips… and a lot of greasy and delicious Thai food! Had I chosen to study in Australia, one of the more expensive destinations, I could have spent upwards of $20,000! Pro tip: go off the beaten path (think Latin America, Africa, or Southeast Asia). You’ll not only save money but have an unforgettable experience as well.
STEP THREE: SAVING AND EARNING MONEY
After you have chosen a country and study abroad program, you may look at the price tag and get a little scared. $6,000? How in the world can I save that amount of money?
Don’t be scared! Affording the price tag of a study abroad program is not as difficult as it seems. Here is how I was able to do it in three steps:
- Find out if your university’s scholarships transfer! For most study abroad programs, you can transfer the scholarships you receive at your home university to your study abroad program tuition. For example, every semester during college I received a $4,000 merit scholarship. I was able to transfer this $4,000 to my study abroad program, meaning that an $8,000 study abroad program would be only $4,000. On top of this, I contacted my study abroad office to learn about other scholarship opportunities through my university; I was able to receive a $1,000 study abroad grant offered to students each semester. I won’t go into too much detail about scholarships (there are literally thousands!) so check out this link to learn more.
- Thinking outside the box. I worked as a student videographer for my university and was a little nervous about how I was going to afford my upcoming semester in Chile when I asked my boss if I could work remotely for the semester. To my surprise, he said yes, meaning that I was able to create study abroad promotional content for my university from 5,000 miles away and have enough money to go on as many weekend trips as possible! Think outside the box and use your skills to find creative ways to afford to travel.
- Working… a lot. While there are a ton of scholarship opportunities and I was able to earn money by using my video and photography skills, I definitely saved most of my money to go abroad by working several jobs. From spending my mornings selling doughnuts at a bakery to afternoons editing videos, every long hour of work was worth it.
THE NEXT STEPS
So you’ve read my tips and are ready to get started… now what? I would advise setting up a meeting with your school’s study abroad advisor as soon as possible to get more study abroad information specific to your university. Next, come up with a list of goals for your time studying abroad. Do you want to learn an entire language in just a few months? Look into immersive language programs with host family options. Do you want to lay by the beach? Take the weather and location into account.
If there is one thing I want to close on, it is to not be scared. Replace any fears with excitement. Remember, there are thousands of other students going through the same process as you (…and you are about to meet those students and become friends for life!). You are about to embark on an adventure that may shape every major decision you ever make in the future.
While my education was not traditional, I would not have changed it for anything. Wherever I go, I always remember that I have an education that was not confined to a classroom and communities and families supporting me all over the world!
Jenna DeLaurentis studied abroad with USAC in Brazil, Chile, and Thailand. This article originally appeared on Shut Up and Go Travel.