For college students, studying abroad can have both personal and professional pay-offs (not to mention the fun of pub-hopping in a foreign country). Despite the weak American dollar and the rising cost of higher education, students are still finding ways to study abroad and minimize costs in the process.
Just ask Katherine Maund, a recent graduate of Champlain College who spent the spring of 2008 in Florence, Italy. During her semester there, Maund visited 12 different countries by booking cheap last-minute flights and staying in hostels.
“Study abroad can be expensive,” she says, “but the experience is worth far more than any dollar amount. It broadened my worldview, made me incredibly independent, expanded my knowledge and understanding of other cultures and languages, and was by far the best decision I ever made for myself.”
Want to experience study abroad yourself? Here’s how to do it without breaking the bank.
Planning Your Trip
Look Beyond Europe
Foregoing Europe for a country in Asia, Africa or South and Central America can shave thousands of dollars from the total cost of your time abroad, says Maya Frost, author of The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. There’s an added value, too: you’ll get “a glimpse at an emerging country that is likely to play a larger role in the global economy in the future,” Frost says.
Go Off Campus
Rather than living in a pricey dorm room or flat, consider living with a host family: you’ll save money and get a taste of the local culture.
Cut Out The Middleman
Another option is to forego the packaged program offered by your college and arrange your own international experience. Enroll as an independent international student, arrang to have credits transferred, and secure affordable housing on your own, Frost recommends.
“Use the internet in any way you can—search for blogs about the city, country or university, find connections on Facebook,” she says. “By connecting with locals and other students, you can get very relevant and up-to-date info about the best schools, courses, places to stay (including home stays), opportunities to volunteer, and much more.”
Seek Out Scholarships
Whether you go indie or with your university, be sure to look into fellowship or scholarship opportunities. That’s one thing Maund says she wishes she’d done. Rotary.org offers affordable exchange programs for those under 19, plus your university may have scholarships or leads on scholarships for students going abroad.
Alternatively, you could volunteer instead of getting college credit. Frost suggests SERVAS.org, Idealist.org, and WWOOF.org for those interested in volunteering overseas. “Once you start connecting online, you’ll find people interested in helping you find great places to stay and exciting opportunities to contribute,” she adds.
Saving While You’re There
Cut Out the Extras
Remember, even if you’re paying for a program sponsored by your college, you don’t necessarily need all the extras. Some students pay for airport transportation or guided day trips out of convenience, but it’s usually possible to arrange for things on your own and tailor them to your needs. That way you’re free to shop around for local tours, split transportation with another student, or compare prices on mobile phones. “You can get your own cell phone rather than paying for someone else to get it for you–or simply get help from a new friend you’ve met online,” Frost says.
Make Local Friends
By exploring independently, Maund made connections with other travelers that got her free accommodations when she visited Spain and France. Befriending locals also helped her find cheap grub. “They recommended the less expensive restaurants with the best fare,” she says. “It’s fun to eat at different restaurants but cooking in your apartment–if you have a kitchen–will save you a lot of money.”
Bank the Right Way
Traveler’s checks can be a hassle and cost you money in the process, so Maund used an ATM to withdraw cash each week. “Never exchange money at the exchange shops,” she adds. “They will not give you the best value for you dollar.” Depending on the length of your stay and the country, you might even be able to open a local bank account and minimize banking fees. Barring that, ask if your bank has a partnership with another bank in the country you’re visiting.
Making savvy spending decisions while you’re abroad can reduce your student loan debt (assuming you’re taking out loans to cover your time abroad) and lay the foundation for future travel on the cheap. Plus, “employers are impressed by those who figure out how to get what they want while saving money in the process,” Frost says. “After all, they need employees who are creative about finding solutions to financial challenges!”
Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.