Why It’s a Myth That You Can’t Study Abroad if You Don’t Have Money

Thoughts from Lyndsi Jones, Peer Advisor

There are some topics that are considered mildly “taboo” on college campuses. Who receives financial aid? Or whose parents never went to college? Or who is struggling with a mental illness that goes deeper than the typical college stress and anxiety?

Because these topics are usually avoided even among friends, it can be hard for students who are dealing with these things to find proper, helpful resources. It gets even harder when you add another topic to the mix that not everybody has a lot of information on, like studying abroad.

That’s what this blog post is here for.

I happen to fit into each of the above “taboo” topics. I know how hard things can be for first-generation, low-income students. You can’t relate when your friends talk about things like their parents editing their research papers or adding/decreasing funds to the grocery budget they provide for them. You had to figure all of those things out on your own. And now, you’ve decided to take on an additional feat, and you don’t know where to start.

I know that for a low income, first-gen student, money is the biggest issue on your mind. There are a few things to consider before choosing what sort of study abroad experience you want to have:

  1. Where do you want to go? When I first started researching study abroad, I wanted to study right in the heart of London. However, after meeting with my advisor, she suggested a city in northern England that was less expensive, and suggested visiting London when I had free time.
  2. What kind of program are you interested in? Some of our programs are more cost effective than others. TU Exchanges, for example, allow you to pay Towson’s tuition and fees while studying abroad.
  3. How long do you want to go for? This one can be tricky, because short-term programs are usually less money, but long-term programs can be a better investment for the length of stay. If you’re planning to go on a $5,000 two-week program, why not try and go on a $12,000 semester–long program? Paying for a summer or winter term may be less expensive, but it is an additional term that you might not have been planning for financially.
  4. How much money are you currently borrowing, and how much are you willing to borrow? If you receive financial aid and scholarships, those can almost always be used for your time abroad. However, it is likely that there will be leftover costs even after applying those. Think about how many student loans you currently have and then decide how much more you’re willing to take out in order to go abroad.

I also have a few pieces of information that I wish I had known earlier on in the process of applying to study abroad:

  • Your financial aid package can be adjusted for your time abroad. Your advisor can make a study abroad budget for you that you turn into the Financial Aid Office, and they will adjust your financial aid accordingly (Hopefully, if you’re already in the process of going abroad, you know this already!).
    • Adding onto this, you may be eligible for more loans! I don’t want to encourage students to borrow more money than necessary, but I needed more loans in order to go abroad, and I didn’t want to borrow from private lenders. When the Financial Aid Office adjusts your aid, they could increase the amount of loans you can take out based upon your need.
  • There are SO many discount airlines out there now! Some airlines or travel websites to check for cheap flights are:
    • WOW! Air
    • Ryan Air
    • StudentUniverse.com
    • STAtravel.com
  • Don’t spend frivolously on unnecessary things, but let yourself enjoy your experience abroad. Obviously, academics are important when you’re studying abroad, but set aside time and money to really experience the culture you’re in, too! For some people, this may truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it worrying that you won’t have enough money once you get home.
    • Going along with this, be smart about what you spend on. I may have lived off of PB&J, oatmeal, and instant coffee when I was abroad (I’m really not kidding), but I also got to travel to Ireland, Greece, Italy, and many different places around the UK with the money I saved on groceries.
  • If you’re a first-generation college student, your parents may not be able to help you, even with planning your trip. The fact is that I now know more about the world than my parents, and that’s okay. The reason that they have struggled to get me to this point is precisely so that I WOULD know more about the world. I know you want your mom’s advice on the coolest places to go, or your dad’s advice on whose economy is most stable. You might know more about these things than your parents do. That’s okay.
  • The Study Abroad Office can help you along the way! That is what we’re here for. If you have any questions about financial aid, scholarships, what country is best for your major, what classes to take, etc., you can ask us.

I promise that it is possible for students who don’t have a lot of financial support to study abroad. It’s possible for students whose parents have never left the east coast of the United States to study abroad, too. As long as you think about what is feasible for you ahead of time and plan accordingly, we’ll get you to where you want to go.