Using a credit card that I was quick to max out shortly after applying to study abroad in November 2017, I was not sure how exactly I was going to bear the weight of this expense. But don’t worry — I just paid it off a few weeks ago. Part of the reason I didn’t even tell my mom that I wanted to go to Busan was that I was not going to ask her for the money, and that brings us here.
Let’s be completely clear: I respect those who feel comfortable asking their parents for money and I believe that ideally, full-time students shouldn’t have to work at all, but I was raised to do things on my own if possible. While this ideology has been an underlying cause in a lot of my suffering, it is also the reason I’m independent today. I am still not great with money, but I do have a few tips on how you can pay for a study abroad program mostly, if not completely, by yourself.
1. STOP. KEEPING UP. WITH THE KARDASHIANS. (Controlling Your Money AKA Becoming a Money Bender AKA Get Your Money Doing Yoga Janelle Monae-Style)
My two closest friends, let us call them Neither and Rose, have parents that support them either partially or completely. While they both desperately want to be financially independent of their families and are actively working toward that goal, this is a great position for them and means that they don’t have to stress as much as I do about money. This also means that (if they want to) they can spontaneously go to concerts, expensive restaurants, or on trips — events that I need notice for so that I can actually budget for them. Not doing so led to me almost completely draining my emergency savings account and using more of my available credit than I could pay off in full every month. Not good for someone who cannot have a legal job for 10 months on a student visa, right?
Yes, I could ask my mom for money (she would readily and generously give it to me), but that’s not something I do. Essentially, while it’s difficult and embarrassing for sure, being transparent with your friends when you can’t keep up financially can save you a lot a heartbreak and keep your wallet fat. Buy groceries and eat at home, don’t drive more than necessary, and budget for the fun stuff. If they stop talking to you, stop wanting to hang out, or cannot have a good time with you without spending money, guess what? They aren’t your friend. Good riddance.
2. START EARLY… DUMBASS (Extra Income, Actively vs. Passively Planning)
Don’t be like me, kids. I am a goddamn fool that decided to apply with no provisions in mind and no timeline in place. I do not regret it, but I would say that in the context of study abroad, you can passively plan for a study abroad program successfully about one full academic year ahead of time. Passively planning requires minimal consistent dedication of time to work on visa applications, acquiring extra income, and maintaining contact with your host university/country. When you passively plan, you do the work in your spare time, can actually get a lot done, and can do so without the stress. If you are fortunate enough to have enough time to passively plan, consider picking up an extra job, extra shifts, etc., gaining some language or culture skills, meeting with the study abroad advisor or office of your school and making a thorough checklist of what needs to be done. More so, you have the opportunity to apply for that free money by keeping all deadlines in mind.
If you are already just a few months out from transferring out of your country, then you are with me. Actively planning. Living on the wild side. Being a reckless little shit (but for education). For me, this meant picking up every extra shift I could, taking advantage of spare time, and actively setting aside anywhere between two and eight hours per week filling out applications, working on language acquisition, or reading up on the customs of Busan. Even more dreaded was the infamous side hustle. No matter how many hours per week you work, if you are salaried or if you do not think you have the time, you should never, ever have just one stream of income. I’ve had to learn the hard way that getting sick and taking off of work for a few days can greatly jeopardize my ability to save extra money or even maintain my current lifestyle, and more than often leads to… you guessed it, using credits cards or dipping into that emergency savings.
Even if you get sick pay, absolutely no job is completely immune from layoffs, and it is crucial when going abroad, or in general, that you have a nice beefed up emergency savings. Side hustles, yes the survey sites, user testing, a blog, writing resumes and cover letters, panels, and research studies have brought me a fairly consistent additional $250-$600 per month, which, if actually saved, can dramatically boost the money already being saved from my main job. The key is to minimize thinking of this extra income as money you can use now. Remember your goal and put that extra money into a separate bank account that you cannot readily transfer out for use in your main checking account and that you do not have a card for. If you want to hear more about the side hustles I personally do, let me know — it might make for an interesting article.
3. FREE MONEY MONEY FREE MONEY MONEY MONEY (Scholarship Application Tips).
Though I started late, after my initial application to study abroad, I quickly decided to apply for study abroad-specific scholarships. Though I have a full academic scholarship through my home institution, which will cover tuition, I will still have to pay for airfare and touristy stuff via my own pockets. Knowing that there is free money out there for almost anything if you look hard enough (and have the time) helps a whole lot. I personally did not apply for very many, but I will say that I, after the fact, was baffled by the sheer study abroad opportunities I missed because I started late. Apply for scholarships that are through a reputable agency, like the Boren Scholarship, which I am an alternate for and is funded through the United States Department of National Security or the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.
My biggest tip for these scholarships is to readily have your resume ready, updated, and in a PDF format, have at least two recommenders on hand to add to any application, and to have one essay ready, proofread, and in PDF format that answers the question, “Why do you want to study abroad/ Why do you want to study abroad in this particular country?” You will more than often need more than these components (e.g. transcripts, possible language tests) but this is a great start.
You will likely be asked for recommendations for your initial application to your home institution, for any scholarship applications, and possibly by your host country as well. Sending an email (passively planning) or meeting in person (actively planning) and politely requesting a recommendation is the best way to actually get a recommendation. Make sure to always give a date to your recommender that is approximately two days before you actually need the recommendation. If they agree and you do not receive it by that date, then send a kind follow-up email. While your recommenders are working, add them to any applications for submission, and work hard to continue filling out your applications. Collect any supplemental materials, write and re-read any essays, and prepare for any additional questions asked. The goal is to only have to click “submit” a day or two before the application’s deadline. If it is allowed, I would also suggest requesting that your recommenders send you an additional PDF copy of the letter they write, as you may be allowed to submit recommendations yourself, lowering the amount of dependence you have on your recommenders and expanding the possibilities you have for applications.
Whether or not you currently have a job or have ever had a job, you should have a resume or CV. You should list all skills applicable to you and any volunteering you’ve ever done. Also, include some basic aspirations in your objective section and describe your degree program. There are lots of basic resume templates available online — I especially like the “Serif” template from Google Docs.
Be diligent about answering the question “Why do you want to study abroad?” or “Why do you want to study abroad in this particular country?” Often, the essay is one of the biggest parts of the application. My biggest tip to you would be to apply the study abroad trip to your future career aspirations. Show the review committees that you will, in turn, give to others not only on a larger scale than the individual application but also on their behalf. For instance, if you are going to Chile to learn Spanish and want to be a lawyer, how does this language acquisition apply to you and your prospective clients? For language or culturally-centered programs, you can always quote the (estimated) amount of people who are of that background or speak that language in your home country. Take the time to put your essay through a basic proofreader like Grammarly or get your other super smart friend to take a look. They will very likely catch things in your (almost) perfect essay.
Money should not stop anyone from being able to study abroad and get some good old fashioned cultural immersion, so I have outlined some tips for you to get into a position that will allow you to pay for a good portion of your study abroad program by yourself. Good Luck.
Myaia is a 20-something pre-med Psychology, math, and Latin student, astrology-lover, and financial enthusiast in her third year of university in Detroit. In a strange turn of events she has found herself studying abroad in Busan, South Korea for a year, and after documenting her adventures on her blog Sleep In Busan, plans to return to the states to begin her career in medicine.
Image via Unsplash