Study Abroad: Finances

Cortez Johnson

I’ve decided that I want this series on study abroad to be less didactic and more interactional. In that vain, I will be discussing the subtopics as conversationally as is appropriate for a university-backed online publication. So money; for many black people, money is never a light topic. It can dictate much of what we can experience and usually acts as a dividing line between the classes. One of the greatest things about the study abroad experience, at least at Vanderbilt, is that it is insanely inexpensive. Not including the issues and expenses that I experienced obtaining a visa (see a forthcoming article), I spent approximately $3,000 in Australia, including additional housing expenses to live in one of the nicer residential college options. I had the option of living in self-catered apartments for $2,000 less, but I figured I would probably spend that money on food anyway and not have the opportunity to interact with Australians on a daily basis. I will say that I splurged on a “Spring” break trip to Malaysia that cost roughly an additional $700, but again that was a choice. That is one of the best things about IFSA’s study abroad program: you have the opportunity to cater your experience.

Now, I know there are definitely a lot of people who have glossed over these numbers and said something like, “wow, that’s it?!” and there are others who like me would have said something like, “yeah, sounds nice to have about $3,000 lying around. How’s the trust fund going?” Well ladies, gentlemen, and gender-queer individuals, I too didn’t have $3,000 at my disposal immediately. I decided my freshman year that I wanted to go on this trip. I was pleasantly surprised by how accurate that initial prediction was; by the end of my sophomore year, I needed this time away. So starting in my second semester of my freshman year, I started working and saving. I saved over half of what I earned. I worked two jobs throughout the summer. My parents did help me out with rent that summer, and for that I am very grateful, none of us can get through this life alone. I also saved money I received from my grants/scholarships. I reduced the money I spent throughout the semester. As one of my biggest expenses is clothing (I’m low-key an aspiring fashion influencer) I had to be really creative with mixing textiles for a while, and I discovered that Amazon has a surprising amount of random deals on a lot of unique accessories. So after a year of working and saving, I was lucky enough to have enough money to buy my plane ticket (and a summer course at a state school) out of pocket. Thanks to Vanderbilt’s generosity, I received an advance on my financial aid for the Fall of 2018 in July and was able to off-balance those expenses. Ideally, I would probably have used closer to $2,000 of my own money here in Australia (not including the housing stuff), but that all changed due to the Visa issues I experienced. I resolved to I cut my budget in half, and I spent accordingly.

With that money, some creativity, and a little help from currency conversion, I was able to have a very fun yet frugal experience here in Australia. I celebrated my 21st birthday in this country and had my first drink (for free!). It was great. There wasn’t a lot of pressure from the Australians to spend a lot of money. Many of them are paying for their own education. Here, it isn’t as common for parents to foot the bill. I spoke with dozens of students who told me about their jobs in various industries - it was refreshing to feel as though I was back in the real world and out of the Vandy-bubble, all it took was flying 9,000 miles away. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some Americans who lived way more extravagantly than me. I heard tales of weekend trips to Melbourne or the Great Barrier Reef. I decided a more modest course of action was best for my budget and went to the Blue Mountains (a 2 hour journey) for $AU 2.70. Thank goodness for public transportation discount days. Despite the fact that the legal drinking age in Australia is 18, I didn’t drink before I turned 21, and afterwards I saw no reason to change that much. Some of my American peers took advantage of the legal differences and proudly displayed their actual IDs in liquor stores many, many times. I will say that budgeting wasn’t as easy as I sometimes may make it appear to be in this article. I did sacrifice a lot of fun. Public transportation in Sydney is pretty well-developed especially when compared to comparable American cities, but a bus ticket from UNSW to the city centre cost about $AU 3.66, each way. I desperately wanted to go to the malls and museums in the city but I had to pace myself, and plan my trips so as to make the most of the money it cost to even get there. In short, I walked a lot. But Sydney is incredibly walkable. After growing up in Houston where you’re lucky if there is crosswalk button and even luckier if there is a sidewalk, walking never felt better.

So what advice do I have for prospective study abroad enthusiasts? Firstly, do it! Please, do it. Especially, if you are a person of color. Diversity is needed. Secondly, save. Save more than you think you’ll spend. You never know when you’ll have to bleed an extra thousand just to get a visa expedited. Third, remember that when you arrive in your country of residence that things will be different, but embrace the changes while embracing your own value. This world is wide and beautiful, with so many wonders awaiting. Chase after them. There are few greater sensations than a wanderlust satiated.

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