As a first generation college student studying abroad, there are several things that I found that are not really discussed when researching going abroad. As someone who had not traveled abroad and who’s immediate family hadn’t either, these things would have been great to know while I was planning my study abroad experience.
Even on a Budget, You Can Travel Abroad
While abroad, I kept my budget as small as possible – I made my own food for most meals and if I did go out I kept all expenses reasonable, especially since the British Pound was higher than the US Dollar – but that didn’t mean that I didn’t get to see more than my host city by foot. During one of my four-day weekends, seven of my classmates-turned-friends and I travelled from Northern Ireland to London to sight-see. We took an $85 flight and stayed in a small, cheap hostel that cost $60 each for three nights. We had small, carefully researched meals and found student discounts wherever we could. During those four days, we saw as much as our feet could stand, walking an average of 23,000 steps per day. Studying abroad on a budget doesn’t need to mean breaking the piggy bank. Be smart and think about what you want out of your time abroad, and most importantly get those student discounts!
Don’t Be Afraid to Go Alone
During the process of applying to study abroad, many times it was mentioned to me that the best way to study abroad is to go with a friend. I would recommend finding a program that perfectly fits you while trying to choose a program where you do not know anyone. When I arrived in Northern Ireland, I knew no one, except for one person who had happened to be in two of my previous classes at my home university, but we had never spoken. By being ‘alone’ and being dropped into a new country and culture, an atmosphere of friendship begins your journey abroad. The first day, we were all trying to find our footing but by the second night, we all had someone to rely on. As a result, we experienced our time abroad as equals without worrying about having to spend extra time with a friend we knew from home. This created a stronger bond between us all – meaning we felt even safer to go out and explore inside and outside our host city.
Having a Phone Abroad
Many travel blogs talk about how they just brought and used their US phone during their travels, but hardly any give the real price they paid for doing that. Bringing your US phone abroad is costly, my cell phone service wanted $10 per day used to use my US plan or $40 per month, in addition to my normal bill but only included free texts – calls and data were expensive and almost non-existent. Instead I signed up for the $10 per day but kept my phone in airplane mode the entire time and just used Wi-Fi and my camera. Only in emergencies did I use my phone to call/text/data and I made sure that $10 was 100% utilized. To stay in contact with my family, I used WhatsApp to text, call, and video message – which is all free if you are connected to WiFi.
In order to stay in contact with my instructors, I brought an old, unlocked phone from home and purchased a SIM card for $1.29 with a $20 plan that included 3GB of data, 1000 minutes, and 5000 texts. You can purchase any extra data, call, and text credits at almost any grocery store. I ended up only using 1 days’ worth of my US plan, so over the course of my six weeks the total price for the phone, calls, and texts was $31.29. Much better than $40 per month with almost non-existent data, and expensive calls.
Emily Loudenback is a petroleum engineering student at Texas Tech University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Engineering and Irish Studies program in summer 2017. She served as a First-Generation College Student Writer for IFSA-Butler through the First Generation College Student Program.