My biggest worry before studying abroad was simple: money. Would I have enough money to travel, to eat local food, and to explore local tourist sites? Would I have enough money to pay tuition? What would I do without the stream of income that work-study in my home country provides?
Maybe these questions feel familiar to you. Maybe you are a low-income student whose every day is influenced by your financial ability, who always buys the cheapest thing on the menu when going out with your friends or can only afford a red-eye flight for study abroad. Maybe you are constantly aware of your socioeconomic background in an upper-class academic world, a world that you know would only be magnified by study abroad. Maybe you think that for these reasons, study abroad isn’t for you.
But I’m here in Jerusalem, Israel, to tell you that even low-income students can study abroad with the right planning and connections. Here are my top recommendations for studying abroad as a low-income student:
Befriend your financial aid officers: The staff in your home school’s financial aid office likely know of many avenues for getting support that you don’t know about, and they’ve supported other students through the same process you’re about to go through. My financial aid officers even helped me access funds for additional needs such as airplane tickets.
Ask if you can apply for additional scholarships that would exceed the total cost of the program: My financial aid office said I could, which meant that I was able to apply for scholarships through the international school that ended up entirely covering my tuition and leaving extra in my bank account for spending money. For me, the additional scholarships made the difference between being extremely stressed about money during my time in Israel and giving me financial room to try new foods and travel to new places.
Apply for IFSA’s work-to-study grant: This allows you to continue working even while in a foreign country and gives you a little bit of extra income to work with over the semester. You can even be an international correspondent and write blog posts like these! The connections you make at your home school outside of financial aid will be priceless to you as well. Before I left for study abroad, I connected with a student who was going to Hebrew University for study abroad the semester before me. We decided to split the cost of furniture for the apartment—sheets, towels, dishes, etc.—which relieved a financial burden for both of us. When I arrived in Jerusalem and got her boxes of stuff, I found that they were filled with other useful things she’d accumulated throughout the semester, including toiletries, school supplies, and textbooks. Check to see if there’s another student from your school going to the same location and if they’d have an interest in sharing expenses—it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Use your connections back home to get connected to the community in your new country: I knew my flight arrived in Tel Aviv a day early and I would need a place to spend the night, so I asked the rabbi at my school if I could stay with any of her friends in Israel. Within a few days, she had set me up with someone right in the heart of Tel Aviv; through her, I not only got a free night in Tel Aviv, but I also made an amazing Israeli friend who immediately welcomed me into the country, made me a homemade meal, and wants to meet up again during the semester.
The biggest help to me was connecting to my religious community. I contacted the global organization that the Christian fellowship at my school is a part of and got connected to the leader of the student Christian fellowship in Israel before I left for study abroad. This meant that when I arrived in Jerusalem, I already knew someone living there who was more than willing to help me navigate the city. He even showed me where I could buy inexpensive groceries.
Of course, shopping for groceries was a bit of a stressful experience because my Hebrew isn’t very good and I couldn’t read many of the food labels or price tags. Thankfully, my new friend helped me navigate the store and distinguish between sour cream and soupy white cheese (which would have been a terrible mistake…)
More importantly, he introduced me to a whole network of Christian students, including local students and Master’s students, who I likely wouldn’t have met through my study abroad program. Because of the connection I’d made through the networks I had at home, I immediately had a support system and network of people in Israel who were more than happy to help me find a grocery store, learn how to use the light rail, and plug into a community abroad. And all I had to do was ask!
Bottom line: Use your community. No matter where you study abroad, you are not alone. You have more connections and opportunities than you realize, and there are plenty of people everywhere who would be thrilled to help out someone new to their country! And people love being asked for help and advice, so never feel embarrassed to ask. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn!
Tori Paquette is a Jewish Studies major at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Hebrew University in Israel in Spring 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.