January 28, 2014

RITHOLTZ | Go Abroad Without Breaking the Bank

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In 2012, Skorton announced his goal to have no fewer than half the Cornell students have an “international experience” during their undergraduate career. I think it’s safe to assume that for most students, it’s not a question of if they should travel, but how they can travel. The big how questions are: how to identify a worthy program to travel with abroad, how to incorporate traveling with your degree and major requirements and, most importantly, how to finance your trip abroad. Let’s channel our inner Suze Orman and talk about that last “how.”

I’m not using this space to debate the merits of going abroad — I’m going to act under the assumption that you, the reader, definitely think it’s a worthwhile experience, but may question its financial feasibility. Nor will I be addressing the ethical considerations of your prospective abroad experience (check out my piece, “White Boy in Africa,” for some delightful musings about the existential and ethical questions that may arise from your time abroad). What I will be saying, however, is that here at Cornell, international experiences are not as costly as you might assume — if you do your due diligence. This due diligence includes identifying the right program and then discovering available funding streams.

Identifying the Right Program for You

First, let’s recognize that there are myriad ways to travel abroad during your Cornell experience. There’s the good old-fashioned semester(s) away, a.k.a. “study abroad,” and then there is the option to spend your summer, winter or spring break abroad, either studying, interning or volunteering.

Starting with the traditional “study abroad” experiences, the Cornell Abroad office is your go-to guide. The staff there is incredibly helpful to discuss your study abroad options with, and is very knowledgeable on how to finance your experience abroad. Even if you are just indulging in the idea of studying abroad, go visit the office. The Cornell Abroad website states that “the cost of study abroad depends on what program you attend. Costs vary greatly.” They’re 100 percent right in highlighting this diversity in cost, and it is certainly something to consider when exploring programs. I know that tuition for my semester abroad was certainly less than the cost of a semester here at Cornell. In addition, the website states that financial aid can be applied to the cost of studying abroad, and will be adjusted to accurately reflect the cost of your abroad program, thus allowing your experience to be comparably priced to a semester at Cornell.

Another thing to consider when going abroad for this length of time is the cost of living in another part of the world. My daily living expenses in Buenos Aires were significantly cheaper than my expenses in Ithaca, which are significantly cheaper than the costs associated with living in Geneva. Understanding these costs is an important part of properly preparing for a semester abroad.

When it comes to programs during breaks, such as in the summer or in the winter, the costs really depend on the type of program. Those programs that offer taking classes or getting credit abroad can be expensive because you are charged for tuition outside of the formal academic year. Interning or volunteering abroad can be less costly than study abroad programs, as you are not paying tuition. Most programs will charge some type of program fee, so there are still some upfront costs involved.

Cornell offers a multitude of programs all over the world that span various disciplines. These programs are especially great for the cost-minded individual, because they are through Cornell and thus, you are working with professors and staff who have knowledge of funding channels on campus. The Public Service Center at Cornell has a list of courses with a service learning component, and the Center for Engaged Learning and Research can also be an invaluable resource in identifying service learning programs abroad. Cornell’s Global Health program and Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team Program are two examples of the awesome programs that Cornell offers.

While many of these programs are competitive, it is the overwhelming belief among most of their organizers that they do not want financial reasons to limit a student’s ability to participate. As a result, many of them will work tirelessly with students to figure out ways to successfully fund their journeys abroad.

Financing the Program of Your Dreams

This hunt for funding is where the due diligence part really comes in. After you have identified your program of interest, it is up to you to figure out and pursue the funds available. I promise you that no matter your financial situation, there are funds available.

One avenue for funding your experience abroad is applying for big national scholarships, such as the Boren Scholarship (for students studying languages that are relevant to U.S. interests), the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship (for students with financial need) and the Laura W. Bush Traveling Fellowship (for students interested in using their academic interests to build strong ties among nations). Another avenue is to look for funding on our own campus.

This search can be trying, as there are no central listings of funding opportunities, but there is certainly funding to be found in many places! There are college-specific funding resources (such as the Iscol Family Program Funds in the College of Human Ecology or the interdisciplinary research grants in CALS), department specific programs (the Southeast Asia program provides a travel grant to students who are traveling to Southeast Asia and take a course in the program before they travel abroad), and university-wide programs (Engaged Learning and Research and the Cornell Commitment are great places to look into for funding if you are a motivated individual).

My suggestion for you is to explore each and every avenue that is presented to you: contact your individual college, your department, the department that the program is based out of and a department that is closely related to the work you will be doing. Chances are that if you cast your net wide enough, something will bite. It also never hurts to start your search early. Cornell Abroad is hosting an International Opportunities fair on Monday, Feb. 3 — see you there?