February 19, 2024

POGGI | The Hidden Costs of Studying Abroad

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I cannot open my bank app. Like ripping off a Band-Aid or pulling a hangnail, I know I must, but the thought makes me feel queasy. There are a lot of things that people prepared me for before going abroad: from currency exchange to a lack of dryers in Italy. But no one prepared me for the financial cost of going abroad beyond standard tuition.

My only real grievance with Cornell is an “abroad fee” added to my bursar bill in excess of $4000. I have no idea where that goes or why I need to pay that in addition to my program fee. However, while some programs are similar or even less than Cornell’s tuition in cost, the real kicker is in the lifestyle. No one is forcing you to eat out or travel internationally or shop for souvenirs, but there is an urgency to take advantage of the opportunity — after all, when will I have four months to live in Italy without the stresses of adulthood? Many, if not most, Cornell students end up spending thousands in extra lifestyle costs while abroad, a fee that may shock them after five semesters spent in Ithaca, where it is comparatively hard to rack up such exorbitant bills.

At college, you either have a meal plan, apartment/dorm kitchen or Greek life/co-op housing with food provided. Studying abroad, one often finds themselves eating out for at least one meal a day. With the allure of a new city and cuisine, the unparalleled convenience of cafés near school buildings and the possible lack of kitchen or prepping supplies in abroad accommodations, eating out becomes the rule rather than the exception.

As for travel, the myth of the €20 RyanAir flight is just that — a myth. Flights are expensive, especially from small airports such as my home base of Florence. Trains to major hubs add up as well. For instance, a train from Florence to Rome can cost over $60 and take two hours — when considering the round trip, I usually end up saving money and time by eating the cost and flying out of Florence. I know of one girl who took an 18-hour bus from Florence to Budapest (one way) to avoid these costs, but time is money, too. 

Going out also costs money, something I am not used to at Cornell. While I pay my sorority dues, having to pay cover, transportation and high drink prices was a tough adjustment. Factor in the safety component — for instance, knowing that sometimes you should take a taxi instead of public transportation — and costs add up.

Potentially, the most unexpected costs of travel were the least sexy. I find myself grumbling over euros spent on museum admission, bottled water and even peanut butter (which has a large markup in Italy due to lack of demand), while other leisurely costs, like a daily €1.50 cappuccino, go down easily. 

As someone who has often worked jobs for “spending money,” either during the semester or summer, I found myself feeling helpless about financial stress abroad. Maybe it’s the American or Cornellian in me, who is uncomfortable with the idea of relaxing as money drains out of my accounts, but I have found that no amount of savings can effectively relieve the stress of not having an income source. As I beg myself to indulge in the sweet, slow life, the “dolce vita” of Italy, I find it against my nature. 

I know I am only abroad once. I know I have saved this money for a reason. Yet as I try to keep up with peers financed by parents and allowances, I find myself falling behind. Do I think my abroad experience is ruined by constantly ordering the cheapest entrée and asking to itemize our bill? No. But it brings a bit of shame and discomfort often not mentioned when discussing going abroad.

Julia Poggi is a third-year student in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Her fortnightly column The Outbox is a collection of reflections, advice and notes to self about life at Cornell, with a focus on coursework-life balance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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