No day but today: Studying abroad in the current economy

1/21/2009 - By: Guia Del Prado

While it may seem as if the economy only brings bad news, it also presents some hidden advantages, especially for students looking to study abroad in the near future. With the dollar becoming increasingly valuable in foreign exchange rates and more scholarships available than ever before, students can still find the means to study abroad.

The exchange rate for many of the countries that the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) offers has taken a turn in favor of the dollar. The dollar has become more valuable in relation to the Chilean Peso in just a six month period from April to November.

“The exchange rate is much more favorable right now,” said Rozann Wood, accounting manager at USAC. “In countries like in Costa Rica and Chile, the dollar is extremely strong. There are opportunities for students to choose countries where their dollar is going to go far.”

Keeping track of the exchange rate will also help students budget and plan their trip abroad.

“Students are becoming more aware of the exchange rate now, rather than waiting until they’re in the country and figuring out all of that there,” said Michelle Cobb, director of student information and program administrator. “They’re trying to take a little bit more time budgeting and really thinking it through before they go.”

Apart from the beneficial state of the dollar, there are plenty of financial aid programs available to students. McKenzi Swinehart, a 25-year-old USAC student employee, studied abroad in fall 2006 in Puntarenas, Costa Rica with several financial aid programs financing her including the Pell Grant, the Millennium Scholarship and two federal loans.

In the two years since her study abroad experience in Costa Rica, she graduated, returned for a second bachelor’s degree in Spanish, and plans to study abroad again in Santiago, Chile this spring semester. One difference Swinehart has noticed as a peer advisor at USAC since her semester in Costa Rica is the burgeoning amount of scholarships now being offered to students.

“From my knowledge, if I remember correctly, there are more scholarships now then there were a couple of years ago,” Swinehart said. “So maybe it’s been a little bit harder financially but there are more scholarship options available.”

Samantha Valerius, a 20-year-old junior from the College of Business, is just one of 104 students whose spring semester studying abroad will be aided by a USAC/UNR scholarship.

“I didn’t think I would get it because I thought there would be more than just a few applicants,” Valerius said. “I was really surprised to get it. Getting the scholarship just confirmed that I was going to go.”

Though filling out scholarship forms may sometimes become tedious, both Valerius and Swinehart found the process much easier than they expected. Valerius applied for several scholarships before the decision to study abroad in Lüneberg, Germany was cemented.

“The scholarships are definitely worth it,” Valerius said. “I spent 30 or 40 minutes applying and I got a thousand bucks. It’s way worth it and it’s not even that hard.”

Kelly Corrigan, director of marketing and recruiting, urges all students interested in studying abroad to apply for as many scholarships and financial aid as they can.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to fill out a scholarship application to study abroad,” Corrigan said. “I think sometimes students rule them out as a possibility, like it’s going to take too much of their time. But it’s really not a complicated process.”

Scholarships and the exchange rate aside, there are several ways a student can trim their expenses before and during studying abroad. Swinehart, for example, worked the summer before studying abroad, moved back in with family to save money on rent, reduced expenses on eating out at restaurants and chose a country where the cost of living was low. Once she was in Costa Rica, she opted to live in a homestay, and traveled, ate and lived like the locals in Costa Rica. For her upcoming semester in Santiago, Swinehart has completely cut out her Starbucks expenses.

“It was giving up all the little things,” Swinehart said. “I’m not going to let something like this stop me so I cut back on some things.”

The USAC office, apart from being a resource itself, offers information on ways to cut costs from the study abroad experience. Students interested in studying abroad but are worried about financing it have several advisors to speak to at USAC, including peer advisors who have studied abroad themselves.

“Students should plan and be aware, but I think it’s also important to know that USAC is going to be right there to help them, stand right next to them, whatever they need,” Cobb said. “Exposing yourself to a new culture is something so valuable and I just think there’s no price tag on that.”


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