Students weigh study abroad costs

Though tuition and housing costs for students participating in Stanford overseas programs are covered by financial aid, the high incidental expenses of living abroad can hit students hard.

Studying abroad can be more expensive than students expect. (SEAN CHRISTOFFERSON/The Stanford Daily)

Studying abroad can be more expensive than students expect. (SEAN CHRISTOFFERSON/The Stanford Daily)

Brenda Munoz ‘14, who was part of the Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) in Paris in Autumn 2012, organized a seminar on the affordability of study abroad programs last April. She said that students at the event, which was held in partnership with El Centro Chicano and First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP), spoke of the divide between students who could afford to spend more money to take advantage of their experiences and those who couldn’t.

“When you’re abroad, it’s kind of different,” she said. “A lot of people who go abroad go on weekend trips, like to Barcelona or other nearby cities.”

She explained that finances prevented some students from participating in additional travel.

The BOSP website states that “apart from airfare and personal travel expenses, the basic cost of studying with BOSP is close to the cost of remaining on campus.”

Karen Cooper, director of financial aid, explained that the financial aid office estimates the additional expenses for students who are going abroad, and then revises financial aid packages to cover those costs.

“We actually have a list of all the students going abroad, and what center they are going to,” Cooper explained. “We have a budget associated with each center, to reflect really the cost of transportation and any specific campuses that have known higher out of pocket expenses.”

Andrea Acosta ‘14, who studied abroad at Oxford last year, said that it was possible to live within the salary that was provided, but additional activities like travel or eating at restaurants would exceed the budget.

“It would require more out-of-pocket money to do cooler, more interesting things,” Acosta said. “I think that because this is from your own initiative, it is okay that the program doesn’t provide for that.”

Johnathan Bowes ‘15 said that his only major expense during his time studying abroad in Santiago was his flight to Chile. He said he learned how to maximize his budget — by purchasing groceries and cooking for himself, he said he could eat for two weeks on a single week’s meal stipend.

Bowes added that travel throughout the region was a popular choice for program participants.

“There weren’t two distinct groups of people — the majority would go on some of the trips, and the rest of the people would spend time with their host families and stick around,” Bowes said. “It wasn’t always due to money, though. From my perceptions of it, it didn’t seem like there was a divide about these sorts of things.”

Munoz said that the biggest issue that students face abroad when it comes to financial issues is a feeling of isolation.

“I think that the issue is especially that you can feel isolated when you’re abroad,” she said. “You don’t want to be the one holding the rest of group back because of affordability.”

The BOSP website says that specific information about typical expenses is available in the orientation materials distributed during the quarter prior to departure, and recommends student advisors and other recently returned students as good sources of information for developing a personal budget.

However, Munoz said that at the seminar last spring, students had many questions related to the expenses and affordability of studying abroad for the BOSP representative. She added that students told BOSP staff that financial information was not always clear.

“We were talking about our experiences and some things that came up were about what more BOSP could do,” Munoz said. “It was nice that they became more aware of these issues.”

Contact Nitish Kulkarni at nitishk2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Nitish Kulkarni

Nitish is a Deputy Desk Editor at The Stanford Daily. He is a sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and he is interested in writing about technology and research.