When I was researching Stanford before I applied, I remember browsing through the Bing Overseas Studies Program’s website in a state of disbelief. I could learn Italian in Italy if I wanted to, learn how to snorkel in Australia while studying coastal ecosystems or learn about social justice in the context of Cape Town’s history and politics. And because of the flexibility built into the quarter system, I knew I would have enough time in my schedule to study abroad at least once.
Fast forward a few years, and now I am a senior who has studied abroad twice. I spent winter quarter of my junior year in Florence, where I took classes in film studies, Italian language, abstract art and contemporary Italian politics and culture, in addition to working as a culinary intern at a restaurant near the palace (yes, palace) where classes are held. In Florence, I stayed with my host parents and their two sons, each of whom went out of their way to make me feel at home.
I spent the following quarter at Oxford, where I took philosophy of language, a tutorial in creative writing, an independent study about Jane Austen and a directed reading in Italian language. There, I lived with the rest of the spring cohort at the Stanford House, a short walk away from the college I was affiliated with throughout my time there. At Oxford, I experienced what it is like to attend an institution grounded in its centuries-old traditions — which is in stark contrast to Stanford and its focus on innovation.
Looking back, my study abroad experience has been one of the most, if not the most, rewarding part of my time at Stanford. I learned how to get by in a country whose primary language I did not speak fluently. I learned how to navigate two different cultures and what it meant to approach them as an American. I learned how to ask for help when I needed it — from program staff, from new friends and even from strangers.
As a First-Generation Low Income (FLI) student, the possibility of studying abroad was an exciting one. After all, when else would I have the chance to live in a different country and have that come at little cost to me and my family? However, it was also daunting at times: how would I afford the cost of airfare? In the absence of my on-campus job, how would I support myself financially? To share what I have learned in the process, here are some FLI-specific tips for before, during and after your time abroad.
- The Overseas Grant. If you are a student receiving a significant amount of financial aid, you may be eligible for a one-time Overseas Grant. Use this grant carefully — either to reimburse yourself for your plane ticket, to purchase necessary clothes specific to the needs of your program (for example, a heavy snow coat if you are studying abroad in the winter), or to set money aside for an emergency fund. If you plan on studying abroad more than once, make sure to set aside enough of the grant to support yourself during the other quarters you anticipate being away from campus.
- Figure out your phone plan. Depending on your specific phone plan, plan to pause your current one and get a different SIM card abroad, which might involve signing up for a new plan. I personally used T-Mobile, which did not charge me extra for texting or using data while away from the United States, but did charge me by the minute for phone calls not made over Wi-Fi.
- Save up. If you have an on-campus job or summer earnings, save money before you leave. Although some programs have exceptions to this, it might be the case that you are ineligible to work and earn wages in your new country of residence. For example, while the program in Florence offers a few paid positions for students interested in running the program’s social media accounts or helping coordinate major events, the program in Oxford does not. If your ability to work while abroad is something you are concerned about, it is worth contacting the program in advance to see if they offer any form of student employment.
- Understand your health insurance. Depending on the country, you may be required to pay for your own medical expenses up-front, even if you have Cardinal Care insurance. In some cases, the program may be willing to pay for the medical expenses on your behalf and charge them to your student bill for you to pay back later. Understanding how your insurance works in relation to the country’s healthcare system will help you plan how much money you should save for expected or unexpected medical expenses.
- Find a community. Because the FLI identity is not necessarily a visible one, it can be challenging to know who you can count on to understand the struggles you face and who may be facing them as well. Many study abroad programs don’t have a large FLI group, and it can be difficult to find people who share your background. Both times I studied abroad, I was one of only a couple of FLI students in my cohort. Regardless, do your best to find a community of friends you can rely on. Chances are that others are looking for the same thing.
- Ask for help. When it comes to asking for help in the case of an emergency, reach out to the program staff on- and off-campus, who may be able to direct you to additional resources, such as the Opportunity Fund or on-site counseling. Additionally, if there is an academic or cultural experience you think you would benefit from but do not have the means to attend, tell someone on staff. It might be the case that the program will be able to either sponsor the event for you, subsidize it, or reimburse you for part of it. It is worth noting that different programs have different amounts of resources at their disposal, so this will depend on the program itself.
- Look forward to the Bing Trip. If you do not have the budget to travel as often as your peers do, know that you have at least one sponsored trip to look forward to: the Bing Trip. The Bings generously pay for travel to and from the location, hotel accommodation, in addition to some meals and planned events. This trip will likely be one of the highlights of your study abroad experience because you get a chance to explore a new place and make new friends in your cohort.
- Budget wisely. Depending on the structure of the program, you may receive a stipend as part of your time there. In Florence, this stipend is intended to cover the costs of meals your host family does not provide (i.e. lunch), and at Oxford, students use it to buy ingredients to cook meals at the Stanford House on days they choose not to eat at the dining hall. Although this is how the money is intended to be used, know that you can budget as you see fit and use the money how you wish.
- Learn how to talk about your experience. After you come home, you might find it challenging to talk to family and friends about your experiences abroad. You might fight off the urge to start sentences like “When I was in Italy,” or “When my friends and I went to Venice,” feeling unsure about how it might come across in the face of your family’s current financial situation. You should know that although learning how to talk about your time abroad may take time, your experience is not something you should feel guilty about. You deserve to feel how you feel about it—happy or otherwise.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.