18 Months Abroad Without Breaking the Bank or Selling Any Organs on the Way

Jac @ CustomsLah
7 min readJun 10, 2017

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Disclaimer: The following is an explanation of how I personally pulled off this feat for myself. This article is not a “how-to” for you to pull off my exact trip at my exact price tag, but instead to illustrate how adventures like this are 100% possible, and these are the things to keep in mind if you want to plan one. If you make careful decisions, put in the time, and persevere, you can also travel the world affordably.

Note: I go to the Ohio State University, and will mostly be covering the logistics of handling a semester study abroad

Here is a brief outline of my trip:

(May) Study abroad in Senegal

(Aug — Dec) Study abroad South Korea.

(Dec — Feb) Family and friend visit in Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia

(Feb — June) Study abroad in New Zealand

(June) Creative Festival in France

(July — Aug) Teaching English in China

(Aug — Dec) Working in England

  1. The first thing you need to do when you decide you want to travel is, identify what you want to get out of this trip; at most your top 2 wants.

The two I identified were: cost of the program and staying on track with graduation. I am a low-income student as well as a STEM major. If I wanted to make this trip happen, mom and dad could not pay a dime even if they wanted to, and if I wasn’t careful I could fall behind academically and require another semester (honestly, an extra semester in the grand scheme of life is not a huge deal, but knowing I wanted to stay on the track gave me a lot of motivation to organize credits and correspond between advisors in various countries)

Cost of the Program: APPLY. FOR. SCHOLARSHIPS. AND. AVOID. DEBT. LIKE. THE. PLAGUE. I know students have different upbringings and values, and taking on debt is very common and manageable. HOWEVER, if you have the opportunity for debt-free education, I STRONGLY urge you to think about it. I ended up turning down an admission offer to my dream school for a full-ride scholarship, and to this day it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the end, it is your decision, but be wary of driving yourself into debt because you’ve romanticized a college name. Not only did I take the full-ride scholarship, but I was awarded several other scholarships to defer. These allowed me to pay for my health insurance and more travel opportunities, without ever needing to give mom and dad any awkward money phone calls. I also STILL apply for scholarships even now and work part-time jobs (dat money grind ya know). It’s free money, well worth your time over scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, or Netflix.

My go-to scholarship aggregator in high school was Fastweb and in college, I usually just search something like study abroad scholarships [insert your college name here] and that does the trick! Don’t forget to check out research grants and scholarships from your major’s department. Also, ask people in the study abroad and fellowship office too, they want to help!

The trick is to find the scholarships that are looking for qualities that you match the most, and spending more time on those over scholarships that require large amounts of work for less reward (you know like a 5 page essay for a 500 dollar scholarship, stay away from those unless you’ve got a ton of time).

*I’ve attached links to high school study abroad scholarships to the end of this article

If you slacked on the scholarship game, there is still good news! Your study abroad trip probably won’t cost much more than what you’re already paying to go to school now, and here is why:

You will need to look into your own school’s study abroad office and policies (come bearing gifts and ready to bond with your SA advisors as these are your go-to people), but there are programs set up so that you can use the scholarships/grants/loans/aid that you are already using to pay for school on your study abroad program. These are typically called approved third-party provider programs, and basically, if you can find one close to your actual cost of attendance for school, you’re golden.

So, being on a full-ride scholarship, all of my scholarships carry over for my terms in both Korea and New Zealand. The only thing left to do after that is making sure you can stay on track with graduation requirements abroad; if not, you may end up needing to pay for another semester when you get back.

*Additional scholarships I’ve applied for in the past, are covering my Senegal and France trip. China is a competitive volunteer program where flights, housing, meals, and stipends are covered, with the only requirement being that you are teaching English. Semesters are typically easier to find the most funding, with smaller trips you need to do a bit more financial planning and keep a lookout for opportunities to go abroad that match your skill sets.

Staying on Track with Graduation: This one is a bit more tricky and involves quite a lot of grunt work. It is important that you have an idea of your 4-year plan, and what course requirements you will need to fulfill before you can graduate. As a computer science major with a design minor this meant I needed to select universities abroad that would allow me to take courses in these fields. I specifically chose the University of Auckland and Korea University for their course opportunities in computer science, but many students take advantage of completing their general education requirements (or GEs) while abroad.

After you have selected a university/study abroad program that provides a majority of your needed courses, the hard work begins.

You must get as many courses as you can pre-approved to transfer back as a specific course before you depart. You need to know exactly what the course you are taking abroad will transfer back as, to be sure you aren’t wasting time taking courses that don’t get you closer to graduation.

Get yourself a study abroad folder and put these things in it:

  1. Your degree audit (lists out what graduation requirements you’ve fulfilled/have yet to fulfill)
  2. Current Transcript
  3. A list of important contacts, (academic advisor, major advisor, minor advisor, abroad program advisor, and the transfer credit coordinator for each department in which you are trying to get a course approved)
  4. The syllabi for every class abroad that you intend to take
  5. A document mapping out what course requirements you are trying to fulfill and an idea on which abroad courses you have selected will fulfill what

My university’s process, although time-consuming, was really very easy with only a few setbacks on the way. Your university could be even easier, but the more courses you need to fulfill while abroad, the more organized you should intend on being during this process.

The process goes a little something like this:

  1. Look at the degree audit from your home university for courses you still need to take
  2. Go to your abroad university’s course website, select courses that sound familiar to the ones you still need
  3. Email your abroad university/study abroad program advisor and request the syllabi for all of the courses you previously selected
  4. Forward the syllabi from the abroad university to your transfer credit advisor for that course at your home university

REPEAT.

Example: I need to fulfill Design 3505 while abroad for my minor (the course consists of typography studies and print media). Korea University offers a Printmaking course where we study and create print media. I get the syllabus from Korea University, send it to my Design Academic Advisor here at OSU and ask if it can be approved. If it gets approved, they fill out a pre-approved course form and that gets sent to someone else. Now when I go abroad and take printmaking, it comes back as Design 3505; i’m on track with my minor, and everything is gucci.

That’s it! A pretty straightforward process. I recommend getting at least 9 courses pre-approved, because, like any university, sometimes classes are canceled or they fill up, so keep your options open.

The pre-approval process is essential for STEM majors, and the biggest problem I experienced was simply getting the STEM departments to go through the process correctly, as this is something they usually don’t see/have to handle.

If you are a STEM major, it is highly likely you will need to be a bit more stubborn with getting your courses approved. Computer science majors here rarely study abroad due to the inflexibility of degree requirements, but don’t let the lack of a clear path keep you from starting one (it will make the process easier for future students as well if you do).

So that’s how I did it. Cost and credits are usually what scare students away the most, but I promise it really isn’t as complex as it seems. There are lots of people within your school’s study abroad office that is there to help you through the process. Keep in close contact with your advisors, stay organized, and be flexible with setbacks. I hope this article made the steps a little clearer and you find a way to get abroad as well!

Best of luck!

If you are a bit younger/in high school and reading this here are some study abroad scholarship programs for high schoolers that I recommend you take a look at:

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