Studying Abroad When You're Broke

Noelle McGee University of Edinburgh, Scotland


November 8, 2017

I do not come from an affluent family. I have no shame in saying this now that I’m away, but at Northwestern University, it’s something that brought me a lot of shame. I’m the oldest child at home, and when I was able to work, I put that money in to help not only my own personal expenses but also help my family. I would try to stay longer at work so I could accumulate overtime, even though I hated the job, because I knew that I needed the money to support myself. The struggle on my Mom to support two kids pushed me to strive for independency and co-parenting for my younger sister.

After months of overworking myself to try to save money to go abroad and have them all slip away to pay for other expenses towards study abroad, I took out a loan. My Mom made sure that I didn’t take out any student loans while I was at Northwestern, but it resulted in her scraping every coin she could to ensure that I also didn’t have debt. This year though, I was convinced to take out a loan to have an unforgettable experience. An experience that everyone told me would be one I don’t regret and want to be stress-free, especially considering how much anxiety I had about suddenly having no money due to traveling preparations.

I decided to live in a flat because I didn’t want to have a roommate again. I was going to be in a completely new place, I wouldn’t know anyone, and I figured that I would be quite anti-social if my depression didn’t get to me first. Before I left, I made a list of the things I would need for my flat; I had never bought kitchenware, bedding, etc. to furnish a new place, so I was overwhelmed by how much money had to go into just starting to live in a place. Friends from home told me to get one large pan, a large pot, one bowl, and one plate, and I wouldn’t have to worry about buying an entire kitchen set and what would happen to it when I left. It was good, solid advice, and I still only own these items myself.

However, in Scotland at least, it’s more common to go out socially to bond. I have classmates that invite me out to eat after class to catch up and spend time together, asking to go out for drinks, go out to a club, etc., and I have to be honest and say I’m broke. Even though I had food at home, I would still agree to go out with them because these friends are working, having extra-curriculars they’re in charge of, travel half an hour back home, and extending an invitation to go eat out and catch up for the week is how it is commonly done. But I have to be honest about how I can’t go buy groceries if I go out weekly to eat a meal, even if it’s a burrito across the street.

Finances bring me a lot of anxiety, and they always have. However, the loan I took out and the reassurance I was given before I left about how I wouldn’t have to worry about anything after taking these loans out have me extremely stressed. I’m looking at the rest of November and December probably eating pasta, rice, eggs, and bread, simply because they are staple and cheap items that require little time and can last me a day or so if I wake up late (which tends to be most of the time) and skip breakfast. These are all unhealthy habits, which I don’t recommend anyone do; when stressed, I used to not eat at all and I lost quite a bit of weight. Luckily, I haven’t reached that point and my flatmates offer me to eat with them and give me food, along with finessing dates and being fed.

However, speaking realistically, adulting and managing money, which I never learned how to do, is something I stress to you if you want to go abroad. Additionally, if you come abroad and you are also not comfortable with asking for money from overseas and want to find work, make sure that you have enough to last you for a semester and support yourself. Many people have jobs, but they have had these jobs for awhile, and many of the jobs although stating they will train you, still wish for the experience. One of the pressing issues about staying for a year is if I can support myself financially, and the job hunting process has been one that’s been extremely rough. If you are studying abroad for longer than three months, you are qualified to work in the U.K., but since I would still only be temporary, that is a factor into why I may not be hired as well.

If you can, try to save as much money as you can before you leave. If you can avoid expediting your passport, visa, and all other costs, you can save money by being on time with having your documents with standard shipping time. The conversion rate for my bank is also fairly high, so I lose a lot of money whenever drawing from ATMs, and you have to draw out money in bulk to make this cost lower. Work on your budgeting as well, and this will allow you to create a set amount of money to spend on going out, socializing, groceries, and textbooks if you need them. Housing is also something that I must pay for which takes a large chunk of the money I’m reimbursed with, so the money I have left over is what I can work with in the time between the payments. My final option was to contact home and ask to borrow money, which pained my pride and makes me bitter about not having money even though I have loans now, but I do recommend you take any steps you need to and plan accordingly, especially if you would like to travel someplace. With all of these things to consider, it can be stressful. However, find ways to be accountable, such as a budgeting app (I use Mint), and the earlier you start, the better.