It was summer and I was working a minimum wage job in college as an audio visual technician, running events in the Student Union Building. It was another school orientation. The next presentation was about studying abroad. While listening to the study abroad coordinator emphatically listing the benefits of going to school in China and Chile, I became excited. I could do this.
I was 19 and I had never traveled before. I wanted to, but never had the opportunity. My parents couldn’t swing it and I didn’t have the willpower to save. Money over the years had kept me from summer art programs in New York City and a class trip to Paris. Next year, I would think. Now I had resolve. A year from now I’ll be halfway across the world. I had decided upon Japan, the mystical land of anime and arcades. The school I would eventually choose was in Tokyo, the most expensive metropolis in the world. How could I afford this?
There was a way. I decided upon a direct-exchange program with my university. Hosei University and Boise State University had an agreement where I could go there for the same cost as my tuition at home. I did not receive one, but there were study abroad scholarships available, that would provide a $2500 stipend. Then there was housing to attend to. I had settled on a room at a girl’s dormitory. The school paid my electric bill and subsidized my rent, making it $300 a month. Which included two meals a day. That was half the cost of my rented apartment back in the United States. Internet and telephone was $40 a month, my subway pass $100, my pay-as-you-go cell phone was $90 initially, then $10 a month after that.
All in all, I had $450 a month in bills. The rest was carefully budgeted for food and entertainment. The money wasn’t as tight as I had initially imagined. I splurged as I went clubbing at the top clubs, went on a road trip around Japan, stayed at a luxury onsen with Mt. Fuji outside my window. Yes, there were $22 movie tickets and $12 drinks, but they were balanced with many free activities. Hanami (flowers) and hanabi (fire-flowers): sitting around with a buffet of snacks, watching cherry blossoms and fireworks with friends. A ubiquitous amount of parks and temples. Museums and events en gratis. Walking and exploring Tokyo costs nothing and one can never stop finding remarkable things.
In the end, my five months in Japan (minus tuition) came out to around $7000, including airfare. More than being back home, but not as much as I had feared. It was paid for through student loans, money saved (finally!) from my job, and my parents. Through it I gained a wealth of friends and experiences.
I urge you, or anyone, wanting to study abroad to do it. Never let fears of money hold you back. Through careful planning and diligence, it can be done.