Selena Drake discusses the unknown financial implications of study abroad
Studying abroad in Cape Town was indisputably one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences of my life. However, while always being in awe of it, one factor did weigh over me throughout the year that I feel is under-emphasised. Before applying to study abroad it had often been stressed to me that I should just go for it; that it was completely affordable as long as I budgeted carefully. It was emphasised by many who had previously studied abroad whose accounts I read online, that the experience develops you as a person – an account I completely agree with.
However, I came across another argument, one which I found increasingly difficult to empathise with. This argument suggested that those who choose to study abroad effectively demonstrate additional attributes that other students don’t possess to their same extent, such as bravery, confidence, and increased insightfulness. Perhaps I would have found it easier to believe this if not for the financial factor.
I’ve had someone inform me that you don’t need to be rich to study abroad, yet in Cape Town I spent substantially more than I did back in Glasgow in living costs. This seems bizarre considering the exchange rate was notably in my favour. Yet there were additional costs that I could never have anticipated. Groceries were surprisingly more expensive, something that I could not have previously known. I could only travel around in Ubers due to the safety factor of living in Cape Town. While I didn’t go paragliding, shark cage diving, or do many of the other activities that other study abroad students around me did, I spent more on nights out and on the occasional excursion such as travelling along the Garden Route. Before I even went abroad, the unexpected costs began to surprise me. Most notably, my flight and visa could only be arranged after my application had been accepted, a particularly lengthy procedure, which inevitably made my flight rather costlier. Additionally, I had to pay for x-ray and radiology scans privately as I was accepted by my host university too late to be apply to obtain these through the NHS.
While the pre-study abroad costs could not be helped, it could be argued that only I am to blame for the increased living costs when I was in Cape Town. This is fair. However, it is important to imagine the feeling of being left out if everyone around you were going on excursions and making the most of another country, with a new and exciting culture, except for yourself. The reality is that every fun activity and excursion in Cape Town was, while not ridiculously expensive, not cheap either. Yet, I felt that it would be silly for me to be in Cape Town without fully making the most of it.
The hard truth is that you need money to study abroad. It is rarely the affordable experience initially marketed to eager students. Admittedly, most people applying will probably come to have an idea of the financial implications before they finish their application. However, the one thing that irritates me is the argument that those who do study abroad possess additional qualities that others don’t, and it is simply their increased bravery and confidence that has allowed them to go abroad. This idea is not true, and the people who argue this most likely come from fairly wealthy backgrounds, wealthy enough that they do not have to consider the notion that some simply cannot afford it no matter how much they want to study abroad.
When calculating my living costs; flight costs, visa costs, etc., it became abundantly clear that I could never dream of going to Cape Town without coming from a fairly economically comfortable background. I am fortunate that money was not a factor that influenced my decision, but for many it is.
Studying abroad is a wonderful, amazing experience that I would never take back, but I won’t forget that it was money, not courage, that took me there. If you ever feel that you want to study abroad but you know that it is not financially or practically viable, don’t allow yourself to be belittled by a “spiritual wanderer” who has just returned from a far-off place who has the audacity to tell you that the only thing holding you back is yourself.