Writer Orla Brady highlights the difficulties you may face if looking to study abroad
Studying abroad can be one of the best experiences of your life; a time to meet new people, learn a new language, experience a culture you have never been exposed to before and test your independence. However, it can also be a large financial strain depending on where you go – a con that is not discussed nearly as often as the previously mentioned perks.
If your year abroad is compulsory, such as within a languages degree, you have the choice of whether you would like to study, work or teach. As my degree is a joint honours in English Literature and French, I chose to study. This was mainly due to the fact that I personally had no desire to teach and work placements were extremely difficult to find.
I spent nine months in Nice and I was lucky enough to have a friend who was also placed there. We were able to arrange important tasks such as finding accommodation and opening bank accounts together, as well as generally providing support for one another throughout the experience. Having a friendly face with me during my year abroad was exceptionally helpful for me.
Nice is an extremely expensive city and there was no way for us to escape the costs that were slowly mounting throughout the year. To put it into perspective, we paid 420€ each per month for our apartment. It consisted of one main room with a combined kitchen and living room, a bathroom and a mezzanine bedroom. My flatmate and I alternated each month between the bedroom and the sofa bed in the living room. Realistically, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment, with rent priced at 840€ per month. Luckily we were comfortable enough to live together in these small confines, however, if you did not have the privilege of having a companion with you, this would be a great deal to pay for a one-bedroom apartment on your own. Unfortunately, this is the case in the majority of large cities, not only in France but also all over Europe.
I didn’t meet a single Erasmus student in Nice who paid a significant amount less than us for their accommodation. Many shared with students they had never met before coming to France, a few lived alone and braved the cost of rent, whilst others stayed in student accommodation outside the city. Speaking to the friends I made on my year abroad, the majority of them expressed concern about their rent, stating that in their view it was overpriced, either regarding the facilities or location. A few of my friends even had to move accommodation during the year due to the expense, stopping them from adjusting and becoming fully settled.
Myself and my Glasgow University peers who were also studying abroad received an Erasmus grant, which was paid to us in instalments – the largest payment in October and the rest upon our return, which was helpful to get us back on our feet after the dent in our bank accounts following our time abroad. My friend who chose to teach, and was placed in Normandy, did not receive an Erasmus grant as he was given a wage from the school he taught in and was provided with accommodation at a reduced rate. His financial situation was not as much of a concern for him due to multiple factors such as the location in which he was placed and the fact that he had a steady income during this time. Another friend who completed a work experience in Marseille during his time abroad informed me that if you earned less than 500€ per month in your job, you were also entitled to an Erasmus grant. He admitted that this did help but, unfortunately, he also struggled financially with factors such as rent and the cost of living. Erasmus grants are also provided to those who do not do language degrees but simply choose to complete an optional year abroad with their course.
When talking to those I know who completed a year abroad, compulsory or voluntary, and chose to study, I noticed that, like me, they had a great deal of fond memories and were thankful for the experience as it enriched their awareness of culture and, for the language students, aided them in their studies and speaking skills. However, everybody immediately remembered the problems they had financially and were honest in saying that it did detract from experiencing life abroad to the full. Although all of us were placed in different locations, we all ended up facing very similar financial situations. We all relied on our Erasmus grants and student loans to get us by, however, all of our monthly student loan instalments were spent on rent and things such as grocery shopping and Wi-Fi, leaving very little money for anything else. Numerous people had to turn to parents or relatives for financial help or entered their overdraft. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation for any student.
During my time in Nice, I did consider getting a part-time job to aid me with my finances, however, I figured it may be difficult to find employment for such a short time and also, my studies turned out to be a lot more demanding than I expected. Although my French skills were good, I was there to learn to become more fluent and the fear of not being quite good enough with my language skills to cope in a workplace definitely held me back from applying for part-time jobs. My peers definitely shared these thoughts, as many of them also did not work part-time whilst they were studying abroad.
One large hindrance in my preparation for my year abroad was that the University informed us of where we would be placed in March, when we were expected to be in France for the start of the academic semester, only six months later. This was an exceptionally stressful time, as, within this short period, we had to find accommodation and plan financially.
Advice that I would give to anybody venturing on a year abroad in the future is to be as prepared as possible and begin thinking about and planning your finances as early as you can. If you know that you want to study, the likelihood is that you will be placed in a city therefore you have to plan for this well in advance, even before your lecturers begin discussing the year abroad with you. Although you may not know exactly where you will be placed, you will have a rough idea through the choices that you place within your second year so start to browse the accommodation that is available early so that you can be aware of how much you are willing to spend. If you are not obliged to complete a year abroad but are simply interested in venturing abroad, you must be aware that although support is offered through the grant, you will undoubtedly have to support yourself a great deal. You do not want to fall into the situation where you cannot get the best out of your year abroad due to financial concerns.