MSU’s study abroad programs are touted as some of the university’s greatest assets. The staggering number and specificity of programs to each major and opportunities in six continents are things the university should be proud of. Heck, I even went on a study abroad. However, I think that the rhetoric surrounding study abroad MSU needs to be reevaluated.
Last year, I attended a meeting for people looking for ways to finance their study abroad. Students were given multiple pamphlets, each full of colorful graphics, but none of them seemed to quite explain a good way to offset the cost that was upwards of 10,000 dollars per trip. They suggested things like taking out loans (federally subsidized or public) or applying for scholarships. The most disturbing part was at the beginning of the presentation, a slide that read: “Study Abroad: You Can’t Afford Not to Go,” to which I replied in my head: “Actually, I can.”
The actual logistics of going on a study abroad are very different from the carefree process the study abroad office projects. The cost is a much larger burden than MSU would have you believe. There is the study abroad fee, which is a few thousand dollars on top of MSU tuition, which most study abroad programs have because they are taught by MSU faculty. There will likely be additional expenses as well. For my study abroad, I had to purchase the flight separately, and all of my food, which was outlined by the pre-departure materials, but I ended up spending much more than the program anticipated.
I was lucky to have financial support from my family, but I still took a lot out in loans, including spending money (to supplement the money I had saved for it). There were group activities that cost a lot of money like eating at restaurants for most dinners and getting gelato everyday. I ended up spending way more than the program overview projected due to unexpected expenses of travel, (e.g. missed train, had to buy a second ticket, museum visits, extra international phone data, and more.) Even with the extra expenses, going on a study abroad wasn’t prohibitively expensive for me, but that wasn’t the case for everyone; some people in the group withdrew from the study abroad before it began because of the cost.
Study abroad is framed as a non-optional part of student life at MSU. One of my friends was actually required to complete a study abroad for her Spanish major. She was able to fund it with scholarships, but only because she worked tirelessly, applying for every available scholarship. The rhetoric surrounding study abroad at MSU as something that everyone does or is expected to do needs to change. With the current student loan crisis not showing signs of slowing down, students really need to consider how a study abroad will affect them later in their lives, especially if it is funded fully or partially with loans. The illusion of ‘affording’ via loans, needs to be addressed in a more forthcoming manner, and the tagline “you can’t afford not to go!” needs to be pulled immediately.
As a student who completed a study abroad and now has a much increased loan balance, I would advise prospective study abroad students to look deeply into how a study abroad will impact them financially. As amazing as my experience abroad was, I want other students to be aware of all the costs that go into studying abroad.
Emily Hobrla @emilyhobrla is a Junior studying Professional Writing with a focus in Editing and Publishing. She loves making new friends in the PW major and beyond, and is excited to contribute to The Current with writing and editing work. Outside of school, her interests include fashion, tennis, and squirrel watching.