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Studying Abroad: Finances

Studying Abroad: Finances by Cortez Johnson

 I’ve decided that I want this series on study abroad to be less didactic and more interactional. In

that vain, I will be discussing the subtopics as conversationally as is appropriate for a

university-backed online publication. So money; for many black people, money is never a light

topic. It can dictate much of what we can experience and usually acts as a dividing line between

the classes. One of the greatest things about the study abroad experience, at least at Vanderbilt, is

that it is insanely inexpensive. Not including the issues and expenses that I experienced obtaining

a visa (see a forthcoming article), I spent approximately $3,000 in Australia, including additional

housing expenses to live in one of the nicer residential college options. I had the option of living

in self-catered apartments for $2,000 less, but I figured I would probably spend that money on

food anyway and not have the opportunity to interact with Australians on a daily basis. I will say

that I splurged on a “Spring” break trip to Malaysia that cost roughly an additional $700, but

again that was a choice. That is one of the best things about IFSA’s study abroad program: you

have the opportunity to cater your experience.

Now, I know there are definitely a lot of people who have glossed over these numbers and said

something like, “wow, that’s it?!” and there are others who like me would have said something

like, “yeah, sounds nice to have about $3,000 lying around. How’s the trust fund going?” Well

ladies, gentlemen, and gender-queer individuals, I too didn’t have $3,000 at my disposal

immediately. I decided my freshman year that I wanted to go on this trip. I was pleasantly

surprised by how accurate that initial prediction was; by the end of my sophomore year, I needed

this time away. So starting in my second semester of my freshman year, I started working and

saving. I saved over half of what I earned. I worked two jobs throughout the summer. My parents

did help me out with rent that summer, and for that I am very grateful, none of us can get through

this life alone. I also saved money I received from my grants/scholarships. I reduced the money I

spent throughout the semester. As one of my biggest expenses is clothing (I’m low-key an

aspiring fashion influencer) I had to be really creative with mixing textiles for a while, and I

discovered that Amazon has a surprising amount of random deals on a lot of unique accessories.

So after a year of working and saving, I was lucky enough to have enough money to buy my

plane ticket (and a summer course at a state school) out of pocket. Thanks to Vanderbilt’s

generosity, I received an advance on my financial aid for the Fall of 2018 in July and was able to

off-balance those expenses. Ideally, I would probably have used closer to $2,000 of my own

money here in Australia (not including the housing stuff), but that all changed due to the Visa

issues I experienced. I resolved to I cut my budget in half, and I spent accordingly.

With that money, some creativity, and a little help from currency conversion, I was able to have

a very fun yet frugal experience here in Australia. I celebrated my 21st birthday in this country

and had my first drink (for free!). It was great. There wasn’t a lot of pressure from the

Australians to spend a lot of money. Many of them are paying for their own education. Here, it

isn’t as common for parents to foot the bill. I spoke with dozens of students who told me about

their jobs in various industries - it was refreshing to feel as though I was back in the real world

and out of the Vandy-bubble, all it took was flying 9,000 miles away. Don’t get me wrong, there

were definitely some Americans who lived way more extravagantly than me. I heard tales of

weekend trips to Melbourne or the Great Barrier Reef. I decided a more modest course of action

was best for my budget and went to the Blue Mountains (a 2 hour journey) for $AU 2.70. Thank

goodness for public transportation discount days. Despite the fact that the legal drinking age in

Australia is 18, I didn’t drink before I turned 21, and afterwards I saw no reason to change that

much. Some of my American peers took advantage of the legal differences and proudly

displayed their actual IDs in liquor stores many, many times. I will say that budgeting wasn’t as

easy as I sometimes may make it appear to be in this article. I did sacrifice a lot of fun. Public

transportation in Sydney is pretty well-developed especially when compared to comparable

American cities, but a bus ticket from UNSW to the city centre cost about $AU 3.66, each way. I

desperately wanted to go to the malls and museums in the city but I had to pace myself, and plan

my trips so as to make the most of the money it cost to even get there. In short, I walked a lot.

But Sydney is incredibly walkable. After growing up in Houston where you’re lucky if there is

crosswalk button and even luckier if there is a sidewalk, walking never felt better.

So what advice do I have for prospective study abroad enthusiasts? Firstly, do it! Please, do it.

Especially, if you are a person of color. Diversity is needed. Secondly, save. Save more than you

think you’ll spend. You never know when you’ll have to bleed an extra thousand just to get a

visa expedited. Third, remember that when you arrive in your country of residence that things

will be different, but embrace the changes while embracing your own value. This world is wide

and beautiful, with so many wonders awaiting. Chase after them. There are few greater

sensations than a wanderlust satiated.

By Cortez Johnson