The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Studying abroad: minimize expenses and maximize oppportunity

“Traveling the world was truly life-changing,” says junior Colby Kotzen, who spent her fall semester studying in Paris. “I came back to SMU a different and better person, but there are definitely things I wish I had known before I went.” Like many other students, Kotzen learned the difficulties of managing her own finances for the first time.

With access to 145 study abroad programs in 48 countries, a growing number of SMU students are eager to get engaged internationally. Those who have studied abroad agree that it is one of the most enriching experiences a student can have in college, yet also very challenging.

Whether you choose a summer, semester, or year-long program, planning for your travel is vital in order to attain the best experience possible. Preparation begins with deciding how to manage finances when you’re actually abroad. Many expenses may not be included in the program fee, but are unavoidable, and are part of living on your own and studying in another country.

Once the program fees are paid, a student must tackle many his or her own personal financial matters, such as what cell phone plan to choose and how to budget daily spending, as well as airport transportation and weekend travel excursions.

According to the Institute of International Education, 44 percent of study abroad students go to Western European countries. Programs in this area are expensive for the typical college student. Irene Ziegler, the program director for the Innsbruck International Summer School Austria, says that researching cost of living in your host country and knowing what you can spend is crucial.

“When preparing your abroad budget, overestimate rather than underestimate,” says Ziegler. “Students should get a credit card in their name and know the limit, as well as a debit card so they can withdraw cash.” The main card networks such as Mastercard, Visa, and American Express all use competitive rates and are better than anything you’ll find in an international bank.

Kotzen’s parents gave her a set amount of money each week on a debit card for everyday needs, and a credit card for weekend trips and emergencies. “This was a really good system and helped me spend in moderation,” says Kotzen. “Try to keep withdrawing cash from ATMs at a minimum though, because most banks charge you a small fee each time and it starts to add up.”

Setting a budget for independent travel, tourist attractions, and souvenirs will vary for each individual and that budget might have to alter throughout your stay, therefore it is important for students to be able to contact their parents. Ziegler says there are several affordable phone plans that can accommodate students depending on their situation.

“Most students purchase a Global Services for Mobile cell phone when traveling abroad,” says Ziegler. “Outside the United States, cell phone carriers operate on GSM, and purchasing one of these phones is a cost effective way if staying in touch with no phone bills and excessive roaming charges.”

There are several different international cell phone packages with varied costs and advantages. For students who think they will need to use their cell phones more frequently, Ziegler suggests the Free Pack Kit V600 cell phone package that comes with a sim card and $300 worth of minutes to begin with.

Advantages to this phone are free received text messages and only $0.29 cents per minute for calls to the United States. Students who need to communicate with their parents often and text other friends abroad should select this option. A disadvantage is that it is more expensive than others, costing $299.

Allison Hackett, a sophomore who will study in London this summer, plans to purchase the V600 package. “I am definitely not bringing my blackberry, considering all the roaming and Internet charges,” says Hackett. “All the SMU-in-London students will have this phone or one similar so that we won’t have to purchase more minutes while we’re they’re.”

Another option Ziegler suggests is the Samsung Ch@t 222 Quad Pack. Priced at $129, this phone package includes free incoming calls and incoming text messages in over 75 countries including the United States, however it only comes with $10 worth of minutes to begin with. This option would be perfect for a student who does not need as much communication, but it is still reachable at no cost.

Another important financial decision to make before your travel is the type of transportation you will use for weekend travel. Students generally either purchase a train pass or flights via student traveling websites, but there are pros and cons to each.

“If you plan to travel most weekends when you are abroad, I would suggest purchasing the Eurail global pass, which allows you to explore up to 23 countries in Europe,” says Ziegler. “You can get anything from a 21 day pass for $646 or a three-month pass for $1383.”

This is advantageous for students who will do a lot of traveling, and will save them time from purchasing a train ticket every time they go on an excursion.

“The Eurail global pass is definitely the way to go,” says Kotzen. “A pre-paid train pass made planning each weekend so much easier, and buying individual train tickets is more expensive in the long run.”

Students who might not travel as often should choose can choose the Eurail Select Pass, where you can explore five countries over a two month period for $392. Hackett and other students doing a summer abroad program can benefit from this option.

Ziegler insists that establishing a cell phone plan, transportation method, and a fixed budget, will reduce other abroad stresses significantly.

“Planning ahead is the way to go,” says Ziegler. “Weighing all of your options before you start your program will strongly affect the magnitude of your overall journey.”

More to Discover