A few months ago, I was on a tea date with this British guy from Tinder (yes…I’m on Tinder, swipe right if you see me! 😉 ). We were talking about Europe, and I mentioned that I used to live in Belgium as an exchange student. He then replied,
“Wow, you got to be an exchange student? You must have gone to a really good high school.”
(Or something like that. I was too distracted by his charming British accent to actually remember.)
When he said that, I literally almost laughed out loud. His assumption that I went to a rich and fancy high school was funny because it couldn’t have been more wrong.
Let me explain.
There were 3 high schools in my school district. The one I went to was notably the most “ghetto” of the three. Studying abroad wasn’t something that my high school encouraged. In fact, I was probably the first student to have left after three years to study abroad. There wasn’t a system in place for those wanting to study abroad, so I had to figure it out myself.
“How did you even get the idea to study abroad?”
It was all thanks to my Mandarin teacher my freshman year of high school. She encouraged me to apply to NSLI for Youth, a program that granted scholarships for high school students to study abroad. The scholarship is available for students to learn less commonly taught languages such as Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian and Turkish.
I was excited to learn about this program because the scholarship was fully funded. If I got the scholarship, I would be able to spend my summer in China without needing much money.
So I applied for the program and went through the interview process. Unfortunately, I was not awarded the scholarship…
Although it was devastating to not be selected, I didn’t give up on the idea of studying abroad.
“OK. So how did you manage to study abroad then?”
Not long after getting the rejection email, I started researching into other student exchange programs. I knew there had to be more opportunities out there.
Unfortunately, many of the popular student exchange programs also came with a substantial fee (≈$10,000+). I knew there was no way my parents could afford to send me abroad through one of those programs. Both of my parents worked blue-collar jobs and made just enough to pay for necessary expenses. Anything outside of what we actually needed was out of the question (dance classes, music lessons, fancy technology, etc.).
After doing a lot of research, I finally discovered a program that would allow me to study abroad for a full year without the hefty price tag. This AMAZING program is called Rotary Youth Exchange. Upon completing the VERY lengthy application and interview process, I was accepted!
The only expenses I was responsible for were round-trip airfare, insurance cost, passport fees, visa fees and spending money. Room and board were provided at no cost. The program even awarded me a monthly stipend (≈$100).
“But how did you get money for the airfare and fees?”
My parents helped out with the airfare and fees because they knew how much I wanted to do this. (They probably also realized they would save money with me being away for a year.)
I also worked a part-time job right up until I left. I knew that if I wanted something, I would have to work for it. (I’ve been working since I was 15…retail jobs, restaurant jobs, not-sketchy-Craigslist gigs , you name it.)
“What about during college? How did you travel then?”
I started college and a new part-time job right after I got back from my exchange year. Since I went to a community college close by home my first year, I was able to save a lot of money by living with my parents. The money I saved went to paying for my spring break trip to Canada.
Saving up for traveling got a bit harder my last three years of college because I transferred to a university far from home. (far = 1.5-hour drive from my parent’s home)
Since it was too far for me to commute anymore, I had to find housing close by campus. I picked the cheapest and least sketchy place I could find so that I would be able to save money. Instead of paying $600-$700 for a studio in a nice student apartment, I paid around $300-$400 for a decent room in a shared apartment.
The money I saved doing this went to more spring break trips as well as my birthday trips.
Aside from just saving money through working (sometimes multiple jobs), I also searched for additional opportunities to travel. I was able to travel to several out-of-state conferences through some of the student organizations I was in. Hotel and transportation were paid for by the student organizations, so I only had to pay the small conference fee ($30-$50).
Thanks to a scholarship through Solidarity Ignite, I also had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic for two weeks. I found out about this opportunity through a student organization.
“So WAIT, you didn’t have to sell drugs, rob a bank or resort to other illegal activities?”
Nope. Travel can be AFFORDABLE. You just have to stop thinking it’s out of your reach and get off your ass to make it possible!
“TL;DR. Summary please?”
Alright…Here are the three steps I took to travel:
- Prioritize travel –> Do you really need that new rose gold iPhone 6s? Do you really need a new wardrobe? Do you really need that nice student apartment with the fancy pool?
- Constantly seek out opportunities to travel –> Google is your friend.
- Hustle to finance those opportunities –> Work a part-time job. Do paid gigs. Sell that ukulele you bought but never touched.
That’s really all it takes to travel.
I’m working on compiling an extensive list of all the opportunities I’ve discovered to study abroad, volunteer abroad and work abroad. I will be sharing this with you all soon, so don’t forget to subscribe!
If you have any more questions for me, drop them below. 🙂