By Mitch Lipka
(Reuters) – Studying abroad may be an alluring idea in college. But the cost makes it a reality for only about 300,000, or 1 percent, of students each year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Program prices vary widely by school, region, and other factors. Brown University students, for example, must pay $24,136 for a semester in such locations as London and Kyoto, Japan, excluding health insurance, travel, housing, meals, books and miscellaneous expenses.
For some insight into the value of studying abroad as well as to get tips about locations, and saving money, Reuters asked Stacie Berdan, author of “A Parent Guide to Study Abroad,” to demystify some of the complexities of these programs.
Q: How should parents and students look at the often high cost of study abroad programs?
A: As a parent, I understand that price matters a great deal. But as a business woman, I recommend parents look at the value of the experience and its return-on-investment, or ROI.
Q: What countries tend be more affordable?
A: Generally speaking, Western European countries such as England, Italy and France are inherently more expensive than developing countries such as Peru, Senegal or Thailand. The difference has to do with the host country’s overall standard of living and the overall cost of basic goods and services.
Q: What steps do you recommend parents take to help shave some costs?
A: Every year tens of millions of dollars are given to students to study abroad. Most colleges and universities with study abroad offices have a wealth of information about the various forms of scholarships available from a variety of sources.
IIE (Institute of International Education) offers the most comprehensive listing of study abroad resources online (http://studyabroadfunding.org).
Lastly, look into the option of having your child enroll directly in a foreign university, which usually requires withdrawing from his or her home college for the semester or year. This is usually the cheapest alternative, and significantly so, and offers your child an opportunity for real independent learning on a global scale.
Q: What sort of insurance changes or additions should be made before sending a child abroad?
A: If your child is on your health insurance policy, keep them on and call your representative to find out if additional coverage is necessary. At the same time, look into the medical insurance being offered by the study abroad provider to be sure it properly covers your child and that he or she completes the necessary paperwork prior to departure. Most countries around the world do not accept U.S. medical insurance and may demand cash prior to treatment if one does not have international traveler’s medical insurance.
Q: Are there any sorts of bank account or credit card changes that parents or students should make?
A: If your child is going to be studying for at least a semester or a year, consider opening a local bank account so he or she has better access and won’t be charged transfer fees.
Another option is to open a U.S.-based account with international branches (depending on the study abroad location) or a U.S. bank that allows for free ATM withdrawals and no foreign transaction fees – same with credit cards. Credit cards are important and provide a means for your child to use less cash, but check the study abroad location to find out if the security chip is used in credit cards as opposed the magnetic strip.
Q: If you son or daughter is on your cell phone plan, can they remain on it?
A: Cell phones are a good idea to have, but your child should be using them on a local basis, not for calling back to the U.S.
Skype is the obvious free option. Although parents should check their carrier’s plan for coverage, most students tend to either buy a local SIM card to use in their U.S. phone (check to make sure it’s compatible) or buy a cheap, local cell phone and SIM card. They won’t really need their U.S. music or movie lists as they should be immersing themselves in local culture.
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Richard Chang)