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Broke But Abroad: A Survival Guide For The Penniless Student

My motto has always been: Everyone can study abroad if they set their mind to it. Your economic condition doesn’t matter, it only depends on how you manage your opportunities. Financial aid, for example, may be all too familiar to you for your home university, but it exists for study abroad opportunities too! Grants, scholarships, loans, they open doors, and buy plane tickets, and pay for student accommodation. They’re not only important, but crucial. The more I go through the experience of applying for financial aid again, the more I realize that the trickiest part is actually after you weaved your way around the paperwork hurdles. You need a plan, you need a mindset. Because if you’re like me, a financially illiterate grad student, chances are you will end up doing the same I do: refusing to buy chewing gum because it is unaffordable. So I thought long and hard about what has worked for me when it comes to managing my money, and I came up with three things that help me eat real food and not ramen every night.


1. Budgets are key

I know I am pointing out the obvious, but I had to, in case it is not clear. Budgets are super important. I didn’t believe in their power until I saw this friend of mine buying electronics as a “gift to himself for no particular reason” while still on exchange. You have to be as detailed as possible to know how much you need to spend versus how much you can spend. Keep track of your bank account, download spend-tracking apps, whatever works for you. I’m not endorsing it, but should you have the need to buy something else other than the absolute necessary, budgets help so you don’t end up relying on your pennies at the end of the semester.

2. Save

Please. Do yourself a favor and remember to save. I know it’s hard, but keep your budget in mind  and remember that spending ten dollars on a night out with people you only get to be with for a couple of months is almost as good as saving it for your holidays. This is where you have to choose where to invest: short-term fun (meaning parties and going out) or long-term fun (meaning travel). I have to confess that I lean more towards short-term fun, but I found a way to do both. My secret is this: sharing as much as possible with your friends. Being abroad is all about the experience, and you don’t necessarily have to empty your wallet to gain meaningful memories. Cooking together with your friends and going on weekend road trips are good examples of buck-saving activities that guarantee good memories. They’re cheap, they’re fun, and most importantly, you get to eat decent dinners, experience more of your host country and actually get to know people.  

3. “Eco-friendly” is code for “cheap”

There is no shame in going on a night adventure dumpster diving, nor in getting the latest fashion fads from your local bazaar or second hand store while while humming “Thrift Shop” in your head. Actually, as an environmental science student, I feel like I even have to encourage it. I mean, the alternative is to feed yourself potato chips and 99 cent instant soups, and that’s no good for anyone. After all, another man’s trash is the international student’s treasure. You’d be surprised how much fun –and how much better in general– it is to embrace what my friends and I call the “low-budget” lifestyle. So go and recycle those cans, ride a bike if your commute allows it, buy on local second hand stores. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.

There you have it peeps! It’s not fool-proof, but these are the things that have worked for me. And I know I’m missing like a ton of other things, so I shall let you go in peace, but do tell me, what other things have you guys done to live the international life while broke? Drop your knowledge for the fam on the comment section!

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Aleja Castro

Aleja is a self-proclaimed citizen of the world, although she’s originally from sunny Baja California, Mexico. She’s a bachelor in Environmental Science and currently resides in Denmark, where she’s studying a master degree in urban sustainability in Aalborg University. Some of Aleja’s hobbies include ice-skating, ruining hiking routes, pretending she’s a competent novelist, hunting for actual sunlight in Aalborg, and reading Rachel Carson’s beautiful books out loud until she chokes on her own tears. Aleja is passionate about discovering the world and helping others do the same. During her high school and university career she became well versed in the world of funding herself to travel despite being penniless, and she now dedicates her free time to mentor kids with their own study-abroad projects.


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