By Annie Campbell
University of Georgia junior Maggie Wigton said a Maymester in Bali was a trip she couldn’t pass up.
Double majoring in anthropology and human geography, Wigton was eager to learn more about an entirely different language, population and culture from her own. However, money was a significant hurdle.
Studying abroad exposes students to new cultures and experiences that can enhance and even redirect their college careers. But, these excursions come with a price: large program fees and steep airline tickets top off their regular tuition costs. Unless students can financially prepare, some will miss the opportunity entirely.
While Wigton’s mom offered to pay for the program cost and the Zell Miller scholarship already covered class tuition, the international flights and additional expenses were Wigton’s responsibility.
“I’m very privileged to have help from my mom, but I also respect the fact that she made me pay (the airfare) on my own,” Wigton said.
Wigton had money saved from working through high school, but as the trip neared, unexpected expenses arose. Originally, she had planned to do an internship at an agricultural retreat center in Bali after her program, making her applicable for the Asia-Georgia Internship Connection scholarship offered through the UGA Office of International Education.
However, after considering how long she would be away from home, Wigton became nervous and backed out of the position, leaving her without scholarship assistance and with a $500 airline fee for changing her two flights.
On top of those expenses, Wigton was hit with a speeding ticket.
In the semester leading up to her trip, Wigton worked at Outback in Athens, Georgia, taking on four to five shifts per week on top of her double-major class schedule.
“I definitely had to cut back on fun things and just focus more on saving my money,” she said.
Rebekah Ryan, a distance learning coordinator at UGA, said program affordability is a concern to all of the students she advises. A large part of Ryan’s role is letting students know how many scholarships are available to them based on where they travel and their academic standing.
Even with financial aid, Ryan finds that many students struggle with personal budgeting once they arrive.
“I’ve had someone say in France before, ‘I feel like I’m just spending monopoly money,’ because it’s not the U.S. dollar,” she said. “It looks different… the value of it kind of feels fake to you.”
Conscious of this dilemma, Wigton documented her spending in a little notebook, where she converted her payments from rupiah to dollars to ensure she wasn’t going over her projected budget.
“It’s amazing how much writing down what you’re spending money on will make you realize that you’re wasting your money,” she said.
She also paid close attention to bank fees attached to ATM withdrawals. Some classmates weren’t as cognizant of this fee and made many withdrawals over the three and a half weeks, which Wigton said was “money wasted – just thrown away.”
Wigton didn’t come home with exorbitant souvenirs, such as handmade Balinese masks, but the experiences were enough to cherish.
Wigton only wishes she had been more proactive in looking for scholarships. She recommends future student travelers do “anything you can do to save yourself more money so that you can be as active as you want to be where you’re going.”
Annie Campbell is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.