By Xumei Wu, University of Missouri

Before coming to study journalism at the University of Missouri, I’d never left my native China.

So, I thought I was prepared well enough to support my basic needs in America with jam and sausage – foods that can be stored for a long time – as well as bringing clothing for summer and winter. The reality though, is that you always spend more than you think.

About accommodation:I was able to get a fixed dorm accommodation before arrival – but I hadn’t counted on a $17 monthly fee for paying by credit card. One of my classmates chose to pay rent three months at a time to save on the service fee. By asking around, I found that if I paid by check, I could avoid the fee altogether.

About cash: I had exchanged a lot of cash before traveling, and there was barely anything left after paying my tuition and rent at Mizzou. So, I decided to open a checking account at a Missouri bank. I learned there are lots of bank in America that will give you a $30-$50 bonus if you can refer someone else. I deposited about $200, but got extra an $100 by referring three friends. Next, I researching finding credit cards that don’t require social security numbers to apply. Later, I was able to get a social security number and applied for Discover and another card. I also figured out how to transfer money back and forth by using a money order service at Walmart for 88 cents.

About food: I seldom go out for a meal, and cook for myself. I looked at the campus dining options, but it was still cheaper to buy groceries. Every week, I have to figure out how to get to Walmart to buy some fresh food for cooking at my dorm. There’s a shuttle every Saturday afternoon from campus to Walmart, and sometimes I just ask some classmates to see if they will go to market.

About different prices for the same thing at home and abroad: The HPV vaccine, which will cost almost $200 in China, if you can find it, is only $20 at a medical clinic near campus. I’ve also found vitamins and some American clothing to be less expensive than in China.

It’s been a journey to navigate my finances as an international student. A lesson I’ve learned is to ask for more details when facing something you don’t know. Once you figure it out, it will not only help you save money, but give you a chance to see a whole different world and to know it deeper.

Xumei Wu is a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.