Budgeting while abroad: The Guinness can wait

By Connor Mills 

I believe that if a college student has the opportunity to study abroad — they should take it. Undergraduate study abroad programs are extensive and diverse, including a plethora of different places to visit and study. This past fall, I studied and worked in Dublin, Ireland. The experience was truly special.

Prior to departing onto greener pastures, all I could think about was what I would do upon arrival. I had packed everything together, taken out cash, and notified my bank that I was going to be out of the country for quite some time. I was ready to go – or so I thought.

Upon arrival in Ireland, I soon realized that I was not as ready as I felt I was. I didn’t have any clue about exchange rates, international fees, or basic European consumer processes. I couldn’t decide as to if I should meet my roommates first, get organized, or simply – get a pint of Guinness. After getting into my apartment, I decided to get organized and clean up my room. I found that I was missing some necessities and would have to venture out into this new world. I soon found myself stressed out and stuck. How much are pillows in euros? Where can I purchase a personal fan? Where can I buy cleaning supplies and Tupperware? How much are my US dollars worth? How much are credit and debit card fees? Should I even use it? Where do I go for groceries? What even is an exchange rate? Then, to make matters worse, my computer broke.

After some thorough research and aimless wandering, I made it to a currency-exchange located in downtown Dublin and traded my dollars in for euros. From what I recall, the exchange rate for USD to EUR was approximately 1.0038. I was explicitly surprised at seeing my euros being handed back to me as I felt I was being scammed. Nope, that’s just the exchange rate.

According to extensive research and me calling over 20 different tech-related places, I found that there was one Apple store in the entire country located two hours north. I managed after finding various IT places throughout the city with some help through the local people. Most of these places took cash only as well. Thankfully, I had some euros. My first week in Ireland did not go the way I expected it to. I was lost often and confused most of the time – all while attempting to get my feet on solid ground in my new home.

I soon realized that I wasn’t ready – and that’s okay! It took some time to get comfortable. I had to ask a lot of questions, meet a lot of different people, and make do with the resources I had around me at the time. But I made do — and I miss Ireland immensely.

Get yourself situated. Conduct your research. Do the heavy lifting early on so you can become comfortable. I went into my study abroad experience under the mindset that things would work out and fall in place. That was not the case. It may be irritating to do ahead of time, however going into an experience like this one with preparation puts you ahead of the game. When going abroad, research the costs of some of the products that you think you need. Factor in the international fees, if any, when using a debit or credit card and have some cash on hand. Give yourself the most amount of information possible. The more you can do beforehand, the better of a time you’ll have once you’re there. Once you get those necessities figured out, go crazy.

Managing your finances while abroad is stressful and different. Do not expect things to work out accordingly — plan for the opposite. You must reorient yourself to the local institution and retrain much of your habitual behavior when it comes to consumption. However, you can prepare. You can figure it out, and you will figure it out. Guinness can wait. I learned that the hard way. Positioning yourself in a way that sets you up for an amazing experience is crucial. Believe in your ability to figure things out and do your research. Invest in yourself.


Connor Mills graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, majoring in strategic communication

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