Overcoming Financial Roadblocks To Studying Abroad

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I never thought I was going to be able to study abroad. I always knew that if I didn’t go after what I wanted, I wouldn’t attain it. I come from a low-income urban community in Camden, NJ. Everyone doubted me about going to college and, when I decided to study abroad, they didn’t believe I was going to go.

I want to my experience to show that it is possible to study abroad despite a strained financial situation.

Family Challenges

Family members always thought I “dreamed big,” which gave me the urge to prove them wrong. I didn’t get much support or help because they didn’t know a lot about college processes and doubted how I was going to accomplish my goal to study abroad. I had to prove to my family and friends that I was determined to do this, but they didn’t understand why I wanted to go to another country or what I’d gain from it.

As a first-generation college student, living on campus and going to a four-year university was new for them and for me. My family had their doubts because of our financial situation, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford going abroad without help either.

Financial Aid

Before going abroad, I made an appointment with the Financial Aid Office at my university. Luckily, I found out that my financial aid would transfer over to pay the tuition to study abroad. As such, my university allowed any loans, grants or scholarships to transfer over and cover the costs of the program.

I decided to choose Barcelona because it was the same tuition cost as my home institution. AIFS programs are all-inclusive, so I knew that my meals, a place to stay, and classes would be covered.

Scholarships

Because I knew during the beginning of my college career that I wanted to study abroad, I maintained a 4.0 GPA so that it could set me apart. Additionally, I receive a federal Pell Grant each semester to help cover my tuition for being an EOF student (Education Opportunity Fund).

I was also happy to see that AIFS offers more than $800,000 in study abroad scholarships, and that over 50% of students receive financial assistance from AIFS in the form of scholarships and grants! I knew I was going to apply for a few of the ones that I qualified for, such as the Diversity Abroad Scholarship and the Russell and Deborah Taylor Foundation Scholarship.

A few weeks after I applied to these study abroad scholarships, I received an e saying I was awarded the Russell and Deborah Taylor Foundation scholarship, which covers 50% percent of my AIFS program fees and gives priority to students who receive a Pell Grant. I was so happy and excited that I was really going to Barcelona and there was nothing stopping me!

Regardless of your economic situation, it is possible to study abroad if you put in the hard work and look for the many resources available to you! Other resources could be starting a GoFundMe, checking with your university to see if they offer their own study abroad scholarships (ask your advisor!), working a summer job(s), or even tutoring!

The study abroad scholarship and financial assistance gave me the opportunity to be the first person in my family to leave the country and go to Europe! I was able to visit nearby countries and cities that I’ve always dreamed of going to (such as Belgium, Amsterdam, Andorra, Paris, London, Greece, and Vienna) and I inspired so many people in my town and at my university. Hopefully, I also inspired you.

This post was contributed by Jennifer Vargas, an AIFS Alumni Ambassador who spent a semester studying abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain.

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