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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Study abroad numbers grow despite weak American dollar

Published: January 18, 2008
Section: News

PICADILLY CIRCUS: Despite rising costs, Brandeis students still elect to study in London.Despite the weakening of the American dollar, the number of Brandeis students studying abroad has continued to rise, with 40 percent of the junior class spending at least a semester away in the 2007-2008 academic year, according to the Office of Study Abroad. This is a five percent increase over last year, even though the dollar is now only worth about half a British pound and 68 cents in Euros.

“Overall, we’re not affected,” explained Scott Van Der Meid, Director of Study Abroad, “but several New England schools were flat. We’re one of the few that is up in the region.”

There was an increase in Brandeis enrollment in all regions of the world, and while Western Europe remains the most popular destination, according to Van Der Meid, “Brandeis students really are branching out” to locations in Africa, Asia, and South America. However, students did still go to more expensive locations, including London, which is the most expensive destination of all.

“They didn’t necessarily run away from London due to the pound,” said Van Der Meid. “On a preliminary analysis, I don’t feel that students have really sought out less expensive living situations.” Van Der Meid cited Berlin as the least expensive of the major European capitals, and said that “cities that aren’t on the Euro [such as Prague] are a little easier.”

As Assistant Director of Study Abroad Eowyn Greeno noted, the main difference of being abroad is living costs, due to the manner in which Brandeis bills students for their time abroad. “Because you pay Brandeis tuition, the price difference really is in cost of living,” she said.

Of course, as Van Der Meid explained, the reality of a high cost of living is only on paper, until a student arrives on location.

“One of the challenges is that it’s not necessarily real until you get there,” he said. “Going abroad, you really have to look into what it’s like, as a student, to live there. There are lots of things you can do that are not necessarily as glamorous as the stereotypical ex pat abroad.” Van Der Meid cited cooking meals instead of eating out, or even living outside of the major cities as ways to save money.

Greeno added that, while there is nothing to be done to combat the exchange rate, there are resources available to help students cover the increasing cost of living in Europe, including scholarships for room and board.

“We’ve tried to find small ways,” she said. “It’s not going to make London luxurious, by any means, but it helps.” She added that scholarship opportunities are more plentiful if a student is going abroad in the fall, as opposed to the spring, due to the lower number of students who participate in the fall.

Also, some abroad programs, recognizing the shrinking worth of the dollar, have started to offer American students advice on how to save cash when they are in country.

“They’re all talking money, and they didn’t used to do that,” said Van Der Meid. “For London, they say, ‘take the Tube two stops to this grocery store, because it’s still less expensive.’”

Van Der Meid added that, while airfare to some destinations is exceedingly expensive, that doesn’t necessarily mean that studying in that location will be ultimately more costly.

“Sometimes people are scared because the flight is so expensive,” he said, “but what you really need to compare is cost of living. Distance and airfare do not dictate expense. If I had to look at ‘money myths’, it’s one of the biggest ones.”

Both Van Der Meid and Greeno recommended students look at some less traditional study abroad locations that have become available in recent years, such as Argentina and Peru. They also cited South Africa as a destination that students should not forget.

“South Africa is often overlooked as an English-speaking destination that is not expensive,” said Van Der Meid.

In the end, though, Van Der Meid explained that the cost of living abroad comes down to budgeting.

“There has to be an understanding that budgeting is not an issue to be ignored,” he said. “Unless they’re already doing it at Brandeis, for many students studying abroad is the first time they’re really dealing with budgeting.”