Should I study in London, even if I can't afford it?
April 22, 2011 2:32 AM   Subscribe

Should I study abroad when finances and my gut are telling me no, but everyone else is telling me yes? (Lots inside. Yes, I'm going to talk to the financial aid office and a therapist.)

I'm a sophomore at a private liberal arts college in the U.S. that is very, very into study abroad. 60% of our undergraduates study away, and I thought I was looking forward to being one of them. I've been accepted to study English Literature at King's College London next semester (September-December) and for awhile was intensely excited about it. I've always wanted to experience the UK (and I've never been abroad at all), and the fact that my school encourages study abroad so much was one of the main reasons I came here. I've also been planning to rendezvous with several online friends from Europe I've never had the chance to meet in person.

The thing is, now -- a few days before I have to decide for sure -- I feel like I don't want to go at all. The primary reason is financial: I come from a very low-income, single-parent family (I'm basically here on a full ride) and the prospective cost of studying in London is terrifying. My tuition at King's will be automatically covered, but the financial aid for room and board (technically, just room, since the hall is uncatered) doesn't kick in until after term has started, meaning that my family will have to pay approximately £1954 out of pocket, something we probably cannot do. Furthermore, I went to an orientation meeting last night where returnees from King's informed me their budget for the semester was about £150 per week -- the type of money that I have never had, even while doing work-study. I would obviously be willing to try to stick to a budget, but I don't know if my budget would be even feasible in the most expensive city in the world. (Or if it would be feasible, would it be at all enjoyable?) Here in the States (I live in a large Midwestern city), I spend maybe $10 a week -- more if I go to a show or something, but that's pretty rare.

Meanwhile, there are other things that seem to tell me not to go: for one, the course schedule for fall semester at my home university has gone up, and there are three classes I'm dying to take that will never be offered again while I'm here. I have a lot of problems dealing with regretting missed opportunities, and I'm terrified that I'll always wish I had taken these classes. (But if I stay here, will I always wish I had gone to London?)

For another, I'm worried about my mental health. I've struggled with depression for a long time - to the point where I had to leave college early last semester just to deal with everything. I'm terrified that going abroad will exacerbate this; along with this, I'm not the world's most self-directed student (I'm writing a last-minute paper as I type this, and I have slept through many classes this semester), and I've been led to believe the British university system isn't exactly conducive to this. I'd love to become a better student, but I don't want to end up missing every lecture because I don't sleep/sleep too much or am too afraid to leave my room.

I realize this last point sounds like a pretty shabby excuse to avoid doing something that's scary, but I'm not really sure how to overcome this. In any case, everyone I've spoken to about this is pushing me to go, telling me it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At this point I can't tell if they're right or not, I've been going over this so much in my brain.

Basically, is it worth studying in London if I can't afford it? Alternatively, how can I live in London on a very tight budget? (I've seen this question, but even her budget is more than what I can afford.) And how can I deal with mental health issues in an unfamiliar environment? Thank you so much.
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad to Education (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really want to tell you go, but I just can't, 100% say so with that budget. Someone who lives in London can come along and tell you that's completely feasible/infeasible. I am currently studying abroad in Edinburgh and I came along with a pretty strict budget – but more than what you're proposing – and I'm barely managing. The exchange rate is horrible, and it's expensive. It's a really, really tough proposition. I really hope you can find a way to make it work.
posted by good day merlock at 2:50 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh but you are only a sophomore! Tons of students, if not most, study abroad during junior year. Right now you sound overwhelmed and the issues you bring up are significant. I don't think there's anything wrong with postponing it until you can make it work easier and have a good time. It's not a personal failing or running away from what scares you - this really seems difficult to pull off.

I'd write to your college's study abroad counselor and financial aid people, in case there's some funding available. If not, write to the college in London and explain that as much as you want to come, your financial situation does not allow you to at this time. (If they have any aid at all to offer, you might want to mention how short you are, or just let them know that you plan to re-apply next year.)

Otherwise, stay in the States, take the dream classes you want in the fall and save up this year and the next summer so that you can make it to UK next fall. You will also, I'm sure, be better at managing your studies by then. Personally, I don't think any place is worth it if you can't afford it, especially if you are the sort of person who that will weigh on or stress out. (I mean, some people can have a great time on credit, but you don't sound like one of those. Good on you.)

Either way, good luck with your paper, hope you get some sleep.
posted by mondaygreens at 3:16 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

What's the worst that can happen in terms of your finances? Have you worked out what your maximum budget shortfall would be? What can you do in terms of part time work or working over the summer to cover this? Note that your budget will never be the same as at home because you will need to buy and prepare your own food...and yes, there are a million and one things to do in London and a lot of them can cost money, sometimes a lot of money but there is also plenty of free things to do.

So get a grip on the numbers, not some vague idea of how you can't see how you could afford it.

So for 12 weeks @£150 you're looking at £1,800. What do the £150 actually cover? Food, entertainment, books, housing is extra?

What is the bare minimum you will need, as opposed to the average number you were given? What total does that give you?

How much money can you earn working part time until the summer and then full time over summer, that you could save towards this?

What is the actual shortfall between what you can save until September and what you need to live? If it is only a small amount could you not put it on a credit card and pay it off very slowly - assuming you have access to low interest/interest free credit?

As for accommodation costs - there will be ways to defer payment of that somewhat - you need to talk to your side to see what they can do in terms of earliest payment and you need to talk to Kings accommodation office and see what they can do. There are many students in the UK relying on student loans etc to pay this kind of cost and their processing can be severely delayed. So there will be ways to work out the timings of housing cost payments.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:16 AM on April 22, 2011

And yes, once you know what your shortfall is find out if you can defer going to allow you to save all of it. Whatever will work for you :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:19 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it just September to December? That's 16 weeks maximum, probably less since the last couple weeks of that are Christmas. So £2400 for living expenses, plus £1954 for room and board, and you'd want to have some money available in case of emergency, so probably £5000.

Currency rates right now are US$1.65 to £1, so that's $8275. At 12% interest, 5 year term, the repayments on a loan of $8275 would be $185 per month. Or take the loan out for $10,000 and use the difference to pre-pay the first five months of repayments, by which time you will be back.

Interest on the loan is probably tax-deductable, ask an accountant.

So ... taking into consideration its effects on your employability, self-respect, self-image, knowledge of the world, network of contacts, and any other factors you can think of, do you think that this experience would add an average $185 per month, or $42 per week, or $2220 per year, to your potential earning capacity over the next five years? (My expectation would be that it would. :D)

Have a good long think about how you can make money from it more directly: is the experience leverageable in some way? You show reasonable writing skills, could you write articles about the experience and turn that into a blog capable of generating advertising revenue? (For example. There are many ways of making money out of something like this.)

Can you transport something for someone? Illegal drugs are highly inadvisable, however people do want legitimate stuff transported intercontinentally, as it's usually a lot cheaper to take things like books across in luggage (if you're not using all of your luggage allowance), and then post them to the recipient. Ask around at the college; if so many of your fellow students have studied abroad, some of them will have made friends in England, and perhaps they might wish to send a gift to that friend.

Do you have any social network contacts in London, or can you find some through your fellow students at your college, who could help you reduce your costs in some way? For example, someone who can help you find a bit of cash in hand work? Particularly if you have skills and experience at waiting tables, tending bar, shelf-stacking, furniture moving, house cleaning, ironing, etc. There's always stuff in the world to be done, and people in the world willing to pay you to do it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:21 AM on April 22, 2011

On the subject of depression and your mental health (I forgot to address this earlier, sorry), you may find that a complete routine and location change will give you an opportunity to build new habits and new, positive experiences. Many people do. However, consider to what extent your mental health is affected by weather and sunlight. London, between September and December, is really dark and really cold. (That's why my ancestors left!) If you're seasonally affected, or strongly suspect that you might be, you may be better off delaying the trip if possible, so as to be there during the English equivalent of "summer".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:34 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to do it then don't do it, particularly if your parent has to shell out two thousand pounds they don't really have. London will still be there when you can afford to go there off your own bat and you feel more confident about things.
posted by joannemullen at 3:38 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't quite believe the £150 per week. £600 a month seems awfully steep if the room is already covered. Were these students heading to the pub every day and eating there? Because you can totally live cheaply, even in London.

But if you don't think you're ready for it, don't go. It is an awful lot of money, there are courses you definitely want to take, and the beauty of London is that, hell, it'll still be here. Defer for a year if you can, save up the cash, and that way, next year, it's a hell of a lot easier.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:48 AM on April 22, 2011

It sounds like you really can't afford it right now. It also sounds like there are interesting educational opportunities that you'd really enjoy if you didn't go that wont be offered again.

In any case, everyone I've spoken to about this is pushing me to go, telling me it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Leaving the country and meeting up with european friends is something you can do another time, when you're older and richer and will be able to enjoy it more ;) Is the educational part a once in a lifetime experience, I couldn't say - does your college only offer study-abroad to sophomores?

When they told you £150 a week budget - did they tell you how much of that went on booze? If you avoid having a social life you could live on much less - not $10 but a lot less than £150. If your rent is already covered, you could possibly squeeze by on £50 for food and travel. Will you need books or will they be covered for you?
posted by missmagenta at 3:58 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is a way to have it all: Stay in the States and take those great classes. Graduate, work for a year or so, living cheaply and saving as much as you can. Then, take time off and go to the UK for an extended visit.

You're in a fantastic position right now, in that you will graduate with little or no debt. And, you can go to the UK without taking on any debt, by simply postponing the trip by a few years. In my opinion, it's worth waiting.
posted by Houstonian at 4:01 AM on April 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm a huge believer in the value of experiencing other cultures when you're young. But in this particular case, I see the value as minimal - only four months - this is really not enough to even begin to immerse yourself in a foreign culture; in my experience, the real benefits start at a year, plus. And my next point may be controversial, but really, if you are going so you can get the benefits of living in another culture, as an American, picking England is a missing the point a bit. Don't get me wrong, I love London and have spent a lot of time in Britain, but this is minimally different, culturally, *compared* to living in another country with at least having to learn another language.

Now, if you could swing it without undue hardship, I'd say go for it, absolutely. But given what you've described, the cost and trouble sounds way out of proportion with the relatively puny benefits of this particular opportunity.

I'd say pass for now, and wait until you've got more of your ducks in a row, and then spring for another try - maybe even a more adventurous one.
posted by VikingSword at 4:12 AM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nthing the doubts about that £150 figure. If it included a lot of trips on the tube, drinking and clubbing, and buying lunches from sandwich shops or supermarkets, I could understand it. But with your room covered, I can't see how you would get even close to that.

That said, you'll still have to find the money to start with. Unless you can get the financial support you need, pass it up. Take the classes you are dying to take next semester instead. London will always be there next year, and after you graduate. Though, FWIW, there are many other great UK cities that give you much more bang for your buck.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 4:32 AM on April 22, 2011

I've never lived in London and so can't give advice on costs there, but I do want to chime in on overseas experiences.

Other commenters have said that four months is a short amount of time, and how you're only a sophomore. I agree with them – I went overseas for a year (in Lyon, France) as a senior, with work-study as part of my financial package. My work-study position was with my university's overseas program coordinating office in Lyon. I assisted the program director in his supervision and counseling of the 30-odd students going through Lyon that year, on various types of programs: just over 20 of us were there for the entire school year, others came through on 1-month and 4-month stays.

Four months is not long at all. It's also about the time it takes for culture shock to hit its lowest point, when you're most disenchanted with a new culture after the initial "high" that lasts 2-3 months. Those of us who stayed the full year had to work through that "oh my gawd I hate France, I just want to go home" stage, which was immensely valuable. That's when the real personal development starts to happen, around the 6-7 month mark.

I too was on a super-tight budget, since my parents, who'd promised to give a certain minimum... did not. Luckily I got a scholarship and that work-study position, but as it was, I was scraping by to the penny (literally) at the ends of the month. The risk I don't see you mentioning, a very real risk, is that something could go wrong. An accident, an illness, a death in the family, a serious problem with your housing situation – I saw all of these happen, and our housing (with host families and in university dorms, depending) had been scoped out and pre-approved before we came over. Emergencies can and do happen, it's best to have breathing room.

Can you postpone it for later? Do great work now, scope out scholarships, make the best case you can for your junior or senior year? And possibly try to make a full year of it? I learned so much during the end of my year in France, it's among the best experiences of my life. The first few months are a sort of blur of "OMG foreign country awesome! crazy! ugh! WTF?? oh no! oh, yes! excellent!" followed by depression (3-4 months in) and then you hit your groove, realize you're making it in a foreign country (although there are a few who don't), and there's so much to discover about it and yourself.
posted by fraula at 4:59 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

A semester abroad is totally skippable, and you should do so without regret even if it wasn't a hardship on your family.

The value is LOW. I like to ask entry-level job recruits what they have gotten out of their junior semester/year abroad (prominently feautured on resumes) and the only answer I ever get that is even slightly interesting is "I studied x language for n years, but living in y country was what it took to become truly proficient." Everything else mentioned, especially for those who studied abroad in the UK, was just socializing and if-it's-Monday-this-must-be-Salzberg traveling about, which you can do whenever. Most times the students would let me know (overtly or covertly) that the academic quality of the institution they were visiting was terribly low, as well; don't know if that's the case for your target foreign school.

Moreover, the opportunity cost is high. You've already said you have important classes that won't be offered again, and I can tell you that junior year is very important in getting ready for the job market or grad school applications -- the internships, etc., aren't going to be easily pursued abroad.

The only exception I can imagine -- and I'm imaginging it here -- is a country which is commercially important to employers, yet rarely chosen as a study abroad destination, and also poorly represented among immigrants to the US who go on to get college degrees. Your study abroad there would confer a valuable and rare cultural fluency. I can't think of a country that fits, but England definitely ain't it.
posted by MattD at 5:30 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the grain a little bit, but not completely.

First of all, if you don't want to study abroad, there's no reason you should feel obligated to do so.
posted by zizzle at 5:34 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ack! Sorry, pressed post too soon.

First of all, if you don't want to study abroad, there's no reason you should feel obligated to do so. Do not do it if you have no interest in actually doing so.

That said, I studied abroad for a year, and I loved it. I was absolutely paranoid about the money, and my situation was similar to yours though I went to a much cheaper location than London. Even though it cost quite a bit, it was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. I had a really hard time for a bit, as most people do (see the references to Culture Shock), but once I settled in, it was wonderful. I had experiences I'd never have had in the States. The difference for me was I was a language major, and I had a huge interest in studying abroad and selected the college I went to in particular for the study abroad program I ended up doing my junior year.

I am 7 years out of college, and my student loans are high. I'm paying them off incredibly slowly, and I sometimes doubt the choices I made regarding my college. But when I think back on it, I don't regret a single bit of my time spent there or abroad, and though it was a high price to pay to attend that school and to do the study abroad, it was worth it to me in life experience.

There is no way that now I could ever afford to have the type of adventure I had in college. And while I couldn't really afford it while in college, it was much easier on the pocket book than it would be now for a lot of reasons. I couldn't afford to go to London now for a week, let alone for an entire semester. But I'd jump at the chance I could.

Again, if you don't want to study abroad, then you really shouldn't do it, especially if it's not tied into your academic interests --- either as a major or on the periphery. But if the only thing that is holding you back is money, then it's really worth considering.

Also, as a student, you should look into the ISIC. When I studied abroad and then went to Ireland on my Spring Break a year later, ISIC provided quite a few discounts on quite a few things. It can help to save a bit of money if you do decide to go abroad.
posted by zizzle at 5:40 AM on April 22, 2011

I live in London. It is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Under normal circumstances, if you started a question with "I'm wondering if I should go to London, but--" I would interrupt you and tell you the answer is "Yes" no matter what follows the "but."


In this case, I'm not so sure. Yes, sometimes a change of scene can cure depression. On the other hand, moving to a big city where you don't know anybody can make you feel even more more depressed and alone. Presumably you will make friends quickly if you are living in a student setting, but if the main social activity of your fellow students is going out to pubs, or otherwise spending money you don't have, you may find yourself quite lonely.

And London is a very expensive city, as you say. Many of the wonderful things about London are free-- most of the museums are free, and there's no charge for walking around and looking at the glorious architecture. I would guess that somebody who spent £150 a week was buying lunch and dinner out most days, and perhaps springing for a theatre ticket once in a while. You don't have to do that-- but you have to eat something! (And, depending on where you're housed, it may not be practical to walk everywhere, and you may have to pay for occasional bus or Tube fare.)

So here is my overall advice:

1. Go to the Tesco website and get a feel for grocery prices here. You may even want to think about the groceries you tend to buy each week and use that to calculate your actual weekly food budget. (Do make sure you have access to a kitchen-- without one, obviously, you can't cook for yourself.)

2. Use the Transport for London website to get a feel for how close your housing would be to the sites you want to see, and whether you'd be able to walk (and how much it would bus/tube fare would cost if you can't walk.)

3. As aeschenkarnos suggests, figure out how much interest you'd pay on any debt you accumulated during this trip. However, unlike aeschenkarnos, I'm skeptical that this trip would lead to any increased earnings. The reason to do it would be to the other benefits aeschenkarnos mentions-- to expand your experiences and increase your total happiness and appreciation of the world. However, having a big debt hanging over your head can be hugely stressful, and needing to pay it off can actually restrict your future options. Especially high-interest credit-card debt.

4. Do NOT think of this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. London has been around for almost 2000 years. London will still be here a year from now, or 10 years from now. The only thing unique about your current situation is that (a) you'd be attending classes at a foreign university, and (b) your scholarship will pay for your housing. These are certainly advantages, but if your psychological and financial situation means you can't take full advantage of them, you may be better off waiting.

5. Most importantly, do not do this because everybody else thinks you should. Do this, or don't do this, because you feel it is the right decision.
posted by yankeefog at 5:41 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't go.

I say this as someone who did a 1-year MA in London and although it was fun, I cannot express to you how much I financially regret doing it. (I also color this with experience hanging out here and there with American undergrads doing semesters abroad at my university.)

1. The financial aspect is huge. Don't take a loan to do this. London is incredibly expensive. Many of your peers will want to do things like get sushi, go out to clubs, take a weekend trip to Spain... myself, I'd feel awful saying no all the time. (There are cheap and free things to do in London, but without a doubt, just surviving - grocery store food, always taking the bus, etc. is still expensive.)

2. The benefit of studying abroad isn't all it is cracked up to be. I say this as someone that studied abroad a lot and has worked in various internationally-oriented jobs for years. While it is fun and eye-opening, a semester is London (during which you don't really expand your language or cultural skills in a way that would be attractive to foreigners) only really increases your personal independence. As was mentioned above, a semester in London doesn't do much for potential employers.

3. Those classes being offered next term - TAKE THEM.

4. Mental health wise, the infrastructure offered at the university for student mental health concerns is different (not better or worse.) In my experience, you get your healthcare through your local NHS GP. People that I know would go there and say "Yo, in the U.S. I am being treated for depression." And generally the GP would prescribe whatever that drug is if it was available in the UK. In terms of therapy and student support and all that -- it just isn't like what most American universities offer.

5. Support generally - British universities are different. The infrastructure to run them is really different. "Help" like you get from an American departmental admin assistant or a dorm manager just isn't there.

6. In terms of writing papers -- well, it isn't that big of a deal in terms of procrastination, I guess. Generally, 75-90% of your final grade depends on the huge final essay exam. In my MA prorgam, we all spent over a month exclusively studying for these exams. The papers weren't, in my experience, at all like American papers in terms of how they were written or graded. But if you're concerned about procrastination, think about it in terms of taking an exam that is way more important and harder than any exam that you've taken in your life.
posted by k8t at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm not the world's most self-directed student (I'm writing a last-minute paper as I type this, and I have slept through many classes this semester), and I've been led to believe the British university system isn't exactly conducive to this.

I agree that the UK system is more self-directed in a very obvious way.
posted by k8t at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2011

Normally I am all for study abroad but honestly, studying in the UK is not going to be a life changing educational experience - it's more like a semester-long vacation. Save your money and stay in the US. If you really want to travel, look into study abroad programs in more interesting (and cheaper) countries where you will be exposed to a different language and culture.
posted by yarly at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi! I'm the person who asked the question you linked to. I've been in London for four months now.

First, budget stuff: If you're careful, London is doable on maybe £40 or so a week. My minimal budget is about £10 for my Oyster card, £15 or so for food (I'm in a catered hall, but I frequently miss dinners) and £10-15 for stuff like the occasional lunch out and coffee. The thing is, I always go over that. Alcohol, travel, more meals out than you planned, the lure of having every store ever right there down the street... it's tough to be here and try to stick to a budget. Laundry costs $5 a load! A meal out is almost always going to be at least £10, even at cheap places. Lunch out is a minimum of £5, generally. On the plus side, I get all my books from the library and grocery stores aren't too expensive if you're careful. Also, at UCL at least, the housing bills don't come due until a month after the term starts, and they don't actually start kicking people out until the term after that (seriously). So financial aid timing might be less of an issue than you think- talk to your school's fin aid office and talk to the people at King's who deal with bills (not the study abroad people! They probably won't have the most accurate information).

OK. Feel free to memail me if you want more detailed (and depressing) budget info, but on to the other stuff you're worried about. Honestly, reading your question, I wanted to reach through the computer screen and tell you "Noooo! Don't do it!" The British system definitely requires you to be a self-motivated student. In my case, at least, no one cared if you went to lecture. At most, there's "suggested reading" for each class, rather than a reading list you can count on to contain everything you need to know. Also, papers and the like are waay higher stakes than in the US. My classes are mostly exam-based, but that one exam counts for 75-100% of my grade. If you're struggling with doing things at the last minute and missing lectures at home, I don't know if the UK system is going to work for you.

Also, social stuff. It's hard to make all-new friends in an all-new place. You'd probably be able to bond more successfully with the British freshmen since you'll be there during the fall term. A few things in your question, though, make me think that you're maybe not a super extrovert who makes friends easily. I'm not, and I've felt lonely and stupid for leaving everyone I love behind more often than I would have predicted before I came.

I'm sorry, this is getting incredibly long, but basically: Don't feel like you have to give in to the study abroad cheerleaders. Most people do have a good time, I guess, and I feel like this has been a valuable life-lesson experience for me, but it hasn't always been fun and it hasn't been easy. If you have doubts about how much the experience would suit you and you need to make serious financial sacrifices to make it possible, *and* you kind of just want to stay at home and take cool classes there... don't do it. No one is going to think any less of you. If it isn't for you, it isn't for you.
posted by MadamM at 5:49 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you don't want to do it then don't do it, particularly if your parent has to shell out two thousand pounds they don't really have. London will still be there when you can afford to go there off your own bat and you feel more confident about things.


As others have said, it's not a once in a lifetime opportunity. Study abroad programs are not the be all and end all of travel -- they are fun, but you can also just go on your own during a vacation, while taking time off, or after you graduate, and have as much or more fun with a lot less structure and restrictions. (And I also agree that going somewhere where a different language is spoken is more valuable than going to a place where they speak English -- London is fun, but there's a lot to gain in immersing yourself in a place more different.)

If you do want to go, though, make an appointment this minute to talk with the dean of students' office, or the financial aid people -- whatever the procedure (formal or informal) for asking for more money is at your school is what you want to follow. You go in and explain how you want to take advantage of the opportunity, but your family doesn't have the resources that many of your fellow student have, you need some more support, etc. Don't take out loans for this -- that will hurt later.

Honestly, I think you should save your money and travel during the breaks, and consider finding a way to move overseas for a while after graduation, rather than spending all your money on a short study abroad trip.
posted by Forktine at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of problems dealing with regretting missed opportunities

I'm going to suggest that staying put and working on this with your therapist would be of greater value to you in the long-run than going to London could possibly be.

Part of being an adult is accepting that as you move forward through life and make decisions, there are options you have to turn down--and, moreover, that the best choice in one situation might mean saying no to things that would be awesome and fun and interesting and you just don't get to have those experiences. Because there is always something that would be great that you just can't afford, or that you don't have time for, or that just doesn't work out.

I wasn't able to study abroad. Couldn't afford it. And it sucked, because my friends who studied abroad were coming home with stories about what a wonderful time they'd had, and the amazing things they'd seen and done. I was jealous. And I still think that it would have been a great experience if I could have done it. But I couldn't. And that's ok: I've had other wonderful travel experiences since college. I don't look back on college and regret something that wasn't possible. I look for opportunities in my life now to do more traveling. I think you should do the same.

A few options, off the top of my head:
  • You could try to figure out a way to study/work/travel abroad over a summer.
  • You could teach English in another country after you graduate. The people I've known who have done this option have tended to travel a fair amount around the region where they were teaching. At least two of them ended up in graduate programs in the country where they were teaching. I know people who have done this in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan.
  • You could look into graduate school options abroad. I know one person who worked for a couple years after college, then went to Oxford for a Masters.
  • You could do Peace Corps or volunteer with another organization overseas.
  • You could make travel a priority in your budget after you graduate--work, save, travel, repeat.
  • If you go to grad school, you could attend conferences in other countries or do research/field work abroad.

posted by Meg_Murry at 6:28 AM on April 22, 2011

I agree with those who say don't go now, and probably don't go to London. I'd take the next fifteen months to save up a bunch of money (work extra, if necessary), get my ducks in a row in terms of study habits and mental health if possible, and then do 1 semester (this will be your senior year, after all) someplace cheaper and with a more different culture than the UK. I'd look into programs in Portugal, Spain, France (if you want to do Europe), maybe Argentina, Uruguay, or Chile, or Brazil, or South Africa.

I studied for 5 months in Argentina and 5 months in Spain, and it really was a life-changing experience. Sure, I learned some things and gained fluency in Spanish (this was after 12 years of Spanish classes though), but I also learned about other cultures, gained independence, established my footing and strength as an individual, etc. It's not for everyone, and it doesn't sound like it's for you now, but I do think that studying abroad is different - and potentially much more enriching - than taking a long trip where you don't immerse yourself in a place and get to know it and its people. I did a home stay in Argentina, I made close friends in both countries, I bonded with some of the Americans too and made life-long friends, I tested my abilities and discovered I was strong, I adapted to new situations and found out I was flexible. (Not to mention I had a ton of fun. Spain was one of the happiest times of my life.) I've lived overseas for years at a time since then, and while I've had more challenging, more incredible experiences since then, I am still thrilled I studied abroad.
posted by semacd at 6:29 AM on April 22, 2011

I'm not the world's most self-directed student (I'm writing a last-minute paper as I type this, and I have slept through many classes this semester), and I've been led to believe the British university system isn't exactly conducive to this.

I also want to flag this up. The English university system often doesn't do more than lecture a little and teach very little for many courses at undergraduate level. It's up to you to want to study and to get things done. If you take three classes in a semester, you might have as little as 6 hours contact time, and the rest is free. I was never a very self-directed student either and prone to getting down, which made university in England more-or-less a waste. If you like or need structure to your learning, you won't get it in England.
posted by Jehan at 6:32 AM on April 22, 2011

I decided study abroad was even more of a ripoff than paying $7500/semester. I skipped it, crammed in all my credits, and graduated early. Then I got a job through the French government teaching English 12 hours a week.

It paid €870 a month and the school provided me with an apartment.

It was a great year. There are definitely better deals then what it looks like you'd be getting when it comes to going abroad. I did visit a few friends while they were studying abroad. They seemed to be having as good a time as I was. YMMV, but I'm 100% glad not to have studied abroad.
posted by kjell at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2011

I've never 'studied abroad'. I had the chance, in grad school, went all the way to the point of getting a Danish visa in my passport, and I didn't go. No regrets. It wasn't the right thing at the right time. I listened to my gut and I got the peace of mind to show for it.

I've never 'studied abroad' but I've lived abroad and studied abroad for a total of about two years and two summers, not all consecutively and not all in the same place. I've had fantastic experiences that didn't break the bank. In terms of long term and short term value in my life, I don't even bother to compare my experiences with my friends' junior year/semester abroad studies because the value of my own experiences is just so real and clear to me.

My biggest hurdle in making the decision to stay home was sorting out whether I was making the healthy choice that followed my gut, or whether my gut was just being a bit of a chicken and I should push myself a bit out of my comfort zone for my own good.

If you can sort through that, then stay home without a single qualm.

Also, your friends and peers telling you to go have no perspective yet on either their own experiences or their own long term financial situations, let alone your own. So
be happy for them but not guided by them.

I say this as someone who very recently strongly encouraged a friend to take a junior term abroad - under her own particular circumstances. One size really doesn't fit all.

Being financially responsible and learning how to follow your gut now will both go a long way to ensuring that you will both have and take plenty of adventurous and exciting and enriching abroad (and local) experiences in the future.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:48 AM on April 22, 2011

Ii had a friend in college who was a wander bird. But like you she had no money. So she worked as much as she could during the summer and during school without missing class. And she saved and she saved and she saved. And she studied abroad and visited many other countries during break.

Maybe rearrange your plans a bit. Study abroad somewhere (my friends all said Prague was dirt cheap in the mid-90's and they were able to afford studying there no problem) that has a low er cost of living. Go when you are a junior or first semester senior so that you have time to save and you don't miss the classes you want to take.
Me and my friends who didn't study abroad did regret it, Ymmv.
posted by bananafish at 7:33 AM on April 22, 2011

Have you been studying a foreign language? If so, that's the country you should visit, when you can. It's possible to go to a less-big-city location and really have an interesting, mind- and life-changing experience _and_ solidify your language skills. Heck, you could get some kind of certification to teach English and legitimately make money while living abroad for a year -- it's much easier when you're young.

To the person saying "just borrow $10,000" -- you'll have to work a little harder to convince a child of a middle-income single parent that this is as easy and casual a thing as you seem to imply :)
posted by amtho at 8:02 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

King's seems to think a single undergraduate student in London requires £10 555 per year to live at a comfortable level (link here). Over a nine month term, this works out to about £1200 per month (but since it's a figure that includes accommodation, it's not entirely accurate). The Students' Union at King's has a budget calculator that can be helpful, too - it's here.

I've been living in London for some time now and I'm not sure it's nearly as expensive as it used to be. That being said, I'm Canadian and the pound has declined significantly against the dollar, so this might be skewing my frame of reference. Nonetheless, there are lots of ways to live frugally and really well in London (and there are lots of AskMe questions about how to do this :). I think that studying abroad is a really good thing to do, as long as it works with your present circumstances.

Oh, and before I forget - the posters above who've indicated that teaching contact time is much less in British universities are correct. Undergraduate modules at King's will often consist of two hours contact/week (one hour of lecture and one hour of seminar). It's very different from North America...
posted by lumiere at 1:47 PM on April 22, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks, guys, for all your input. After a lot of thought, and consulting my mother and my advisor, I've decided against going abroad. It means a lot to hear from all of you! I've no doubt that I will travel overseas at some point in my life, but this just isn't that time. Thanks again.
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 3:53 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't go right now. I think you know already that you shouldn't, because it's not the right time, you can't afford it, you want to take those classes, etc.

But -- know that getting visas to live in foreign countries is nearly impossible unless you're a student or an EU resident, so if it's something you've always wanted to do, this is the most realistic and in the long run, money-saving way to do it.

I would consider looking at the next year like a way to prepare for going in your junior or senior year. My friends and I were all workstudy/scholarship students and we all scrimped and saved together to be able to afford it, and once we were there we cooked together, etc. to save money. It is possible. Study abroad is a valuable experience because it takes you away from the world you've known your whole life, but there's no need to rush.
posted by lhall at 10:08 PM on April 22, 2011

Oops, I composed my reply but didn't hit post until later, and I see you've already made your decision! Sorry about that. Do consider it as a possibility for the future, though!
posted by lhall at 10:09 PM on April 22, 2011

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