Hidden obstacles

Studying abroad is never advertised as being easy. We are told that while away we may have to deal with finding our senior year housing, finishing major requirements and finding thesis advisors all while being far, far off campus. These are all obstacles we know we must overcome if we wish to study abroad, but what if there are other less obvious challenges to studying abroad?

We are typically told that we should not worry about money. This almost always holds true when considering tuition, fees and room and board, all of which are almost certainly less expensive in study abroad programs than at Williams. Whatever financial aid a student has at Williams will probably cover a large portion of the program cost, and both students and parents will end up paying less. But is this applicable to students at the lowest end of the income spectrum? There are several expenses that typically fall outside the realm of financial aid.

One of these is the cost of transportation, which will almost certainly be higher when you choose to study abroad. While it is possible for financial aid to cover costs of transportation, many financial aid students are ineligible for this as their families’ incomes are considered high enough to pay the costs of coming to Williams. However, the increased cost of transportation to study abroad locations may be such that some students and their families cannot afford the extra expense.

Another cost that is easily overlooked is that of storage. While this is already a concern for summer break, studying abroad for a semester or year will only add to this expense. Many lower income students whose budgets have been accommodated to summer storage costs may not have the flexibility to add in study abroad storage costs. Additionally, some students who have made arrangements with Williams faculty, staff or local residents to store their belongings over the summer for free may not be able to take advantage of these opportunities during the academic year.

Finally, one last cost is not really an expense but a loss of income. In virtually all cases students studying abroad will not be able to hold a job as they can at Williams. For many students, a campus job just provides a little bit of spending money, but for others it is their only real source of income. It is easy to take this income for granted while at Williams, but once abroad it would become obvious quite quickly just how valuable that campus job was as personal expenses will likely increase or remain the same.

Money is not the only challenge that is easily overlooked when considering study abroad. Financial aid students need not forget that if abroad during the spring semester, they must still complete the CSS Profile. For those unfamiliar with it, this is an excruciatingly long, in-depth analysis of a student’s financial situation, examining everything from incomes to medical expenses. Its complexity is necessary for Williams to provide the best possible financial aid package. However, its completion is both challenging and time consuming even while at Williams. Those wishing to study abroad in the spring should carefully consider whether they wish to deal with this while quite far from both Williams and their families.

While it is generally acknowledged that studying abroad, especially in the spring, makes setting up a thesis more difficult, it is important to give additional consideration to the difference between those doing a thesis in Divisions I and II and those doing a thesis in Division III. While a thesis in any major requires a great deal of work on the part of the student, theses in Division III often require that a professor commit to spending a great deal of time assisting with complex experiments in equally complex laboratory setups. Getting such a commitment out of a professor is much easier when done in person than by e-mail, which would be necessary if abroad during the thesis proposal process.

All of these concerns do not apply equally to all students. Only half of Williams students are on financial aid, and plenty of students do not do choose to do a thesis. However, when students, such as myself, find that many of these additional challenges do apply to them, the prospect of studying abroad becomes much less enticing, in my case to the point where I decided not to go. I certainly believe that study abroad is a great thing that works well for most students. But I also believe that it is very important that we consider very carefully whether we may also be affected by these other hidden challenges and whether we are willing and able to overcome them.

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