Postcards From Abroad

Not just another travel blog

The financial realities of studying abroad.

For most of us, studying abroad is a far-fetched fantasy. Spending an entire semester living and learning in a foreign country is a would be great, unobtainable due to time, or budget constraints.

So we sit here looking at our priveldged friends post new pictures from far-away places on Facebook.

But are we better off for not going?

Michael DePaola spent last May living and studying in Saarbrucken, a city that lies on Germany’s westernmost border.

DePaola described the experience bluntly.

“It was the most fun I have had my entire life”

But his trip  was expensive to say the least. DePaola was charged the standard tuition rate for a maymester at JMU, nearly 300 dollars per credit hour, he took six. Depalo was also charged an additional 2500 dollar fee and had to pay his own airfare.

All accounted for, a month in Germany cost him just under six-thousand dollars, an amount similar to other study abroad programs of that length.

DePaola also revealed that JMU charges out of state students extra for study abroad programs.

Depola, a Senior, and ISAT major, learned of the program through his professors. Strictly for ISAT majors, the  JMU-hosted program was concerned with “Energy and Enviornment Sustainability.”

He defended the overwhelming price, citing boosts to his academics, social life, and cultural appreciation

“It helped me be able to graduate with a duel concentration in environment and biotechnology within ISAT, he said “without the trip, I wouldn’t have been able to do it”

He took two courses, ISAT 480 – International Energy Intiatives and ISAT 428- Industrial Ecology, and despite only meeting a few times a week, he claimed the hands on approach of the courses was more valuable than anything learned in a classroom.

“We went on tours of solar panel manufacturing areas, and climbed a 100 meter tall wind turbine,” he said, “totally awesome”

He used his free time to explore the city, and enjoy the nightlife.

“We went to clubs where they played techno mixed with 90’s music,” he said “it was really funny hearing German teenagers singing ‘Oops I Did it Again’ to a techno beat not really knowing what any of the words meant.”

In addition, he also took a trip to Amsterdam, for what he claimed were “obvious reasons”

Despite wishing to return to Saarbrucken for employment, Depalo admits that there are no programs in place through JMU that would help him achieve that goal, even if his time abroad padded his resume.

“I applied for ten alternative energy jobs in California, Colorado, and actually one in Germany, in the city i studied in, he said. “I’ve been going at it on my own, and its very difficult.”

Laura Pond, a 2010 graduate of JMU, was enrolled in the SMAD summer semester in London, prior to her senior year. Like Depola, she acknowledged the tremendous price-tag associated with the program.

Her program lasted 8 weeks, and cost nearly $10,000

“My parents paid for all of it” she added.

Overall, she enjoyed her time abroad.

“I went to many museums and tourist attractions.” She said “I also was a Corporate Partnerships Intern at the National Autistic Society for 20 hours per week. “

Like DePaola, she also has had some difficulty in justifying the trip in the long run, as her career choice as an event planner is unrelated to the minor in British Communication she received from the semester.

“I thought it would really help me in the future to set myself apart in the job market.” She said

Pond is currently unemployed.

These stories confirm what we already knew, while studying abroad may come with a steep price tag, those of us who are stuck at JMU are missing out on a great experience, academically, socially, and culturally.

Neal Hollowell



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