Low Income Students Can Study Abroad Too
When I was asked by my friends, family, and teachers if I wanted to study abroad, it was a no brainer. Of course I wanted to go away on a new adventure. But when it finally came down to actually going through the process and confirming my decision, reality struck. How was I going to pay for everything? Growing up, this question was nothing out of the ordinary for me. I’ve always been aware of my family’s and my financial situation and I’ve never wanted to become a burden to them. I had the privilege to grow up the way I did and learn the value of hard work as well as learn that nothing would just be handed to me. So the following is a small guide of things I’ve learned since arriving in Valparaíso–especially regarding saving money and enjoying your study abroad experience on a budget. I also hope it helps you realize that study abroad can be possible even if you are a low-income student.
Start Saving When You Can
Before I even started thinking of where I would be studying abroad, I was focused on how I would be paying for my studies. Although I received a great financial aid package from my university and secured a couple loans, I didn’t want my parents, who I knew had been struggling financially, to burden themselves with my studies. I started working two jobs in order to pay for what my financial aid package didn’t cover, rent, food, extra spending cash, and what would soon become a savings for my future study abroad experience.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to study away. All you need is a little motivation, determination, and self control, in regards to finances. Prior to studying away, I started putting money aside in my savings account– money that I could not take out nor use. I tried not to eat out and I was careful on what I was spending money on.
You Don’t Have To Do It Alone
One thing that really helped my goal of studying abroad become a reality were the scholarships that I received. IFSA has a couple of scholarship opportunities that one can apply for. In my situation, as a first-generation college student I was able to apply for and receive the first-gen scholarship that really alleviated one of the largest upfront bills I would’ve had to face: the flight from Los Angeles, CA to Chile. I truly recommend taking a look at the scholarships IFSA has, as well as scholarships your school might have. If you don’t know where to look, go talk to a counselor at your school or even talk to your IFSA Program Advisor.
Being Abroad On A Budget
Before I left home I made sure I had a credit card that I would be able to use while abroad. Not all banks allow their cards to be used in certain countries, so make sure you double check that. While in Chile I realized that you can have fun on a budget. The large part of my money usage out here in Valparaíso has been on transportation. Money for las micros (public buses) really does add up! But aside from that, I’ve managed to keep a careful eye on my spending.
Depending on where you live in the city, and where you need to be going (school, work, meet up with friends, etc.) the amount of money used on public transportation varies. I, for example, live in el plan, which is in the flat part of the city, and not in los cerros (the hills). I tried to walk as much as possible–to get to know the city, as well as save some cash. Las micros charge around 50 cents to a dollar, depending where you’re going, sometimes more. It doesn’t seem so bad but when you’re using 3, 4, 5 micros daily, it can add up to up to $5 a day, which will eventually add up.
I also recommend using the trolley system in the city. Once you arrive in Valparaíso, with the help of the onsite IFSA Resident Director, you’ll be able to obtain a student pass for the metro and trolleys. This pass can be recharged in any metro station and allows you to pay a discounted student price every time you use the metro and the trolley. With the pass, a trolley ride costs around 15-20 cents. The metro is great to get to and from Viña, and it only costs around 20 cents with the student pass as well. This pass can also be used for some of los ascensores (lifts you can take up and down the hills), for example La Reina Victoria, but not all of them.
Throughout your journey you will encounter and meet people who are not that aware of their spending, and they don’t need to be. I had to learn and realize that it is okay to say no to certain things. It is okay to tell your friends that you will meet up with them after they go eat because you need to watch your spending. My friends have always been understanding about it. Plus, your host family will always have food for you, and my experience regarding my host family and food has been great. Some of the best food I’ve had in Chile has been my host mom’s cooking.
There is always something to do in Valparaíso that doesn’t involve spending tons of money! Free things include going down to the beach and hanging out with friends, walking from Valparaíso to Viña, walking around and getting to know los cerros and going to the plazas and parks. La Reina Victoria, which is the plaza in Cerro Alegre with the metal slide, is a great place to go at night. Around 8 – 9 pm people go and dance tango, and it’s free to watch and participate. My friends and I would go up there to hangout, talk and watch people dance tango all the time.
If you like music, Valparaíso is also a great place! Keep an eye out for free concerts. For example, I saw Ana Tijoux for free at Plaza Sotomayor, as well as other artists that performed before her. On the weekends, there are always bands playing on the streets, especially near Plaza Anibal Pinto. I personally have a favorite band that I stop and watch on the weekends. They’re never in one single spot, so follow the music. During la feria artesanal in Plaza Sotomayor, sometimes they have live music as well. Elebar and El Viaje are great bars to go to for live music. There, you have to pay a small entrance fee but nothing too crazy, around $1.50 to $3.
Since being in Chile, I haven’t really eaten out all that much. My experience with food and my homestay has been great and I always eat at home. But I have eaten out and have had good experiences. If you like milkshakes and smoothies, I recommend Vocare, which is a small café in Cerro Concepción. It is cheap and delicious! I also personally love empanadas with lots of cheese and I found a great place to go to for good empanadas. Depending on how comfortable you are with street food, there is a Colombian man that sells cheap empanadas in Barron, near the Barron metro station. He is always there and personally some of the best empanadas in Valparaiso. K-nibil has also been a great go-to place for completos, which is the Chilean version of a hotdog. It is located in Plaza Anibal Pinto. I also have a big sweet tooth, so it has been hard for me since the pastries in the bakeries always look so good and I’m always trying to stay away from so much sugar. There are bakeries everywhere and you will always be able to find some good and cheap pastries and bread. Sharing a meal with a friend is also a great idea to stick to your budget. I have gone out with friends and we sometimes order a chorrillana which is a plate of fries with meat, cheese, and fried eggs, amongst other things, depending where you go. We order this large plate and share it between 4-5 people.
I have traveled quite a bit and I’ve been able to do it while saving money. I recommend looking for cheap flights ahead of time, as well as hostels, which tend to be the most expensive parts of traveling. I had the opportunity to travel to the north of Chile, to San Pedro de Atacama, and I was able to do it cheaply. I found a cheap flight, as well as a cheap hostel to stay in. San Pedro is very expensive because it depends on tourism, so there you will meet more foreigners than Chileans. In order to save some cash, I bought cans of tuna, beans, as well as fruits and veggies in Valparaíso and packed a backpack full of food. There is no problem traveling with food on domestic flights, so my food backpack made it to San Pedro safely, and there my friend and I cooked our meals. Sharing with friends is always great in order to save money as well as share and experience new things together.
So never feel like you’re missing out because there are always ways to make friends and hangout without having to spend all of your savings on a weekend.
No matter what, there is always something happening in Valparaíso. It is a great city to just go out and explore! From going to the beach to walking from cerro to cerro, there is always something new to see, and it doesn’t involve spending a lot of money. There are always ways of financing this amazing experience and there are always people ready to help with any questions that you have.
Chelsea Valdez was a Sociology and Spanish student at Macalester College and studied abroad with IFSA at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Chile in 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the First Generation College Student Scholarship Program.