For Paul Boulat ’09, choosing where to study abroad was simple.

“I chose [the Paris program] mostly because it’s a program recommended for College of Letters (COL) for French speakers,” said Boulat. “I was actually born in France, so I have a lot of family that I could see there.”

As students plan their abroad experience, they may struggle to choose classes at a school they have never visited, to secure housing in a city they have never been to, and to learn about exchange rates that may not be to an American’s advantage. Luckily, Wesleyan’s Office of International Studies can help students prepare for their trip; however, though Wesleyan does offer resources, many students still cite difficulties in planning their trips.

One issue is financial planning. While Boulat did enjoy seeing familiar childhood locales and visiting members of his extended French family, his experience cost more than he had anticipated.

“One problem I had was that [the Office of International Studies] tells you at the beginning that a semester in Paris would be financially equal to a semester at Wesleyan,” said Boulat. “But because Paris is an expensive city it doesn’t really work that way.”

Sofia Warner ’09, also a COL major, had a tough time deciding where to study abroad, but eventually chose the same Paris program that Boulat attended. Warner was similarly disappointed that her Paris experience was so costly.

“Finances in Paris were a really big issue,” said Warner. “It was an unfair message to send. [The Office of International Studies] should just be honest.”

Carolyn Sorkin, the director of the Office of International Studies, explained that students need to be realistic about every expense they will incur once abroad. She underscored the fact that while tuition in Paris might be equivalent to tuition here at Wesleyan, many other aspects of being abroad inflate general living expenses.

“Certain study abroad locations are bound to be more expensive because of the exchange rate,” Sorkin said.

Warner noted that since she has been abroad multiple times in the past few years, she already had a good grasp of what to expect, unlike many students who are simply unaware of what they are getting themselves into.

“I would just put sort of a disclaimer on the program,” said Warner. “If you’re going to do it, just have realistic expectations. I basically put myself on a budget.”

Similarly, Sorkin encourages students to do research before deciding on a particular destination.

“I would encourage people to think from an economic view point before going abroad,” said Sorkin. “Watch MSNBC, read The New York Times…talk to people from [where you want to study]. There are many ways to economize; you just have to think in advance.”

Melanie Jung ’08 spent the spring semester of her junior year in England through a study abroad program run by Butler University in Indiana. While London was just as expensive as Paris, Jung was fully aware of this when she arrived.

“For London, they pretty much tell you up front that it’s going to be ridiculously expensive,” said Jung.

While Jung said that she experienced some frustrations with the study abroad office—such as inaccessible resources and lack of communication on deadlines—her overall time abroad was not greatly affected by these challenges.

“I loved London and had a great experience going abroad,” said Jung.

Other students who participated in less expensive programs than Paris or London have expressed concerns that they are still forced to pay Wesleyan tuition—a policy that is implemented by many universities across the country.

Sorkin explained that this policy allows students who receive financial aid from Wesleyan to keep that same amount of aid while going abroad. It also ensures that Wesleyan receives a known amount of money each year, independent of how many students decide to study abroad.

“This policy makes it so that we don’t have to restrict how many people are allowed to go abroad,” said Sorkin.

Sorkin emphasized that, if money is an issue, students should discuss various options with the Office of International Studies.

“One thing that is important for students to know is that there are ways to get financial aid toward study abroad programs,” Sorkin said.

These options include scholarships provided by particular study abroad programs, as well as a government scholarship in which the student agrees to spend a year after college working for a branch of the government.

In the end, most students agreed that the best way to have a positive study abroad experience is to stay informed and ensure that as few surprises as possible will be encountered once abroad.

“A lot of it is being conscious,” said Sorkin. “If you select where you are going with these issues in mind, you can avoid some problems.”

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