DIY study abroad

Maria-Xenia Hardt

UT study abroad programs are wide-ranging but expensive, and students looking to travel afar should consider other options.

By participating in a faculty-led program, such as “Theater in Italy,” “Language, Culture, Biology and Engineering in Santander, Spain” and about 20 others, credit is guaranteed, but so are huge fees. The program is laid out for you, and so are your accommodations and weekend trips. The only thing you do yourself is book your flight and get your visa. Where’s the experience in that? It’s really not so different from a summer camp you attended back in high school, except for the price.

 There are also exchange programs and affiliate programs which place students at foreign universities, where they study alongside foreign students and are taught by foreign professors. If you participate in an exchange, you pay the normal fees at UT as well as travel and living costs. Sounds reasonable. However, by choosing this option you run the risk of not getting credit for all the courses you might want to take abroad and end up having to prolong your studies.

So, here’s a third option: Do it yourself! It might take up some more time and it might involve filling out some more forms, but it might actually involve a real, unique experience and save you a lot of money.

I study English and Portuguese, and, if I were not on an exchange at UT-Austin myself, I might want to go abroad to Portugal or Brazil to improve my Portuguese. Wandering around the Study Abroad Fair sponsored by UT’s International Office on Gregory Plaza last week, I came across the following offer: a faculty-led summer program in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Credits earned: six. Estimated cost: around $9000. Includes: application fee ($50), affiliated studies fee ($400), program fee ($4550), books and materials ($350), food ($100), airfare ($1,600), local transportation ($200), personal items ($210), medical insurance ($114), passport ($135), visa ($270) and emergency funds ($500).

Here are two alternatives. The first one is for a 6-week summer experience in Portugal at the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Europe. The course takes place in June and July, and you’d have 20 hours of class per week for four weeks. Let’s calculate what that would cost you: You need a flight ($1,500), there is a program fee (about $600), you need to live somewhere ($1,000 is a very generous budget for that), you need to eat (plan $500) and you need insurance ($120). That sums up to $3,720. You don’t need a visa. Local transportation is cheap — for seven dollars you can go to the coast (a one hour train ride) and back. Even if you travel on all your weekends and need lots of so-called “personal items,” you will have a hard time trying to even get close to the $9,000 of the Salvador de Bahia program.

You insist on going to Brazil? Go to Rio de Janeiro. Take a six-week language course at the Casa Do Caminho Language School (about $750, materials included), a school that has been recommended to me by people who have been there. Add a flight ($1,600), visa ($270) and insurance ($120). The school can organize a home-stay for you (around $1,000), or you opt for a hostel (also around $1,000). Let’s add that all up: $3,740. Again, you would have to travel a lot to get close to UT’s $9,000 fee. By the way, the school also offers various organized trips for very little money. Oh, and did I mention that 70 percent of your course fees will help to finance the orphanage of Casa do Caminho?

Besides organizing the trip itself, you also have to make sure that you will get credit for it, which is possible. A representative at last week’s Study Abroad Fair on Gregory Plaza told me, “Say you travel to Lisbon or to Rio and participate in a course there [where you would be speaking Portuguese].” You wouldn’t get credit for the course as exactly Portuguese 610D or whatever level you are on, but you would get general credit for it toward you Portuguese minor or major. Then, through UT, you would test out of the course you did abroad and proceed with the next one.

Going abroad for a summer can be a lot cheaper than the options UT offers. None of the alternatives I presented are turnkey. But for people who have to keep an eye on their spending, they show some of the possibilities.

Hardt is a English junior from Freiburg, Germany.