All posts by Becca Leigh

5 Ways to Survive Low-Cost Flights

Booked some EasyJet? Ready to go on Wizz? Rocking it with Ryanair? Read these tips to prepare for your trip with a low-cost carrier! | Study Abroad and BeyondSo you’re flying on a low-cost carrier, huh?  Congratulations on scoring cheap tickets!

You’re probably elated about that $25 roundtrip ticket to someplace incredible.  To be honest, I’m happy for you.

I love the prices of cheap flights.

However, the experience itself of actually being on these flights can be a little… let’s say taxing.

I’ve now flown at least five different low-cost carriers, and I learn a little more each time.

Here are the ways that I don’t let Ryanair kill my soul survive cheap flights.

Read the fine print before you leave

Our friendly low-cost carriers charge for pretty much anything.  Make sure to check in advance the:

  • Number of bags allowed
  • Weight of bags
  • Dimensions of bags
  • Costs for luggage outside of the allowance
  • Included amenities (if any – again, thanks Norwegian – free WiFi!)
  • Excluded amenities (liiiike… water.  If you can, grab it in the terminal.  Although COPA didn’t allow me to bring it to the gate…)
Bring a spare bag

If you are limited to one cabin bag, make sure you plan to have your valuables under the seat in front of you.  You don’t want someone walking off with your bag (let’s say accidentally).

I recommend packing a reusable shopping bag for this purpose.  A purse works too.

After successfully getting your one bag past the check-in desk, rearrange your stuff.

Better yet, pack this in advance and have it at the top of your bag to grab during boarding.

A little side-eye from the crew is worth securing your important documents!


Silence really is golden.

Before takeoff, I pop those puppies in and can barely hear the screaming children and adults around me.

But what about safety, you say?

Earplugs only dull the noises around you.  It’s still possible to hear every announcement.  In fact, I can still hear the pilot right now on Air Arabia.

If there is an emergency, you will still hear what you need to hear.

Consider ear plugs to have a slightly quieter experience.

(I know that having things in your ears is bad, but me losing patience is probably bad too.  I’ll take my chances.)

Consider purchasing “Priority” anything

My last Ryanair flight allowed priority passengers to board first as well as have 2 (!!) cabin bags.

All for $7 more.

I don’t usually spring for priority, but $7 was a price I could stomach.

That would have been 3 espressos in Italy.  Or 1.5 meals in Marrakech.  Instead, it was my ticket to happiness.

Watching other passengers have meltdowns solidified my decision-making.

How to Survive Cheap Flights | Study Abroad and Beyond

I managed to get comfortable earlier than my fellow passengers on a very full flight for only $7. #winning.

Which brings me to…

Find a way to get comfortable… and determine your price for comfort

Similar to the $7 for priority, for the right price, I will pay to reserve a seat on the plane.

Some carriers allowed me to reserve a seat without any fees (thanks, Norwegian!).  However, most low-cost carriers price their seats based on desirability.

If I need to sleep on a flight, anything under $10 is in my budget for a window seat.  I’ve paid as little as $3 and as much as $10 to reserve a seat.

On flights with seats that don’t recline (yep, looking at you Ryanair), this has proved to be essential.

That’s where I’m most comfortable, and it’s worth the price.

Load up on entertainment

To entertain myself on low-cost carriers for long-haul flights (say that 5 times fast), I download as many things to entertain myself in advance as possible.

The past few flights have been a combination of podcasts (in exchange for earplugs) and e-books from the library.

They have successfully entertained me across the Atlantic in the absence of in-flight entertainment.

I almost didn’t miss movies… almost.

But then I thought of the $300 in savings, and it was a fair exchange.

Final thoughts

Listen, I’m not saying flying with low-cost carriers will be a picnic.  But recently, the climate on these carriers has improved (slightly) as competition has increased.

The best way to survive these flights?  Keep breathing.

Eventually, the flight will be over.  The couple next to you will eventually stop making out.  The baby will stop screaming.  And the kid behind you will stop kicking your seat.

No matter what, the money you saved will allow you to see so many more places!

Also, there is the added bonus of adding some hilariously harrowing tales of survival from those flights.

It’s a win-win!

10 Ways to Save Money While Living Abroad
4 Mistakes to Avoid While Traveling
15 Truths of Studying Abroad
Websites You Should Know for Study Abroad
11 Things You Need to Research Before Traveling

Packing for Study Abroad: A Review

With so many articles about study abroad packing, many avoid talking about packing successes and failures. Here is a review of how I could have done better. | Study Abroad and BeyondIt’s about that time of year when students begin packing for study abroad!

Packing is ridiculously hard – you suddenly feel like everything in your life is incredibly valuable.  And how can you possibly choose what to leave behind?!

I’ve gotten to the point of packing only in a carry-on for trips lasting less than a month, but moving abroad for over a year was a challenge.

I didn’t start packing until the day before my flight.  Now that I think about it, that was a bad idea (sorry, Mom!)

Had I laid out my clothes and belongings earlier, I would have been able to better visualize what I needed.

I now know just how much I value the ability to feel comfortable wherever I live.  I can also easily determine what brought me comfort, and how I could have attained it.

Here is a review of what I packed:

  • Things I am SO GLAD I brought
  • Things I regret not bringing
  • Things I just didn’t need
  • Things I totally didn’t need to bring, but brought me such great joy
  • Things I would have done to better prepare

Things I am SO GLAD I brought:

Personal things

Those posters, pictures, and notes from family and friends, and magnets and books, made me feel at home right away.

Before I went to bed the first night, I made sure to put everything up.  

They all remained unchanged until I moved back home over a year later.

The best part of most of these? They are flat and don’t take up much room!


Sometimes people opt to leave their laptops home, especially with computer labs.

(I know – computer labs ARE actually still a thing.)

I was so happy I brought my laptop so I could have Internet freedom in my own home.  It was so much easier to stay in touch with family and friends, upload pictures to my hard drive, book trips, and otherwise entertain myself.

And who doesn’t love binging on Netflix on rainy days?

Favorite clothes

Sure, I could have bought clothes while abroad.

But my comfy jeans, sweater, t-shirts, and pajamas?


And they all looked great with the new clothes I bought for work!

A fluffy bath sheet

Bigger than pretty much any bath towel anywhere, this thing was pure bliss.

I loved wrapping myself in it and lounging in it all day (when I wasn’t working).

I mean, I did get funny stares when I brought it that one time to the public bathhouse… but quickly acknowledged my error and didn’t make that mistake again.

Things I regret not bringing:


I underestimated just how hard it was to find shoes in my size.  Size 9 (39 EU, 7 UK) isn’t as common in some countries.

My mother (she is a wonderful woman, and queen of shipping) mailed me a box of my shoes after my first month abroad.

In hindsight, I would have brought more fun and functional footwear initially.  But I did get a great deal on Birkenstocks at Costco, so… it balances out, I suppose.

Wait, did I say Costco?

Yeah, I had that in Korea.  Anyway…


Had I done more research, I would have deliberately brought some more snacks for me.

Peanut butter is hard to come by, but macaroni and cheese is probably the hardest to obtain.

My mother (bless her) shipped me Bruegger’s Bagels and Annie’s Mac and Cheese when I was abroad multiple times.

Haven’t heard of either?

Well, they both taste like the hopes and dreams of a nation.  And home.

For whatever you might miss, if you have a loved one who is willing to ship you things… make sure you know the shipping policies and customs requirements before you make your requests.


This was a regret before tablets were really a thing.

I ended up making a lot of weekend trips to the English language bookshop in Seoul to pick up some books.

However, now I make sure to add digital books to my app before I leave for trips.

If you aren’t a member of your local library in the US, make sure to do so before you leave!  You can download books from anywhere for specific borrowing time; the opportunities are endless!

Related: 10 Ways to Save Money While Living Abroad

A small bottle of fabric softener

You know, like in a “break in case of emergency” type situation.

I LOVE the smell of fabric softener.  To me, it is a comforting smell and makes me feel snuggly.

When my parents visited, I hugged them and immediately made a scene in the coffeeshop because they smelled so distinctly like home.

Granted, they tried to pry me off because they thought they smelled terrible.  And they had just traveled over 24 hours to see me and were probably a little tired.

They really smelled like Downy mixed with heaven…

Anyway, that fabric softener would have gone really far in making me feel like home.

Things I just didn’t need:

Hair things, comma non-specific

You would have thought I was moving to the moon.  I brought two GIGANTIC bottles of shampoo and conditioner with me when I moved abroad.

Not. Necessary. At. All.

I lived within a 15 minute taxi ride of Costco (I’ve literally never lived as close since).  And, shampoo is something that is sold at grocery stores and some pharmacies in sooo many countries.

If your hair is woven silk that is super picky, yes, you might need to bring special shampoo.  Mine?  Definitely not.

Also, I did not need the hair dryer or straightener.  It would have made plenty more sense to buy them locally with the proper plugs and wattages.  I almost fried them even with the adaptors I got.

… Although, to be fair, I didn’t blow up a socket with a hair dryer.  That was a toaster oven.

More on that way later. The more you know…

As many adaptors

You can buy adaptors pretty much anywhere.

I was going based on the assumption that I would be stranded without any access to technology stores.

… That was decidedly untrue.

Instead, I only really needed one adaptor, and I could have bought the rest on arrival.

Cosmetics… or anything else that is cheaper or better where you are going

Granted, this is a location-specific thing.  In Korea, cosmetics are incredible and incredibly cheap.

I would have just left everything at home and purchased new stuff there.

This can translate to other things in other locations: clothes, bathing suits, personal care items, et cetera.

Just ask friends or returned students what they miss most about living in your destination and prepare accordingly :).

Things I totally didn’t need to bring, but brought me such great joy:

My comforter

“Absolutely frivolous,” some would say.

“That’s as big as your suitcase!” others would say.

“I DON’T CARE I’M DOING IT!” I exclaimed.

No regrets.  That fluffy thing kept me warm (in conjunction with the provided sheets and thick blanket). It smelled like home.  

Things I would have done to better prepare:

This is why I wrote the “Checklist: Things to Do During Your First Week Abroad.”

I made a lot of mistakes.  Namely, not bringing much (read: any) cash.  I didn’t look up foreign transaction fees on my credit card.  Also, I didn’t really research the destination.  I avoided looking up directions.  I avoided packing until the day before.  Finally, I didn’t have a phone.

Now, I want others to prepare better for their time abroad!

More than anything, it’s important to be open to challenges and prepare to laugh when things are tough.

Finally, like I learned in grad school, “plan like hell and go with the flow!”

Study Abroad Guide: Departure Phase
9 Tactics to Survive the Pre Semester Panic
Checklist: Things to Do During Your First Week Abroad
The “What the Hell Have I Done” Moment
An Open Letter to Students Departing for Study Abroad

Love Letter to My Fellow Travelers

This is a letter to all of my fellow travelers who have been afflicted by the travel bug - thank you for being the adventurous people you are! | Study Abroad and BeyondDear fellow travelers,

As I find myself blissfully on the road again, excited for this journey, I can’t help but think of you.

My travel compatriots. Fellow hikers. Serendipitous sidekicks in adventure. Language novices and pros alike. Those who believe in the healing power of cross-cultural dialogue and sharing.

Think back to that time when you first caught it.  You know what I’m referring to. The travel bug, which afflicts many in our community.

Can you remember the exhilaration?

Finding something new around every corner?

The opportunity to experience the unknown?

Feeling somehow utterly out of place, and yet completely at home?

And admit it – you will always get that electric sensation every time you book your next bus, train, plane, ferry, or maybe even tuk tuk.

Your openness to new people and ways of thinking is inspiring.  The smiles and laughter you share while on adventures near and far make the world a better place. You are at home amongst new friends, faces, and contexts.

And you believe that no one is undeserving of your compassion.

You’re willing to go the extra 500 miles to help a new friend.  Not only are you willing, you can recount times when you put someone else’s needs above your own wishes.

(But you’d sooner relinquish your passport than share others’ personal stories of woe.)

While on the road, you listen to others’ stories, and happily share your own.  Learning new things is exhilarating.

Because, let’s be real – traveling makes us all better storytellers.

And even when you maybe screw up a little (or a lot), you roll with the punches (hopefully not literally).  You know that you can lean on your travel community during rough times.

They – we – have and will continue to deliver the support you need in the moment.

Listen, I know you have crappy days while traveling.  And maybe there are days when you’re just going through your standard travel motions without fully engaging with anyone or anything.

…Or perhaps there are days when you’re feeling particularly guilty after a YouTube bender when you had planned to explore a city.

There is such a thing as travel burnout.

But you carry on, knowing full well that a little part of you would die if you were to stop exploring the world in which we live.

You have seen the darkness of this world, yes.  It’s not like you have been impervious to pain in your life’s journey.  You have experienced grief, and devastating loss.  But – somehow – you didn’t let that all-consuming loss consume you.

You found a way to take loss as a part of life, and even explored the way that other cultures perceive loss in order to process your own.

It’s an incredible thing to be vulnerable and open at the same time. You are brave. So incredibly brave.  And you might not know it.

But let me assure you that you are.

You are strong, and I aspire to be like you.

I’m so proud and fortunate to be part of your community, fellow travelers.  Thank you for all you have taught me and shared with me.

You will always be in my heart.

To quote Rick Blaine from Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Continued safe travels, my friends.


A fellow traveler

Coming Home: How to Cope
An Open Letter to Students Departing for Study Abroad
Open Letter: To Students Returning Home
#StudyAbroadBecause Future You will Love You
Prioritize Travel Saving (+ Calculator)

#StudyAbroadBecause Future You will Love You

#StudyAbroadBecause Future You will Love You | Study Abroad and BeyondThere are so many reasons to study abroad.  I mean, how many times can you realistically live outside of your home country with few to no ramifications?

After you finish your time at college/university, the answer is “not many.”

To be fair, the easier question to answer is “why shouldn’t I study abroad?”

There are no good responses to that.

I mean, sure, I withdrew from a semester-long study abroad program. But it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done.  And it’s also one of my biggest regrets.

I could have spent a semester studying Shakespeare in the U.K., but no, I had to go and withdraw…

(Now that I’ve relived that, excuse me as I go drown my sorrows in cheese.)

But I digress.  Getting back to #StudyAbroadBecause.

Recently, I was interviewed by Wandering Educators’ Dr. Jessie Voigts about how I would respond to the phrase #StudyAbroadBecause.  It was a fun way to reflect on my experiences abroad, as well as provide some insight about the things I learned while abroad that surprised me.

Pro tip: you may have your entire life thrown upside-down in a French class about geography.

Pro tip #2: the concept of right and wrong are cultural constructs.  When you learn this whilst abroad, it will lead to years of reflection.  And the occasional outburst in the middle of the night yelling “BUT WHYYYYYYY???”

My favorite response for #StudyAbroadBecause was “Go early, go often, go for as long as you can, and go with an open heart and mind.”

The full interview can be found here.

How would you respond to #StudyAbroadBecause?  What did you wish you knew before you left?

When to Start Planning for Study Abroad
25 Things to Know about Study Abroad
How to Survive those Bad Days Abroad
Study Abroad Guide: Preparation Phase
Why I Withdrew from Semester-Long Study Abroad

Study Abroad Guide: Departure Phase

Are you ready for your study abroad departure? Better double check to make sure... | Study Abroad and BeyondYou’re on your way to study abroad!  Your departure is in a few days, you have packed and repacked your carry-on, and you are ready to go!

… or are you?

There are so many things that you had to get together.  You went to a million appointments. You collected a gajillion papers.  And let’s not talk about the hundreds of Pins you collected in order to prepare for some killer weekend trips.

…But yeah, maybe you should just revisit things one last time.

Here is a compilation of all of the things you should read in order to prepare for your upcoming departure:

1. 4 Mistakes to Avoid While TravelingThere are certain mistakes that all students and expats are almost guaranteed to make while living abroad.

Make sure to familiarize yourself with this before departure so you can blend in… at least a little better.

2. Study Abroad Guide: Prepare for Anything: No, but really.  Prepare for ANYTHING.

I never thought I would lose my wallet, miss a plane, or misunderstand my visa. And yet… yeah.  Maybe just read this article so you can learn from my mistakes be adequately prepared.

3. The “What the Hell Have I Done” Moment: Everyone has the moment of utter panic before departure.  This is normal.

Read this when you feel like every decision you have ever made is wrong.  Future You will love that Current You was such a badass who wanted to learn about the world.

4. 15 Truths of Studying Abroad: Take this as a checklist of things you will absolutely experience while abroad.

Share with your study abroad friends.

Then, throw some hashtags on your pictures and call it a day!

5. 10 Ways to Save Money While Living Abroad: Before you blow your budget, review how you can save yourself some moola.

Yes, before you learn what the local dessert is.

… No, really.  Do it now.  *waits patiently*

6. 11 Things You Need to Research Before Traveling: In order to fully prepare for departure, there are certain things that everyone needs to know before they go.

From important phone numbers to critical addresses, this is a guide that will have you ready for anything.

7. An Open Letter to Students Departing for Study Abroad: I got a little sappy.  What can I say – study abroad is incredible.

You’re about to embark on this incredible journey.

I support you, I am so jealous of you, and oh, the places you’ll go!

8. Checklist: Things to Do During Your First Week Abroad: The first week will go by oh so quickly.

Now that you’re settling in to your new destination, here are all the things that you need to do during your first week in order to set the stage for a successful – and healthy – experience.

9. 13 Things on My Carry-On for Long Trips: Prior to departure, I always make sure to pull up this list to double check what I have packed in my carry-on.

Nothing is worse than when I reach for my eye mask and realize that I forgot it.  How can you possibly sleep on a flight without it?!

10. Why You Should Use the STEP ProgramThis is probably the most important thing that someone can do right before departure. I still don’t leave the country without registering for the STEP Program (even though I sometimes remember while I’m in the airport).


What are your biggest concerns before your study abroad departure?  Share below!

25 Things to Know about Study Abroad

How much do you really know about study abroad? Read on to see how many of these you already knew! | Study Abroad and BeyondThere are plenty of things you already know about study abroad.

I mean… c’mon.  You’ve been thinking about this for a while, right?

You know the types of programs available, why it’s important to start early, and that you shouldn’t lose your passport.

And, you also probably have an idea about where you would like to study.

However… how much do you really know about studying abroad in general?

Here are 25 things to know about study abroad, starting with national trends and general facts:

  1. Only 1.6% of currently enrolled students in higher education participate in a study abroad program.
  2. Over half of study abroad students from the United States study in Europe.
  3. Most students (65%) participate in short-term study abroad programs, as opposed to the traditional semester-long study abroad.
  4. STEM fields make up the largest percentage of students studying abroad.
  5. The institution that sent the most students abroad in the last year was New York University, followed by Texas A&M and University of Texas.
  6. There are some all-expenses-paid programs abroad for students sponsored by the U.S. government.
  7. Before you leave, getting all of the paperwork together will be a complete pain in the ass.
  8. You may wear your comfy sweatpants and shirt in public… but will likely not do it more than once.
  9. You will be able to navigate a new city like a freaking boss.
  10. There will be a day when you feel completely at home in your new home.
  11. Hostels?  Yes please.  They will become a comfortable part of your existence.
  12. Depending on how long you study abroad, there will be at least one day when you are completely over your experience.
  13. Despite the tough days, you will look back fondly on almost all of your experience as time goes by.
  14. There will be something from your time abroad that you will intensely miss when you go back home.  Actually, a lot of things.
  15. If you study abroad in the spring, you will probably not travel for too long after your program (even though you absolutely plan to).
  16. Your Insta and Snapchat game will be on point… but won’t show that you’re maybe a little homesick.
  17. Parties and festivals in other countries will actually be the best.
  18. You will get completely annoyed at tourists in your town (I mean, it’s YOUR town).
  19. There will be at least one time when you can’t figure out how to use a shower/toilet/sink during your travels.  Hopefully the picture won’t go viral.
  20. You will have a complete meltdown over something that never would have bothered you before.
  21. However, you will also get through a completely stressful situation with ease (to your own surprise).
  22. Cheap alcohol will lead to a miserable next day (… or next few days).
  23. You will have to change the way you do something; it will become a great example in a job interview of your adaptability.
  24. The friendships from your study abroad experience will leave a lasting impact on your life.
  25. You will return home a 2.0 version of yourself (but still compatible with other devices).

What surprised you about this list?  Share in the comments below, and follow me on Pinterest for more study abroad tips!

Visit Study Abroad and Beyond’s profile on Pinterest.

7 Habits of Successful Study Abroad Students
How to Avoid Long Lines at U.S. Airports
How Your Smartphone Has Improved Travel
How to Find the Right Program for You
15 Truths of Studying Abroad

25 Things You Didn't Know About Study Abroad | Study Abroad and Beyond

Why You Need a Savings Account (or Five)

Why You Need a Savings Account... Or Five | Study Abroad and BeyondLet’s talk about having a savings account.

Money is a topic that makes people have emotions across the entire spectrum.  For me, I love talking about money, saving money, and tracking spending.

…But I also love to spend money on traveling.

I blame my dad for both of those.

Growing up, talking about money was completely normal in my house. My dad helped me open my first credit union account when I was 7, and I would proudly deposit money every Friday (my smallest deposit was 11 cents.  It was a big day).

I distinctly remember a conversation we had when I was five years old – my dad said that he wanted to take us on a family vacation to Europe and wanted to start saving… For the next three years.

We all worked to prepare for the trip (I contributed $15 for my well-thought-out souvenirs, obvs), and I saw how hard my dad saved for the trip.

It was the trip that changed my life.

Why You Need a Savings Account... Or Five | Study Abroad and Beyond
My doll, Elizabeth, enjoyed the trip as much as I did.

I started saving for trips throughout my teenage years, and then saved in earnest for study abroad during my senior year of high school

When I got to college, after talking with many of my friends, it dawned on me that my friends had very different upbringings regarding money.

Many hadn’t talked to their parents at all about finances. Most did not have anything more than a checking account.

I held some impromptu money meetings and evangelized the mindset shift to saving for the future.

Okay, so I need a savings account… Now what?

There is one thing that all college students need to do before going to college: open a savings account.

Do you only have a checking account?  That’s a start!  Now open a savings account.

Already have a savings account?  Well, you’re just a boss.  Now open different savings accounts for different items.  

Because this is a study abroad blog, I encourage you to consider having at least the following savings accounts if you are planning on spending a significant amount of time abroad.  You can have the accounts at the same financial institution; as previously mentioned, credit unions are AMAZING if you are shopping for institutions:

  • Primary savings (the “can’t touch this” account; saved for actual emergencies)
  • Travel savings (the “actual amount you can spend for travel” account)

Whatever money you make from your part-time jobs, put a lot of it into your primary emergency savings.

You never know what’s going to happen.

I, for one, missed a plane out of Paris.  It wasn’t a cheap mistake.  If not for my dad bailing me out and me paying him back using that emergency account, I would have been… well, more screwed than I was.

Many adults in the United States do not have any emergency savings at all, and the number of adults who have not made any contributions for retirement savings is downright terrifying.

By establishing healthy financial habits during college, you are setting yourself up for greater successes in the future.  If you prioritize saving money for your study abroad program as well as for an emergency fund, you will be prepared for saving for even bigger things once you are out of college.

Savings Part 2: Diversify

So, now that you have a couple of savings accounts, what other savings accounts are ideal?

This entirely depends on your situation.  The main goal is to leverage different savings accounts so that an extra, unexpected expense doesn’t completely blow your budget when you don’t expect it.  

I currently have the following accounts open across two financial institutions:

Credit Union
  • Primary Savings Account ($1,000 for immediate, smaller emergencies)
  • Primary Checking Account (the money comes, the money goes… from here)
  • Car Savings Account (cars break.  This money is for broken car parts and hearts.)
  • Insurance Savings Account (so those every-six-month-premiums don’t make me cry)
  • Immediate Travel Savings Account (because I want to travel and have access to travel-delegated funds)
Online Bank with a Higher Interest Rate
  • Emergency Savings Account (can’t touch this… unless in the event of cancer or other true, real-life emergency)
  • Travel Savings Account (can’t access it regularly, but it grows fairly well and I can drain parts of this for larger airfares)
  • Future Gift Account (for holiday gifts, birthday gifts, wedding gifts…)

And this list doesn’t include the three different retirement accounts I have open.

There are so many other options for savings accounts, depending on your needs – maybe you are saving for a large purchase (a car? A passport? An around-the-world plane ticket?), maybe you need to pay back some loans, maybe you like going on shopping sprees, and maybe you want to have multiple stashes of money lodged at different banks.

Many financial institutions allow members to have multiple savings accounts.  Make sure you know the limit (it’s usually something crazy like 20+), and get on it.

Your spending priorities should also be your savings priorities so you can maintain your budget.

Why You Need a Savings Account... Or Five | Study Abroad and Beyond

No matter what your financial situation is, planning ahead for unexpected expenses – and having savings accounts dedicated to these expenses – will lessen your stress when not-so-great-things happen.  As with anything, start early, save often!

Did your family openly discuss finances growing up?  Is it weird for you to discuss budgeting? 

Financial Aid 101 – Basics of Federal Aid
Being Cheap Without Missing Out
Prioritize Travel Saving (+ Calculator)
10 Ways to Save Money While Living Abroad
Why Travel with an Emergency Cash Stash

Language Immersion Programs: What to Know

Language Immersion Programs: What to Know | Study Abroad and BeyondFull disclosure – I am a dual language major.

*collective gasp*

(To be fair, the languages were French and English #liberalartsforlife.)

I strongly believe in the importance of learning another language.

However, it is difficult to become proficient in another language without being immersed in the language and its cultural context.

Coincidentally, the U.S. government also believes that some languages are suuuuuuuper important, and supports immersive study in said language for its citizens.

One of the most expansive international language immersion programs, the Critical Language Scholarship, has an application deadline in November; it is important to write a kick-ass application essay now to have enough time to edit it before the deadline!

I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Why is language learning important?

It just is.

Why is language learning important, according to the U.S. government?

So, there’s this thing called national security.  And economic prosperity… but let’s focus on the former.

There are some countries and cultures with which the government would like to foster stronger rapport and relationships.

On the other hand, there are some countries with which the government has… more complicated relationships.

For either of these groups, it is in the best interest of the U.S. government to have more citizens proficient in the language of the government and people.

Not many students in the United States study Urdu or Korean in high school, and the government would like to facilitate more language learning.

Also, people learning a critical language makes the government look pretty good.

A “critical language?”  The hell is that?

These not-really-taught-in-public-schools languages are ever-changing; again, the countries that speak these languages either represent a national security interest or an economic interest.

For fun, just guess which language corresponds with either category in the 2017 list of Critical Languages:

Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Azerbaijani, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Bangla, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu, and Swahili.

You probably aren’t wrong.

So, what programs are available?  And what’s the deal with the programs?

There are a whole bunch of opportunities available for a few hundred dollars off here, maybe a couple grand here, but I will focus on programs that are fully funded.

Yeah, free-ninety-nine.

Note – I didn’t say that there were no strings attached.

There are government-sponsored opportunities for both college students (and beyond) as well as high school students.  If you have aged out of these programs, make sure your younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and everyone else know about these opportunities.

Some of the language programs have a high acceptance rate, and some are extremely competitive.

Below are four opportunities for college students, and four for high school students.

No matter what programs you pursue, to quote Suzanne Collins, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Programs for College Students

For undergraduates, there are summer immersion programs as well as longer study programs available.  They all come with different requirements or post-completion standards, so be sure to review all of the eligibility information prior to completing an application.

Also, many campuses have advisors that have been specifically trained to support student applications.  Start working with an advisor early to submit the strongest application you can!

Critical Language Scholarship

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program


Brief Info: This opportunity is pretty sweet.  Students live with host families, learn as a cohort (lots of emphasis is placed on the group interactions part of the program), and immerse themselves into the language and the culture.  You do not have to have prior knowledge for all of the languages; however, you should have a keen desire to use the language in the future.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 7:59 pm EST.


Type of Program:  Summer Immersion Program; Long-Term Study Program


Brief Info: Oh, DAAD.  This is a super competitive scholarship opportunity in Germany.  Ideally, you do not yet minor or major in German anything (language, studies, history, etc.).  There are scholarship opportunities for either intensive summer programs for students pursuing all degree levels, as well as long term study abroad programs (the longer the better).  Don’t let the competitiveness dissuade you from applying!

2018 Application Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm EST.

Boren Awards

Type of Program: Long-Term Study Program


Brief Info: The Boren Awards are no joke.  There are a ton of different scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and all come with the same stipulation – you have to work for Uncle Sam.  The idea is that the U.S. government would like to benefit from your commitment to language learning, and its investment in you.

2018 Application Deadline: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm EST

Project Go for ROTC

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program


Brief Info: If you aren’t in ROTC, this isn’t for you.  If you are in ROTC, this will probably be perfect for you if you love languages.  This summer immersive language program operates like the Critical Language Scholarship in that it’s fully funded, but is geared to ROTC students.  The benefits are significant – language proficiency bonus pay being one of them.

2018 Application Deadline: Thursday, January 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm EST

Programs for High School Students

For high school students, there are summer immersion programs as well as academic year exchange programs available.  Make sure to talk to your parents and your high school counselor to see how these opportunities will fit in with your high school career.

Youth Ambassador Program

Type of Program: Cultural Exchange Program


Brief Info: This program brings delegations of students from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States for up to 4 weeks and vice versa.  For outgoing programs, each destination is managed by different sponsors.  Some of the sponsors require follow-on projects where participants can demonstrate the things they have learned to their home communities.

2018 Application Deadline: Check each program for details.

Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad

Type of Program:  Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: The whole point of this program is to facilitate high school students from the U.S. gaining a better perspective of the Muslim world, and vice versa.  While this isn’t language immersion per se, cultural and language immersion go hand in hand.  Also, YES participants have a tendency to change the world for good.  Whether those two things are directly related is up to you to decide.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 2:59 am EST.

Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange

Type of Program: Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: It’s like the U.S. and Germany have a seriously positive relationship going on or something; this is the only Western European country that really has language scholarships available.  This program immerses participants in German culture by way of a host family and a German high school.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 2:59 am EST.

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program, Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: This is basically the Critical Language Scholarship for high schoolers.  It has all the hits: host families, cultural immersion, a strong desire to change the world (or at least gain a better understanding of it).  There is significant support while you are abroad, so rest assured that Uncle Sam will take care of you while you’re away.

2018 Application Deadline: Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm EST

Final Thoughts

Intensive and immersive language study is one of the most challenging and enriching experiences you can have.

There will be crappy days, for sure.

However, the connections and relationships that you will gain from these experiences are unparalleled.

Ultimately, you’ll find a new home and blaze your own path in the world.

So… what are you waiting for?

Looking for more information?  Be sure to head to the Resources page for more opportunities for funding!

Study Abroad Guide: Preparation Phase

The Truth about Homestays: Pros and Cons
11 Things You Need to Research Before Traveling
The “What the Hell Have I Done” Moment
Getting a Visa: Facts to Know

4 Mistakes to Avoid While Traveling

Whether you are abroad for a few days or a while, the first few days can be chaotic. No matter how long you travel, make sure you avoid these mistakes for a more seamless transition to your new home!So you made it to your new home abroad! Everything is so exciting, new, and you can’t wait to explore!

Life is grand, isn’t it?

There are so many things to explore that you care about:

–    Bars
–    Insta-worthy locations
–    Food
–    New fun things!

(And maybe you already made a checklist of what you should do during your first week abroad…)

There is truly nothing like the honeymoon phase of being in a new place.

Even though it’s exciting to get to know a new place, there are certain things that many, many new residents – especially Americans – accidentally screw up whilst abroad.

Prepare yourself in advance – not all of these mistakes might be true in your particular situation, but any of these might happen to you!

Taking out the trash… incorrectly

Sure, you’re taking out the trash like you normally do because #adulting.

But are you following the local laws for separating your waste?

In most places across the United States, there are two bins to take out – trash, and single stream recycling. Whatever isn’t single stream goes into the general garbage.

… and maybe you collect plastic bags from stores when you unwillingly receive them and then return them to the stores. You know, like cool kids do.

Outside of the United States, there might be more bins, including for compost and natural waste, separated recycling, and stronger laws regarding how to properly discard items.

Additionally, in some countries you must purchase specific trash bags that have the cost of waste removal embedded in the price of the bags (here’s looking at you, South Korea!).

Wherever you are, make sure to learn the local waste management rules as early as possible to avoid making mistakes (and possible run-ins with law enforcement over trash).

Not weighing fruit at the grocery store

This is probably one of the more entertaining things to screw up.

You go to the grocery store, load up on fresh veggies, fruit, bread, cheese, and maybe some really cheap wine.

Then, you wait in line like a local, exuding confidence.

You set down your items.

The cashier looks at you, looks at the produce, and looks at you again… and then sends you away.

All you can think is “BUT WHAT DID I DO?

Truth be told, you probably just forgot to weigh and price out your produce.

In many countries, there are digital scales on which you can place your fruit and veg and type in the individual product numbers. Then, the scales spit out a sticker or receipt for you to present the cashier when you cash out.

Everyone goes home happy!

Binge drinking

So, this is something that happens to Americans a LOT more than anyone will admit.

Sure, study abroad students and travelers love going to Oktoberfest, Carnaval, international festivals, and any other number of huge party events. Who doesn’t love posting pictures of you in your lederhosen and quart of beer?

Let’s be real – drinking abroad is fun and, sometimes, cheap.

However, the culture of binge drinking affects Americans abroad more than most other cultures, and has some significant potential ramifications.

On any given evening in many countries, people enjoy beer or wine with their friends. However, drinking to the point of blacking out is viewed as sloppy in many cultures.

Make sure to drink responsibly – it’s a lot more enjoyable to remember your time abroad!

Having unrealistic expectations of the logistics of getting around and staying connected

After seeing the Instagram feeds of your friends who studied abroad, everything will be awesome all of the time, right?


First of all, there may be shitty days when you’re abroad (yep, even if you’re only traveling for a short period of time!).

Second of all, some things may grate on your last nerve for any number of reasons.

Transportation might not be as reliable or straightforward as you anticipated.

There might be fewer signs in English than you thought.

You might get jostled at the store and lose your “spot” in line… wait, wasn’t there a line? What in the actual crap THERE IS NO STRUCTURE IN THIS LAWLESS LAND!

In these situations, just take a moment.

Here are some realistic expectations to have:

  • Transportation is important to research in advance, but know that it will likely frustrate you.
  • Your phone might not work as much, or as well, as it does at home.
  • You will need to learn some key phrases in the local language.
  • While your visit is welcome, you will need to adapt to the local customs (no, you won’t change the local queuing culture in the time you are there).

All of these mistakes are avoidable, and will ultimately improve your experience abroad – just think of all of the fun in your future!

What mistakes have you made while abroad? Share below in the comments! For more travel tips, follow me on Pinterest!

Visit Study Abroad and Beyond’s profile on Pinterest.

The “What the Hell Have I Done” Moment
An Open Letter to Students Departing for Study Abroad
7 Habits of Successful Study Abroad Students
11 Things You Need to Research Before Traveling
Why You Should Use the STEP Program

The Funny Thing About Grief

The Funny Thing About Grief | Study Abroad and Beyond(…Okay, I lied.  There’s nothing truly funny about grief.  Irony, yes.  Hilarity, meh, not really.)

My heart.  She hurts today, and has been hurting for a while.

I’ll take a break from my usual “study abroad and international travel are great and here’s how to make the most out of an amazing situation!” to focus on something that everyone encounters during life – grief.

Loss causes grief.  Any loss – a loss of innocence, a loss of life, a loss of a pet, a loss of a relationship, a loss of material goods, a loss of self-worth or direction – is devastating in its own way.

Doubts arise.  Misery ensues.

There is an abundance of unanswerable questions.

Acceptance is a joke (and not a funny one at that).

However, I do like the idea of putting the “fun” in “funeral.”  It helps me get through some of the tougher times when I can’t see beyond my current feelings.

Also, actively working to spin grief into a celebration of the wonderful person or thing or idea that was lost helps me.

I believe that there is nothing more celebratory than vibrant colors, sounds, and laughter at a memorial service.

The past few months have made me think long and hard about grief, and this is my brain dump about all of the reflections I have had.

For further reading, the book Because of Winn-Dixie by the great Kate DiCamillo is the greatest way to explore grief and its many manifestations.

Yes, it’s a children’s book.  No, that doesn’t matter.

(All of the subsequent quotes are from the book.  No, really, pick up a copy today!)

Hopefully some of them will resonate with you, help you, or help you understand what someone close to you might be going through.

It will get better… even if it’s not right now.

Here are some funny things about grief.

You don’t know when grief will hit you.

I could understand the way Winn-Dixie felt.  Getting left behind probably made his heart feel empty. (page 32)

You thought you were having a great day, weren’t you?  A shining sun, a light breeze, a blue sky, your favorite song on the radio?

Then the universe says “that’s cute.”


You turn a corner and there’s that person that you lost!  Wait… no it’s not them… but… it could be… but it isn’t?

No.  It’s not them.  Of course it’s not them.

And now you’re going to have a horrible rest of your day.  I hope you have enough ice cream and tissues stocked up for what is sure to be an enjoyable evening of self-regret and despair.

(Note: I believe that this is why adults can drink.)

Grief has some similarities with nostalgia.

He missed his mama and he missed his daddy and he missed his sisters and he missed the boy he used to be. (page 110)

Imagine the most delicious ice cream you have ever had (okay, ice cream has maybe been a theme of my past few weeks.  That and beer.  And maybe wine…).

Anyway, that ice cream is delicious, creamy, life-changing, and completes you.

You didn’t know what you were missing until this ice cream appeared in your life.

All of a sudden, it’s gone.

Now, imagine that no one will ever make that ice cream again.

The shop is closed and the recipe was destroyed.

Sad yet?

That nostalgic feeling, multiplied by a million, is like grief.

Grief makes you yearn to have that comfortable feeling in your life that nostalgia brings, but there is a certain finality that accompanies grief that can tear you apart.

Life won’t be the same without that damn ice cream.

People heal at different times, rates, and in different ways.

I wanted to tell her I understood about losing people, but I didn’t say anything.  I was just extra nice. (page 147)

There is no right way to grieve.

There is no wrong way to grieve.

However, there is a right way to grieve for yourself (… as long as it doesn’t involve self-harm).

Some people will tell you how to grieve, how they got through grief, and what you should do to make yourself feel better.

(…you know, kind of like I’m doing now.)

Here are some ways to deal with these people:

  1. Poke them in the eye and run away. (Just kidding, don’t. Unless you can somehow make it look like an accident.)
  2. Smile and nod.
  3. If they keep talking, fake some stomach discomfort.  Or talk about explosive diarrhea.

Only you know how to get through your own grief at your own time.

There are counselors who want to help you.  Your friends and family want to help you.  Your teachers and advisors want to help you.

People want to help you – you just have to find the right support for you.

If you have never been through grief before, let yourself have emotions.  Some will likely be wet and come from your eyes.

To be fair, they will likely happen whether you like it or not.

From my counselor, I learned about the value of a “grieving hour” where you save all of your pent up, exhausting grief and let it envelope you for one set hour during the day.

I love this idea, even though I usually lose interest in my moping and gnashing of teeth after about 15 minutes.

Whatever you do, just do you.

Things will not “return to normal.”  There will instead be a new normal.

Don’t you think I miss her every day? (p. 165)

Anyone who says that things will go back to normal is lying.

Anyone who says that you will “move on” is also full of shit.

There is no “moving on” from grief.  You don’t just wake up one day and say “meh, I think I’m over this whole grief thing and I’ll just stop thinking about it.”

It will go from a sharp pain to eventually a slightly duller ache.  But it’s there.  And it always will be.

It might feel different someday, but it will still be there.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about certain losses.  They’re a part of me.

Even ten years after one particular loss, there are some days (few and far between, now) when I can’t even function.

Other days, I can talk openly and at length about that experience without batting an eye.

However, I know my triggers and surround myself with good people when I have a sudden wave of grief… for anything.

For now, as my little heart keeps healing, I’ve texted and called my parents more in the past few weeks than I had in the past few months.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

It’s shitty.   And then it gets less shitty as time goes on.

He missed you and I miss you, but my heart doesn’t feel empty anymore.  It’s full all the way up.  I’ll still think about you, I promise.  But probably not as much as I did this summer. (page 178)

Grief is so shitty.

Like, really shitty.

It’s kind of like a toddler tantrum.  Poorly timed, loud, unbearable, unpredictable, and no one wins.  And it’s even worse when it happens in public.

You cannot stop it from happening.

Then, the tantrums eventually subside… in time.

They will still happen, but maybe to a lesser degree, and in a different way.  

You will find that your initial “grief triggers” don’t trigger you as much, or as quickly, anymore.

You will be able to think of the person you lost without having as acute of a pain in your heart.

Also, you will go longer between your emotional outbursts/meltdowns, and you may even be able to talk openly about how you feel without losing it.

Again, ten years on, I know my triggers, but they don’t affect me as much anymore.

It will get less shitty, I promise.

Melancholy is only part of the grieving process.

The Funny Thing About Grief | Study Abroad and Beyond

“Melancholy,” I repeated.  I liked the way it sounded, like there was music hidden somewhere in it. (page 126)

So, someday, the grief and acute mourning becomes melancholy.

Along that road, however, many other emotions flirt with us.

Resentment and guilt are two fun by-products of the grieving process, for example.

There’s nothing more agitating than seeing happy people when I’m grieving.

My brain immediately says: “Oh, look at you.  You don’t look miserable at all.  Isn’t that just nice.  Screw you.”


Sometimes even: “That smile.  It’s beautiful on you.  Now turn it upside down.”

Guilt is my other favorite aspect of grieving.

I always go through the process of wondering if I’m grieving hard enough, or if it’s in the right way.

Here’s a transcript of my internal dialogue after a soul-satisfying chuckle: “I just laughed.  That felt great.  But wait.  Can I laugh?  I should be able to laugh.  I’m always laughing.  Well, at least I used to.  But now, shouldn’t I just be crying?  Why am I not crying?  I should be crying.  Oh good now we are crying.  Everybody’s having fun now.”

And then, just like that, a light-hearted moment is gone.

My brain simultaneously inspires and destroys dreams.

It’s exhausting.

Everyone grieves for something, someone, or in some way.  There is always someone hurting more than you, sure.  But that doesn’t mean that your grief is less valid.

I believe, sometimes, that the whole world has an aching heart. (page 134)

Some people like to put value on grief.

Guys. Grief isn’t a competition.

Since when did we want to out-hurt someone else?!  Especially when that person is clearly hurting?!?

Have your time.  Let that grief wash over you.

Your loss is just that – yours.

If you have dependents, friends, or family who are also struggling, it is important to be there for them, but it is just as important to take care of yourself.

(Just like putting on your oxygen mask on an airplane before helping a child or someone who acts like a child.)

Your loss matters.  Sure, you probably have food, clean water, and shelter and some people don’t, but you’re not going to heal if you’re constantly comparing your experience to someone else’s experience (or perceived experience).

… And if people start telling you about your loss in a cavalier way, you will want to punch them.

Other people’s tragedies should not be the subject of idle conversation. (page 125)

But really.

If you don’t sucker punch the first person who undermines your loss, good on you!

It will be really, really hard, but it’s important to tell people what you need as you grieve.

You will likely need to be with some of your friends (the more understanding and supportive ones) instead of the ones who will tell you to buck up and move on already.

You will probably need a balance of space and closeness.  Find the balance, but also communicate when it’s too much of one or the other.

For friends and family members trying to provide support – if you want to show support to a loved one who is grieving, don’t minimize their current experience.

Encourage their current emotions, and non-self-harmy reactions.

Do not say “it will get better.”  They may know that, but it’s not looking too pretty right now.  Also, it sounds super condescending (even though you clearly don’t mean it in that way).

Let your loved one tell you what they need.

If they need your advice, tread carefully, but provide advice that will be helpful.

If they need to cry, get some tissues with lotion in them.

If they need to work out their emotions, lace up your sneakers and hit the gym.

If they need a hug, just hug them.

Grief does weird things to us, and no loss is too small to be hit by grief.

Your grief will not define you.

There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand?  You can only love what you got while you got it. (page 159)

It becomes part of you, but it will not be the definition of you after time.

It’s okay that it becomes part of you.  It means that you were able to love, and celebrate in the wonderful experiences you had.

Your ability to continue to live your best life in honor of your loss is a testament to your strength.

You can still be melancholic at times, for sure.  You will be able to put your grief into a special place in your heart where you will take it out from time to time.

You can take the lessons from your loss and make them positive.

Again, it will not define you.

The people who are there for you in times of grief are the ones you need to hang on to.

I looked around the room at all the different faces, and I felt my heart swell up inside me with pure happiness. (page 176)

No matter what happens with these people, whoever is there for you in times of grief will be there for you for life.

Don’t let these people go.  Even if they piss you off, they made themselves useful and supportive in your life when you needed them most and they are required to be with you always.

More importantly, they know how you react in times of grief, and they will be able to be there for you again – in whatever way you need.

Littmus W. Block figured the world was a sorry affair and that it had enough ugly things in it and what he was going to do was concentrate on putting something sweet in it. (page 111)

Be like Littmus W. Block.

Grief is shitty. Sadness is devastating.

But you can ultimately make the world better, even in grief.

You can be the go-to person to help others through grief.

You can create a loving memorial to the person you lost in any creative way – planting a garden, pursuing photography, performing a song…

Either way, it is important to remember that you make the world a better place by being in it.

Yes, you do.

If you would like to have some science contextualize your grief and future happiness and the “surprising science of happiness,” I highly recommend watching the TED Talk by Dan Gilbert; it helped me regain some perspective during my more intense grieving periods.

As a fitting closing, I’d like to quote Sinsemilia, a French band (and not the drug): “On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde.” (I wish you all the happiness in the world).