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Traveling Abroad: A Cost-Effective, Life-Altering Experience

January 24, 2019

By: Dr. Bertrand Landry, associate professor of French

My home university, Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France, had an agreement to send students all over the world, and I was chosen to be a student and a teaching assistant in the French program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. This changed my life forever as I stayed another year to finish the master’s degree program in French.

Massachusetts followed Ohio, then I was off to North Carolina and, finally, in 2012, I settled back in Ohio as a professor in the French program at Mount Union. I was thrilled to discover that the University offered study abroad and valued, what I believe, is a unique and life-altering experience that gives students an edge in this very global world. I made it my mission to share my unique experience with students and have them study abroad so they may begin their professional lives with advantageous, valuable skills and opportunities.

Mount Union offers 50 or so international destinations from which students can pick to complement their major and market themselves differently in the global workplace. A future nurse can study in Thailand, an engineer to-be in Spain, and a prospective business person in France. The University Study Abroad Consortium (USAC) has been working with Mount Union for decades to provide the best international experience to Mount students.

One of the myths of study abroad is that it is expensive. It is true that some destinations are less expensive than others, but USAC and the Mount Union Center for Global Education thrive to offer financial support in the form of scholarships and prizes available to all who apply. Students can also use their financial aid. Personally, I worked the summer before I left for Ohio to earn the money that allowed me to travel and be adventurous. In fact, there are many economical ways to travel and study. Showing a student ID to benefit from student rates, sharing with friends to cut costs, learning to use public transportation to discover the city and country in which you will be living — this is how you will discover hidden gems such as inexpensive, good restaurants and entertainment venues that will become familiar hangouts. I also relied on making friends to make my stay unforgettable.

Some of the ways I found to study and live affordably may seem to belong to the Iron Age according to today’s standards. Technology now allows us to download apps to find low-cost lodging, identify means of transportation, communicate with loved ones back at home, and share our amazing adventures on social media.

For example, France has Airbnb for lodging and Blablacar, which is a ridesharing app that provides affordable rides all over the country. Additionally, USAC programs offer homestays that help students save money as they quickly become a part of the family whose members open their home and their hearts. Typically, families will take them to visit places and feed them more than the typical two dinners a week. Students also quickly make friends with locals who share tips for reasonably priced fun. The resident director will also provide money saving advice and organize mixers and outings.

I remember celebrating Halloween with few expenses and being invited for Thanksgiving to the house of a friend in Cincinnati for free. I spent Christmas with my sister in an inexpensive youth hostel and even drove down to Florida for Spring Break on a budget. I often had friends over for French dinners I cooked, which allowed me to share my culture and have fun for next to nothing. I know that students cook and bake for their very appreciative families that see a homestay as a shared cultural experience.

I’m sure that my story echoes some of your own international experiences, both while studying at Mount Union and now in your days as alumni. As some of your children prepare to attend college, or you are toying with the idea of traveling abroad yourself, it is always wonderful to hear about unique international experiences. Hopefully your children will come back home one day and proudly tell you “I’m in!”.