This guest post is from Suzanne Nasco, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Marketing at Southern Illinois University. You can also follow her @snasco.
I am an Associate Professor of Marketing at Southern Illinois University. Over the past 8 years, I have accompanied over 175 undergraduate and graduate students from SIU on a European Study Abroad experience. From 2003-2006, the study abroad trip consisted of a two-week “tour” of European capitals, with 2-3 days in several countries, such as London, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Frankfurt, etc., visiting companies and touring. The two weeks were often a whirlwind of packing and unpacking, traveling between cities, and ultimately, acting more like tourists than residents.
The Upcoming Trip
Since 2007, the trip has been extended to a four-week experience, where students take coursework at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business in Grenoble, France. They live in “residence-style” studio apartments where they can unpack their bags, cook in their own rooms, do laundry, go grocery shopping, and experience what life would be like if they lived overseas. Of course, they go to class almost every weekday, visit international organizations, take a group trip to Paris, and engage in local excursions, all while earning up to 7.5 academic credits to transfer back to SIU toward graduation. You can read some student blog posts about the 2010 trip at http://siucobsa.wordpress.com.
This post is not intended to be an advertisement for next year’s trip, but rather a reflection on the importance of international travel to today’s university students. In my opinion, prior to the 1990s, collegiate study abroad experiences seemed to be reserved for families with large financial resources and were often a luxury for students. Nowadays, business is so global that study abroad should be seen as almost a necessity for current college students, especially those planning to work for multinational corporations. The goal in accompanying students abroad is to make them see the magnitude of similarities among people across the globe and to recognize the slight differences that contribute to cultural misunderstandings and conflict. I know that the trips have been life-altering experiences for many of the students, who remain in touch long after graduation. I have never met a student who said they had wished they DIDN’T go abroad! The biggest issue for many of them is how to AFFORD the travel, tuition, and spending costs that a one-month study abroad experience requires.
Traveling with the Fam
Personally, I was lucky enough to have a father who loved to just get in the (old 1980s) camper and “GO”! I got my wanderlust from him and as soon as I got my first car at 16, I thoroughly embraced inexpensive domestic travel. I also went to work at age 14 so that I could afford an international trip during my senior year of high school. I have continued to travel voraciously since them. I have learned more about other people and about myself through travel experiences (in the U.S. and abroad) than any book or research effort could provide. Luckily, I married someone who also embraced travel and we have always made travel a priority in our household budgeting (Travel is also a bit of a necessity, as both of our families live over 1,400 miles away from us.).
Since travel is a luxury, not a necessity, we pay our bills and our selves first, but follow other money saving tenets to afford travel: we max out our Roth IRAs each year, save an additional 25% of our salaries, drive used cars, vowed never to have more than one car payment, have no credit card debt, and only a few more years left on the mortgage. We live frugally (but not “cheaply”…there is a difference) so that we can travel throughout the year. Each month, I try to put whatever money is left at the end of the month into a specific savings account which is earmarked for travel. We exchange US dollars into foreign currency before we go and use cash or our debit card exclusively when traveling so we never spend more than we have. As a conservative effort, we spend about 10% of our yearly income on domestic and foreign travel.
Financial Tips for Traveling Abroad
Having saved (and then spent) a LOT of money on travel over the past 2 decades, I’ve learned a few financial tips for affording travel (and for university students specifically, study abroad experiences). It’s an oldie but goodie, but the “pay yourself first” adage works for travel budgeting. I tell the students that, if they are planning for a $6,000 trip in 9 months (36 weeks), if they save $60 a week, they would have the trip completely paid for before they depart. Even if they could only save half that amount (which is roughly equivalent to the cost of dinner, movies, and popcorn/candy!), it adds up very quickly.
It is also relatively easy to get younger kids involved and excited about travel. My older daughter (age 10) gets $5 a week for allowance. I give her five, single dollar bills, which she then distributes into 4 envelopes: $2 for “spend” and $1 each for “college”, “charity”, and “travel”. When we depart for overseas travels, she calculates how much her US dollars are worth in the foreign currency and she gets to spend that money however she wishes. Even if your family doesn’t have the resources or desire to travel internationally, you can use this same procedure to save for a domestic trip or a big family get-away. For the past three years, we have also made the children active participants in travel-related decisions (e.g., where to go, what to see, where to stay, what activities to do). My children are much more aware of the “cost” of things when we make them part of the decision-making process.
Hopefully, by encouraging our children to travel and broaden their horizons, they will become better global citizens. It’s worth every penny!
This guest post is from Suzanne Nasco, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Marketing at Southern Illinois University. You can follow her @snasco. Suzanne is not endorsed or affiliated with LPL Financial.