The moment you start your first part-time job, you experience the thrill of your first paycheck. From that day forward, you are introduced to the concept of adulthood and what it means to take care of yourself, save money, and spend responsibly. A steady income makes us accountable, responsible, and realistic while forcing us to prioritize how that money will be spent.
During my junior year of college, I decided that I was going to go abroad that summer. I said to myself "I don’t know what I am going to do or where I am going to go, but I am going to go." After extensive research, I found that an international student internship abroad made the most sense both educationally and professionally. Long story short – I came across Global Experiences and had my first interview. I found out about the career advising and all the one-on-one support they would provide, not only before my internship, but during as well. I was sold. I decided that in the summer of 2013 I was going to go to Dublin for an internship in marketing.
Yay, I had figured out that I wanted an internship in Dublin! What next? The first thing I had to do was figure out what I could do to obtain an international student internship.
At this point in my life, 20 years old and a student, my financial security was paycheck-to-paycheck and a savings account that was nothing short of abysmal on its best days. I worked as a part-time server at Olive Garden. I lived on my own with very real adult expenses of rent, bills, car, etc. plus the weight of out-of-state student debt accruing at a level that I chose to pretend didn’t exist at the time. I realize that everyone has their own financial situations, but I want to share with you how I funded my internship in the hope that I can help you in your financing process.
#1 Have the conversation:
The first thing I did was make a list of people I could get opinions from: individuals I respected, people whose opinions I valued, and those who I knew could give me answers. The first person I spoke with was a professor who always spoke highly of his travel experiences. I hoped that he could give me insight into how he traveled, and if he knew of any resources to help fund the costs. He pointed me in the direction of scholarships and delivered the very persuasive message of, “Just do it! It will change your life”. The next conversation was with my internship advisor to see if I could get credit and therefore, qualify for some financial aid. Lastly, I spoke with my parents to see if they would be willing to help me out.
I encourage everyone to seek out help from any avenue they can think of. It so happens, that in this case, none of these options were going to work out for me. I applied for scholarships, but I knew enough to not bank on them. My school would not give credit for an international internship (absurd). My parents supported me going, but in the encouraging kind of way, not in the providing of money kind of way. That’s ok, because I knew I had just skimmed the surface of financing options.
#2 Develop a plan:
This was the most difficult part of the process, but the most helpful and important. Sit down and make a realistic plan on how to fund the program fee, flight, spending money, and any other payments you have to keep up back at home.
I first made a spread sheet of everything that I would need to continue paying for in North Carolina: rent, car insurance and phone bill. Then I looked at what I currently spent on food and any other miscellaneous expenses. I took the amount, multiplied it by 3 and then added on even more to factor in the traveling I wanted to do while I was there, along with the exchange rate from the dollar to the euro. My calculations ended up being around $3,000 for additional spending money on top of the program fee. To be clear, not everyone will need this much; some may need more. It depends on how you want to live while interning abroad. I chose the middle ground. I would make most meals at home, make my own coffee on occasion, go out to dinner or lunch only every so often, but also wanted to explore Ireland and even another country if I had the time.
Now that I had a more specific idea of what I needed to have the experience I wanted, I had to figure out how to make this happen. I had 7 months before moving to Dublin for the summer.
#3 Holidays and Birthdays:
For me, both Christmas and my birthday fell between when I started research and when I left for Dublin. All I asked for was spending money. This took some convincing because my family doesn’t believe in giving money as a gift. I had to become a bit creative: I asked my uncle if I could use his large storage of frequent flyer miles for my flight. I asked for luggage and then for money with a purpose. My parents gave me money towards a flight to Barcelona, I guess this was a more acceptable option for them!
#4 Payment Options:
While speaking with my Program Consultant about what would happen after I enrolled, I learned about the lovely option to break up the program cost into monthly payments. This option made the program cost much more manageable for me.
After crunching the numbers, I found that I could come up with most of this money if I could commit to being frugal in the months leading up to my trip. However, knowing this wouldn’t be enough, I knew I needed another source of income. Suddenly it dawned on me, why not take out a loan? I know loans are frowned upon, debt is not fun and is nothing to mess around with. But in the grand scheme of things, what was an extra couple thousand added onto my already existing loan debt? Did it make that much of a difference?
The answer is: No.
With this loan, I was able to cover three quarters of the program cost and spend the next seven months saving for the remaining balance of the program, what I would need to continue paying for back home, and what I would need while I was living there. This ended up being just enough for me. I also opened a travel credit card before I went, just in case of an emergency. I like to be prepared for any situation, and when you’re traveling, who knows what could happen. When I opened one up, I received two free flights just for joining, which was awesome and unexpected.
Between the many extra shifts that I picked up, the months of watching what I spent very carefully, taking out a loan, and the strategic use of holidays and birthdays, I had officially made it work.
Upon arriving back in the states and talking with some of the people I had lived with in Dublin, catching up and reminiscing. We came to the realization that the money we had spent on our international internship was not missed, and that none of us would have changed our decision. We realized that we had all achieved and accomplished so much in the short time-frame of two months. It hadn’t crossed any of our minds for a second to regret spending this money. It was the exact opposite actually; we were glad it had been spent on such a transforming and important opportunity.
If I hadn’t pushed my limits I would never have lived in a different country for two months. I wouldn’t have worked and learned as much as I did in the marketing field. I wouldn’t have been able to explore all the history and culture of Ireland. I wouldn’t have met or been impacted by all the people I came across in my adventures.
If you are considering an internship abroad you have to answer one question for yourself: Why are you looking for an internship abroad? If you have answered that this is the opportunity of a life time and you won’t be able to gain this experience any other way, then it is time to figure out what you can do to make it happen.