Hefty costs of Cal Poly study abroad programs deter students from participation. Credit: Kayla Olow / Mustang News

There’s a common stereotype given to Americans that we think we are the center of the world. That is after all what we have been taught, even if subconsciously, in school. 

Our elementary schools give us skewed maps centering North America; our middle schools give us a U.S.-centric history of world events; our high schools don’t put the effort into holistically teaching students second languages. Experiencing this pattern prepared me to learn that universities don’t value study abroad enough to make it feasible for many students.

My first year of Cal Poly I was continually reminded of our motto “Learn by Doing,” and was simultaneously introduced with one of the best ways to do this: study abroad. I attended study abroad workshops that hailed this experience as the ultimate way to implement learning by doing into my education. I got really excited. And then we got to the pricing portion of the presentation. 

It felt like a slap in the face when the price points given were large numbers in a broad range, around $25,000 for California residents and just under $40,000 for out-of- state students. There was a discouraging lack of empathy when these numbers were glossed over and treated like the least important factor to consider in this process.

When I first tried to seek out help from the financial aid office to figure out a way I could make studying abroad work, I was met with a blank screen on a Zoom call and an advisor that told me there was nothing she could do, and I should try applying to scholarships. 

I knew I would have to work and save more, but these numbers were impossible for me to come up with, with almost zero financial aid and the looming possibility of winning a scholarship.

Studying abroad is a privilege — one not extended to students that rely on financial aid to attend Cal Poly. So here’s my advice, consider your options, weighing the literal costs of study abroad compared to other programs. If you don’t want to fork over thousands of dollars, there are dozens of equally-enriching and cheaper programs to explore. 

The Cultural Experiences Abroad study abroad program offers an extremely comparable experience, the cost is thousands of dollars lower, and it even includes flight vouchers to help cover the cost of a ticket. Additionally, this program, after only reaching out to them once, demonstrated their clear care for my experience more than Cal Poly’s financial aid office ever showed me. 

I see professors struggling to keep costs under certain numbers by trying to reduce rent and food costs, as well as allowing students to find their own tickets which may decrease the cost. However, the root of the inaccessibility of study abroad is due to an institution that demonstrates a clear disconnect with the needs of its students. 

In my experience, Cal Poly doesn’t care if you can afford to study abroad or not because they have enough students who can. But don’t get discouraged, you have so many options, so don’t play into the belief that if you don’t study abroad in college you’ve missed out on the rest of the world. 

Along with CEA, there are many other programs that are reasonable for students to afford, if you don’t mind taking a shorter trip. Additionally, you can volunteer or work with organizations such as Worldpackers or Workaway in hundreds of different countries getting to experience different cultures in an authentic way. 

You have options, even if Cal Poly’s study abroad program isn’t one of them.