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Commentary: Ohio State study abroad experience pricey but priceless

Michele Theodore stands atop a hill overlooking Toledo, Spain

Michele Theodore stands atop a hill overlooking Toledo, Spain. Credit: Courtesy of Michele Theodore.

I’ll admit it, I paid an extraordinary amount to study abroad. But much more importantly to me, I gained an extraordinary amount while having a minimal amount of worry and wake up every day without any regrets.

I took a fairly normal route to my study abroad trip in Spain. I went through Ohio State’s options, found one that seemed to fit all my criteria for a summer Spanish immersion program, and embraced all the seemingly endless costs on the way there.

It wasn’t a walk in the park. It wasn’t pleasant watching my entire savings disappear, but I had been planning to study abroad for more than four years. The university’s well-known study abroad program was part of the reason I chose to come to OSU, so I swallowed my pride and gave up almost all the money I made flipping burgers and working a third-shift job for years.

It hurt my pocketbook first. A lot.

I was initially furious that I would be paying tuition to OSU while I studied thousands of miles across an ocean. And it wasn’t just tuition.

Why would I need the RPAC fee when the sweltering heat of Spain made me sweat enough? Why was I paying a technology fee to use OSU computers I would never type on? What good did a COTA fee do for me when I was taking a bus on another continent?

At first it seemed ridiculous. But only at first.

After I arrived in Spain and scheduled my classes with the school where I studied, it started to make a little more sense. Since the program was approved by OSU, each course I took abroad had a direct equivalent to a course back home. When my plans changed and I switched the courses I wanted to take, I knew exactly how it would affect me and could talk to an adviser in Columbus without a problem.

Sure, I had to pay OSU tuition along with my program fee, but when I arrived back in America, I didn’t have to do anything for my credits to transfer. I received a letter in the mail one day, checked my BuckeyeLink, and found new OSU courses placed neatly in my class history alongside everything else I had ever taken.

This was especially important for me because the classes I took directly applied to my major, so counting transfer credits would be extremely difficult to manage. Over time, I’ve forgotten the annoyance of all the little fees because it was ultimately worth it. I’m not saying what the university does is right, but I know in 15 years, I won’t even remember how much those fees were and life is all about perspective.

I paid a lot, but it was worth it. If I was paying for a program free outside of OSU tuition anyway, having courses count for credit was imperative. I didn’t want to fumble around taking courses and petitioning the university, hoping the classes would be adequate. This was a surefire way to know that everything would transfer easily and fully.

I was also able to work with the financial aid department at OSU since my program was university-approved. I had really never stepped foot in the financial aid building since arriving on campus, so I knew I was never really taking proper advantage of its resources.

Talking to the financial aid department let me frontload my loans, which means that loans which would normally be spread out evenly over three semesters (including my summer study abroad) were all pushed toward the summer and fall. This made sure all the loans and scholarships I got would help me right away, and when I came back and started working, that money would go toward fees in the spring to cover any loans I would have normally received.

Overall, I was angry at first to pay so much money to study abroad but in the end, it all worked out. I loved my trip and I learned more than I could ever explain without worrying about my courses. It would have been great to not pay tuition, but I don’t regret it at all.

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