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How I Studied Abroad in Seoul As A Broke College Student

Me in Gyeongju, South Korea

As a college kid who paid for everything from tuition to housing on my own and heavily relied on financial aid, I never thought studying abroad was an option. Especially when I looked at the prices for studying abroad - they were overwhelming.

It wasn’t until I spoke to people in similar financial situations who went abroad that I knew it was possible and wanted that experience for myself. But with the support of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program, I made it happen during the fall 2021 semester and studied abroad at Korea University. Below I detail how I afforded my study abroad program as a broke college student.

Korean won N Gatluak

Goal Setting

My goal was to earn $12,000 in scholarships to cover the total cost of my program and earn $5,000 for living and travel expenses while in Korea. I learned from different advisors and students who’ve studied abroad that $3000-$5000 is a safe amount of money to take abroad but no less than $2000 in Korea.

I aimed for the higher end of that range to feel financially secure when I went abroad and because I couldn’t work while abroad with the visa I had. However, with careful budgeting, I could have lived in Korea just fine at the lower end of that range.

The majority of my funding came from scholarships. One of the first scholarships I applied for and received was the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. The Gilman Scholarship Program is one of the more competitive awards, but it provides substantial funding for students.

It’s funded and run by the U.S. Department of Cultural Affairs, and they award up to $5000 to students who qualify for and receive pell grant funding. I was initially awarded $3000, but it increased to $4000 because of supplemental emergency response funding from the government due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, the amount each recipient receives may vary.

My university also had a dedicated scholarship portal for study abroad programs that I was able to fill out. After completing a short application and explaining how studying abroad would benefit my educational and career goals, my university matched and awarded me several scholarships totaling up to $6,500.

I was thankful that the annual scholarships I got from my university’s financial aid office also went towards my study abroad program, which helped me reach my goal of earning $12,000 in scholarships for the program itself. If you’re considering studying abroad, speak to your advisor to ensure that your annual financial aid goes toward your study abroad expenses, as this depends on the school and program.

Part-Time & Full-Time Jobs

Aside from scholarships, I worked part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer. It was difficult to save money during the school year because I had bills to pay, and most of my money would go toward rent, utilities, etc. But, over the summer, I saved around $4400 for my program.

My piggy bank

Piggy Bank

I am a person who hates carrying cash. I either spend it or forget it in a random bag whenever I have it. When I decided to study abroad, I started being more intentional about my spending and where I was storing my money. I began putting bills or coins in a piggy bank when I got home to prevent me from spending or misplacing my cash. I did this for a year and saved about $600.


I’m grateful for programs like the Gilman Program that supported me during my study abroad program. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad and have an eye-opening experience. I talk more about the ways studying abroad in Seoul changed my life in this post here.

If there’s anything else you want to know about how I afforded my study abroad program or study abroad-related questions in general, please leave a comment below.

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