When choosing a study abroad program, splurge in order to save

STORY BY Jessica Elizabeth Pawlarczyk

Published: May 20, 2013

Like many college students, I decided to study abroad my junior year. Unlike many students however, I made the decision too late, forcing me to research study abroad programs that were independent from my university.

Studying abroad was a lifelong dream of mine, so naturally I was determined to find the best program out there that would ensure a one-of-a-kind learning experience. I spent countless hours surfing the Internet, comparing different companies and reading customer reviews. Additionally, I contacted former students of the program and conducted informal phone interviews. Did you learn a lot? Did you have fun? Was the onsite staff helpful? Would you change anything about the program? How clean was the housing? I swear I must have asked at least fifty questions.

Once hanging up the phone, I went a step further and contacted one of my foreign language professors to ask if she new anything about my first choice company, which I will call “Company X.”

She told me that she didn’t know much other than the fact that the website looked credible and she had one former student who attended the program and loved it.

Before committing to Company X, I did one last thing: I called the president of the company and talked to her in person about the program and if she thought it would be a good fit for me.

“Of course Company X is a good fit!” she exclaimed.

Looking back now, I can’t help but hit myself on the forehead for even asking such a stupid question and then believing it. What president wouldn’t promote her own company?

What originally drew me to Company X was its pricing— when comparing apples to apples, they definitely offered the best internships, housing, and language classes for an incredibly affordable price… Which should have been an automatic red flag for me. However, because the fees were not too outlandishly cheap (only a couple of hundred or so less than the next least expensive company) I thought I had hit the jackpot.

Growing up, I’ve always been told: “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” In this case however, I truly didn’t believe this advice was applicable. The services offered by Company X weren’t unbelievably “too good to be true,” but rather quite realistic. It’s not like the company offered me free classes or promised the impossible, like complete language fluency at the end of the program. (For the record, many other study abroad programs like to make this promise on their websites.)

If you haven’t already guessed it, I had a horrible experience while studying with Company X. I could go on and on about their deception, false advertisement, and poor treatment of students, but to save some time I will only disclose the worst of the worst:

  1. I was told that “so many” students would be with me during the duration of the program, when in reality, there were only two other students enrolled. To make matters worse, they were not even close in age to me; rather, they were fresh-out-of-high-school 17 and 18-year-olds.
  2. I was promised to live with an English-speaking roommate, of course which did not happen. When I requested to move to the English-speaking apartment, my request was denied and I was told that I would have to wait a month and a half before I could potentially move.
  3. My “English-teaching internship” consisted of babysitting 1-3 year-olds, which was less than ideal. When I requested an internship change, I was given an extremely hard time and offered only two other options— work for a psychologist or marketing firm… So much for the promise that “you can have an internship in any sector you want” and that “if you have a problem with your internship placement, you can always switch.”
  4. The final week I stayed with the program, I was forced to work for both the daycare and psychologist, meaning that I had a over an 11-hour workday—with just one 15 minute break. Pretty sure that’s a violation of labor laws…
  5. When I told the intern coordinator that I was not learning or speaking Spanish during either of the internships, he candidly told me that it was my own responsibility to learn the language. “Why don’t you just get a native boyfriend here? He can teach you.”

Need I say more? Company X made my experience abroad an absolute nightmare. Because of the unfortunate situations above, in addition to several other negative experiences, I decided to exit the program three months early, despite the fact that I will probably never receive my money back. In all, I have lost over $4,000 to Company X. Despite several calls and emails to the company’s president, I have still not managed to reach her, which is making my reimbursement request nearly impossible.

I have decided to publicly share my study abroad mistake in the hopes of helping fellow college students who are currently in the process of choosing a program. If you, the reader, take anything away from this article it is this: Do not select a study abroad company that offers huge “discounts” or low fees. There is a reason why the company charges such low rates, and perhaps the reason is because it offers a low-quality service. In other words, you only get your money’s worth, so try thinking of your study abroad experience as an investment.

After ruling out companies with cheap rates, do your research… And then some. Although I consulted several sources, including websites, reviews, program alumni, and a university professor I still managed to get duped.

Don’t let it happen to you. Be proactive and thorough during your research of a company. Most importantly, remember that sales may be good for clothes, but not for study abroad programs. Sometimes you just have to splurge in order to save. 




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