4 things to know before studying abroad in Cuba

“4 things to know before studying abroad in Cuba”

by Caleb Diehl via “USA TODAY

In mid-February, Elliott Young, professor of history at Lewis & Clark College, will carry tens of thousands of dollars in cash and travelers’ checks through Cuban customs. He leads a study abroad program where, in addition to surviving without the luxuries of capitalist economies (like banking), students take classes in Spanish and contemporary Cuban art, literature and politics.

“Traveling to Cuba is unlike traveling to almost any other country,” says Young. “You don’t see any advertisements other than for [the] government. You don’t have a lot of stores selling basic goods, like clothing.”

For many students, that’s all the more reason to go.

“The difficulty in some ways is the attraction,” Young says. “It’s taboo for Americans.” It doesn’t hurt that with loosened travel restrictions, U.S. citizens can now bring home up to $100 of famed Cuban rum and cigars.

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If those sound like good reasons, Lewis & Clark, Harvard, Princeton, Tulane, Hampshire College and a number of other schools offer long-standing abroad programs to Cuba. Other schools are showing renewed interest in Cuban affairs with their abroad offerings this year. The second group ever from the University of Delaware is touring the country on a winter 2015 session. This spring,Princeton launches its second program, focusing on Latin American culture, politics and history.

As colleges bolster their study abroad offerings, they must prepare students for a country bereft of the resources Americans take for granted. Living for months in Cuba is exhilarating, but not carefree. Before you pack you bags, there are a few things you should know.

MONEY

You have three options for accessing money. Wire it through Western Union at fees ranging from 7% to 20%, depending on the amount. Obtain a TransCard, which allows ATM withdrawals, but charges fees of up to 20%. Bringing a stock of cash or travelers checks, on the other hand, gives you accessible funds at no extra charge. The Lewis & Clark program recommends that their students carry $2,000 – $3,000 each.

Cuba runs on two economies: the convertible Peso (for restaurants and imported goods) and the Cuban Peso (for bus rides and some stores). One convertible peso is roughly equal to one U.S. dollar, or about four Cuban pesos. Some Cubans con tourists by pretending Cuban Pesos are convertibles. Study the colors and images on each type before you go.

In any case, it helps to be a shrewd negotiator. You can negotiate prices for almost any good or service, and to stay on budget, you have to. Some restaurants, for example, hand Americans a special menu with exaggerated prices. It takes a bit of haggling to uncover the real options.

SOCIAL LIFE

In Cuba, it’s hard to tell if someone wants you or your money. Jineteros (jockeys) charm tourists and offer to show them around town in exchange for meals, clothes and gifts of cash. Some tourists develop long-term relationships with their jineteros, to the detriment of their wallets.

Young recommends making friends with Cuban students to experience local life and avoid Havana’s plentiful tourist traps.

“Stay away from anything that says Buena Vista Social Club,” Young says, “or anything expensive.” Cuban students might drink rum and play music on the streets, or attend a government-sponsored concert, while tourists lavish their funds on gimmicks and inflated prices.

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Study Abroad: Budget For Italy

“Study Abroad: Budget For Italy”

by Majorie Cohen via “Investipedia”

Study abroad in Italy is a popular choice for U.S. students, and it doesn't have to break the bank. Plus, the career payoffs for study abroad can be huge.

When it comes to the popularity of study-abroad destinations for U.S. students, Italy takes second place only to the U.K. – 10% of those who study abroad go to Italy. Why is it so popular? Just take a look at the photos on the tongue-in-cheek Buzzfeed post:  “39 Reasons Studying Abroad In Italy Ruins You For Life.”

Seriously, though, study abroad can be a great career booster, according to research by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a leader in the field of worldwide study. Two hundred senior-level U.S. and international business executives who responded to an IIE survey reported that most of their HR departments took into consideration their recruits’ international experience when hiring, promoting and determining a new assignment. Thirty percent did so even when deciding on a starting salary. “Students who study abroad understand how to communicate across cultures, work on multinational teams and think in a global context,” according to IIE deputy vice president Daniel Obst.

And in an era of rising higher-education costs, here’s a nice surprise: “Study abroad can cost less than a student’s home university, depending on where they choose to go and what type of program they select,” Obst points out.

What’s the Best Program for You?

IIEPassport lists more than 800 study programs in Italy. Abroad101 ranks its 547 listings, from no stars to five stars, based on student evaluations. Three of its 2103 “Top 10 Study Abroad Programs” list are in Italy.

The critical question to ask is: “Which program will best serve my personal and career goals?” Will it be one sponsored by a university or consortium of academic institutions, or by a stand-alone study-abroad organization? Or should you opt to study independently or be an exchange student? For help finding the answer, consult the study abroad counselor at your school, students on your campus who have just returned from studying abroad and the bible of the field,“A Student Guide to Study Abroad,” published by IIE and the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).

For students who want to pursue a do-it-yourself study plan in Italy, the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research website has a search engine of programs organized by area of study and choice of city.

Whichever program you choose, make sure your U.S. college or university will give you academic credit for your work; your school may not accept every option that’s available to you.

How Much Will Study in Italy Cost?

Sponsored programs have wide-ranging price tags; independent study may be cheaper than joining a program but takes lots of fancy footwork and a great deal of time – balancing academic calendars, sorting out credit systems and arranging courses. According to StudyCostCompare, the annual cost of studying for a bachelor’s degree in Italy is about $12,500 including tuition, rent, food, books and so on.

As an example of a sponsored program in Italy, let’s take a look at AIFS’s program in Rome, a popular destination for foreign students in Italy. For 2015–2016, each semester costs $14,695, or $15,995 with a meal allowance. This includes tuition for courses taught in English and Italian at the Richmond Study Center in Rome, housing, local excursions and trips to Venice, Naples and Pompeii, a two-week language prep and cultural orientation in Florence, and the 24/7 services of a resident director.

Can You Get Financial Aid?

U.S. universities and colleges are required by federal law to continue dispensing federal funds to students enrolled in approved study abroad programs. Your financial aid officer is the best person to answer your questions about carrying over a scholarship or other financial aid. For information on scholarships and grants specifically for study abroad, consult IIEPassport Study Abroad Funding.

The program you choose may have its own source of scholarships, and more and more aid is being directed to students who have been traditionally underrepresented in education abroad. A leading example of this is theBenjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Is Italy an Expensive Place to Live?

Don’t be frightened off by stories of travelers reporting that they had to pay more than $7 for a cup of coffee in Italy. Prices in tourist hot spots are always higher than in neighborhood spots; live like an Italian and take your cues from local students when you decide where to live, shop and travel.

According to the Big Mac Index, a lighthearted comparison of purchasing power around the world created by The Economist magazine, a Big Mac hamburger in Italy costs $5.18, compared to $4.80 in the United States. Broader cost-of-living comparisons can be found on sites like Numbeo and Expatistan. Numbeo reports that consumer prices, including rent, in Rome are about at par with Chicago – and 10% higher than in Florence and 2.4% higher than in Perugia.

Students in Italy are entitled to more discounts than you may be used to in the United States. Showing an ID from your study abroad site should get you discounts at museums, gyms, bookstores and more. Consider, also, an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) that includes travel and medical insurance as well as access to discounts throughout the world.

Another savings tip: Find a good travel credit card – one that offer generous travel points and/or no foreign transaction fees – with the help of a site like NerdWallet. (Also, see 4 Tips For Using Credit Cards Overseas.)

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