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International Study Travel

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International Study Travel

My friend Andy the Hobotraveler has been on me for some time to share the specifics of how I have been traveling the past 9 years; namely, the ways in which studying internationally has enabled me to continuously move about the globe. For a long time I did not think that there was anything significant about how I have acquired the means to travel: I work a little, take financial aid a little, have won a few big scholarships, work a little more, write words, and work a little more. This all seemed very straight forward to me and I found no real reason to write about this in detail. But a few days ago I began thinking of the logistics of how I have been making up my bean money, and it became apparent that it is not as sluiced down and obvious as I have previously thought.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Budapest, Hungary- August 12, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos
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It struck me that there is a flip side to the reasons that I have been sporadically studying for so long (my first time in college was after I got kicked out of high school in January of 1999) and this is that I have found that I can fund my travels when I go broke by taking semesters of international study. Putting aside for a moment all of the other benefits of international study – such as learning language, cultural studies, and having experiences that are not really available to the lone traveler – I have found that through enrolling in study abroad programs I can acquire the means to live for extended periods of time in foreign lands comfortably. Up to here I have been awarded over $60,000 in scholarship, grants, and financial aid (though the high costs of Global College greatly offsets this rather large seeming amount), have been able to find somewhat comfortable living arrangements, and have had the time and space to work and earn money in the countries that I’ve studied in. In part, because of intermittent bouts of international study, I have been able to keep moving about the world so continuously without always needing to get my hands dirty.

With international study comes living stipends. It is as simple as this. I found that I could use scholarships, grants, and student loans to not only pay for my education but also my living expense. I have also realized that I can live far cheaper than the average student and tend to be able to use this money to travel vastly farther. So, with a certain amount of diligence and restraint, the living stipend for one semester of international study can easily get a traveler six months of wandering.

The time, space, and personal contacts that are inherent to studying and having a “base” in a country also means that the possibilities for working – particularly teaching English – are far greater. Each dollar that a traveler can make in their travels is a dollar more that they can put between themselves and going home. I take work wherever I can get it.

Another side advantage to studying is that tax breaks are available to students based upon the cost of their educational expense. I do not make enough money each year to have any tax liability – I do not even bother to have taxes taken out of my paychecks when working around the USA – though if I study for at lease one semester a year I find that I can get a “refund” of around a thousand dollars. This extra money is a fifth of my yearly expenses.

Therefore, it was my goal and intention to stretch my undergraduate education out as long as I possibly could. So I studied for a semester in Japan and then traveled for a year and a half, then studied for a semester in China and then spent the summer in Central America, just to return to Asia and study for a semester in India to return to China, and so on – ever splicing periods of straight travel with financial aid, student loan, and grant sponsored international study. I have found this to be a good formula for world travel.

Though I really do enjoy these bouts of study, especially as much of it was done independently and I was able to travel where I wanted and study what ever struck my fancy. Studying also allows me to break up the routine of continuous travel, learn more, and have access within a culture that I could not otherwise have. Being a student also provides a traveler with an identity, which is important if you really want to talk with people, do interviews, and find out about a place and the folks who live there. The guise of the international student is one that almost every culture can accept as permittable. If you tell someone that you are a student and study culture then they are far more apt to tell you about themselves, what they do, and bear with all of your stupid questions. The international student is also a very benign and accepted identity when trying to penetrate the outer walls of a culture: you are not a stupid tourist, you are not a suspicious journalist, you are not a fear evoking government official, you are safe, open, and eager-to-learn student. An easily understandable and obvious identity is often needed to look behind the mask of culture. Everyone needs to be someone, and being a student is a good way to open up the floodgates to being taught.

The writer is the perpetual idiot, and, likewise, the implications behind being a student are very similar: it is the job of the student to learn because they do not know anything. I have found it easy to prove to people that my vessel is empty by telling them that I am a student. Gratefully for me, many people around the world seem to like filling up empty vessels. I can only learn if I can prove that I know nothing. Tell someone that you are a student and you find yourself with a wild card that sanctions stupid questions and the learning that inherently comes from such.

I want to keep up my one semester a year pattern of travel. Luckily for me, if I finish up my B.A. these next few months in Brooklyn I have an entire world of grad school to travel on. I essentially get to begin my studies all over again. I have another four year degree that I can stretch out to eight, a myriad of possibilities for international study, and something that I could not get as an undergrad: funding for research. Yes, grad students get paid to study.

I look at what I have haphazardly accomplished during the shaky ebb and flow of my undergrad education: I have studied in over seven countries on five continents, wrote a decent thesis on Traditional Japanese Tattooing, and have assembled a modest, yet solid body of published work. Because I unintentionally gave myself the time and space to develop while working on my B.A. I have accomplished far more than the average 22 year old graduate.

I think that with the proper amount of diligence I can repeat what I did in undergrad in graduate school, and do so with a large amount of funding. I think that I may be able to continue making a good portion of my travel funds – and continue collecting tax refunds – by regularly taking one semester of school a year.

(Yet I do not understand why anthropologists need funding to conduct their studies. As with only a couple big bags of rice, a few nice machetes, and a truckload of Marlboro cigarettes an ethnographer can become welcomed in almost any primitive society on earth.)

But the flip-side to this travel strategy is that I am buried in student debt. But as my mother, as well as my grandmother before her, would always say: “You can’t get blood from a stone.” If I remain a poor man then I have no worries, if I someday happen to make money I should conceivably have enough money to pay off these loans.

I am not concerned by mere fetters.

Links to previous travelogue entries:

  • Photo Copy Travel Guides
  • How to Drink Absinthe
  • Round Trip Plane Ticket from Budapest to New York

International Study Travel
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Filed under: Study Abroad, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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