Whenever I’ve talked to someone who has studied abroad, I’ve been eagerly encouraged to do the same. Yet, I’ve always been apprehensive about the price tag; studying abroad seemed incredibly appealing to me, but I knew the programs would be hard to pay off. Luckily, I came to realize that with help from scholarships, studying abroad through Binghamton University was within my financial reach — and it could be within yours as well, even if you don’t think so at first.

Approaching the possibility of studying abroad, I knew that doing so can be expensive. I quickly discovered that the cost of my dream program in Salamanca, Spain would not be fully covered by my financial aid. Despite this financial inconvenience, I decided to apply to it anyway.

When I got accepted into my program, I was over the moon. It had been my dream for years to study at one of the oldest universities in Europe. Nonetheless, I still faced the issue of funding my program. So began my scholarship search. Before I began this process, I had no idea how it worked, nor did I know how many hundreds of scholarships were available.

So, I went on BU’s school website and searched “study abroad scholarships.” A link appeared for the Office of International Programs. Instead of emailing the office, I decided to pay a visit. I met with Amber Jennings, an education abroad adviser, and she informed me about the hundreds of scholarships offered through BU for multiple majors as well as external funding that was available. When she educated me with this material, I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was open to scholarship opportunities that I previously had no idea about.

Amber directed me to a link with all of these scholarships and listed a few that were specifically available to me as a Spanish major. I did more research on my own and found several more scholarships I could apply to. In total, I ended up applying to six scholarships with varying applications. Generally, the internal BU scholarships I applied to required fewer materials and the external ones required supplemental essays. After dedicating hours to my applications, I was lucky enough to win Gilman and BU scholarships to study in Spain.

Before I set out on my journey, I set a weekly travel budget, and it was one of the smartest decisions I made because I never ran out of or overspent my money. Having that set budget helped me become more disciplined and conscientious, because I learned the value of a dollar — euro, rather. I never realized how different spending money in Europe was different than spending money back home. Planning and budgeting the cost of travel plans, housing accommodations, food budget, as well as spending money on souvenirs for weekend trips and spring break to other countries is a huge responsibility.

This semester I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, and experienced why studying abroad is so widely promoted; living in Europe for four months changed my life. The skills I gained were far beyond what I expected: I was exposed to a completely new culture, operated on a newfound level of independence, gained confidence in speaking another language, fortified my time and money management skills and grew so much as a person.

Studying abroad should be experienced by all college students interested in having a life-changing experience. Because of the scholarships that were available to me, I was fortunate enough to live in Spain for four months and have my life changed.

Rachel Tomei is a sophomore majoring in Spanish.