Learning English is not ONLY about sitting in a classroom trying to figure out the most complex grammatical rules, it’s about fun, travel and exploration. It’s the perfect way to discover a new culture and live in the heart of an exciting city. In London, New York, Miami or Washington D.C., you’ll get to experience the buzz of big city life, where there’s always something going on and people to meet.
But how do you afford it? We know that it can be difficult to make the most of your destination when living on a tight student budget. Don’t worry – studying abroad doesn’t automatically mean you’ll go bankrupt! There are many ways you can be both a tourist and a student without completely emptying your pockets. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Consider low-cost destinations
Some cities are cheaper than others, and just as fun! Instead of picking the capital city or the most popular, look for up-and-coming destinations which have a lower cost of living. Smaller cities across the UK such as Bristol and Manchester, as well as the island of Malta, not only have cheaper language courses, but accommodation, food, and travel are more affordable. You’ll also be surprised to find that they have plenty to offer in terms of activities, nightlife and sightseeing.
2. Set a budget before you go
Think ahead – especially if you choose to study in an expensive city. Decide how much you’re able to spend, set a budget, and do your best to stick to it. Even if you sometimes can’t resist temptation to treat yourself to something expensive, a budget will definitely help to prevent impulsive shopping sprees and the panic of realising you’ve run out of money.
Just like flights and hotel rooms, rates for language courses are higher at certain times of the year. The most popular time to book a language course is in the summer months. For the cheapest courses, try to book a language course at a quieter time of the year. If summer is the only time you can travel, consider a place like Cape Town in South Africa, where it’s winter in July and August – and that’s when its rates are cheapest.
4. Length of stay
Schools want to attract long-term students, and you’ll find that course prices vary considerably depending on the duration of your stay. If you can study for over 7 or 8 weeks, you’ll pay less, learn more, and have the enriching experience of being totally absorbed in a new culture. Another advantage of extending your stay is that you can get involved in the local community, maybe even find a part-time job, and gain valuable experience to enrich your CV.
5. Choose the most affordable accommodation
Living with a local host family is a fantastic experience but some people may not feel relaxed in someone else’s home, and would prefer to stay in a designated student residence or rent a room in a shared house.
What is the most affordable? That depends. A host family has many benefits as you’ll be provided with all the comforts of a home, shopping and cooking is done for you, and you’ll have a local guide. At the same time, you’ll probably be half board if you stay in a homestay, so if you want to eat three meals a day you should calculate how much you’ll spend on that extra meal. In this case, it would be advisable to set a daily budget for eating out.
Self-catering apartments shared with other students are very cost efficient as you can split the bills for groceries and laundry. You’re also likely to save money on going out, as you’ll have the freedom to stay in and organise movie nights and dinner parties together when you want to socialise.
6. Take advantage of free language workshops
Apart from your language course, your school may offer a variety of fun workshops. With these, you can expand your skills on all sorts of topics such as hobbies and sports, films and music, idioms, ‘survival’ English and debating skills. With an emphasis on communication, these workshops will increase your English-speaking practice and help you become fluent. Language workshops are free, and a perfect supplement to your general English course.
7. Eating and dining
Sharing is caring! If you’re living with other students, chip in and do the grocery shopping together, then take it in turns to cook. This will not just cut your living costs, but you’ll learn what people eat all over the world when you’re treated to dinner by your international friends. You can also prepare packed lunches for days when there’s no time to pop home between school and activities.
Sometimes it’s more convenient to eat out, but the great thing about a city is that you’ll find eateries to suit every budget. Try Tripadvisor to search for restaurants within your desired price range. Also look out for street food stalls at outdoor markets. Lots of places may also have special deals on certain days of the week or ‘two for one’ offers, perfect for nights out with your friends.
8. Student Discounts
Your language school will give you a student ID card on your first day. This may entitle you to discounts at various galleries, museums, cinemas and theatres in your destination.
You can also apply for an international student card such as ISIC. Issued in over 130 countries, this card will give you discounted prices in certain shops and restaurants, as well as some of the best activities your chosen destination has to offer.
9. Find galleries with free admissions
Whether you’re into art, photography, archaeology or handicrafts, you may be able to visit a museum that interests you for free. Most of the biggest art galleries and museums in the world offer free admissions on certain days of the week, or at certain times of the day. Others only charge for special exhibitions.
Sometimes the noise, pollution and chaos of the bustling metropolis will get to you, and you’ll crave some peace and quiet. On these days, why not head into the quiet surroundings of a public park with your favourite English book, and take some time out?
If you need a longer break, see if your school offers weekend trips to the countryside. These trips may cost you some money, but often they will have special rates for students.
Are you thinking of booking a language course? For more useful tips, download our ‘How to Choose an English School’ guide to help you to take a decision.