FLI students discuss challenges of studying abroad

Oct. 18, 2018, 1:15 a.m.

The Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) is enjoyed by First Generation and Low-Income (FLI) students and non-FLI students alike. However, BOSP does not reimburse students’ transportation costs and other personal expenses, which can prove to be an especially significant obstacle for FLI students.

According to the BOSP website, the approximate costs of studying abroad and remaining on campus are similar, at $23,740 and $23,026 per quarter, respectively. The expenses and financial aid package for each BOSP quarter cover the cost of housing, meals equivalent to a 19-meal per week plan and other program activities, such as attending conferences.

“When you study abroad, you take classes, but really it’s about the experience,” said FLI alumna Ana Ordonez ’17, who studied in Santiago, Chile in the summer of 2014. “For low income students, they have less resources, so less access to these experiences.”

Burke Family Director of BOSP Ramón Saldívar said BOSP has always tried to minimize the differences between FLI and non-FLI students to the best of its ability. The program has “the intention to help create an enriching cultural and educational experience for all students,” regardless of their financial situation.

“The differences we can imagine might occur overseas are exactly the kinds of differences that might occur here on campus,” Saldívar said. “We try to create an environment where all students have an opportunity to experience the best of wherever they happen to be.”

Ordonez said that, although she had an amazing experience abroad in Chile, she did not have the ability to fully immerse herself in the culture due to financial constraints. For example, while many non-FLI students with larger budgets were able to travel to other South American countries during the quarter, Ordonez was unable to experience the countries surrounding Chile.

“Broadening horizons is how BOSP publicizes itself, and this is the way a lot of alumni talk about study abroad programs,” Ordonez said. “It’s really about seeing the world and broadening your horizons, and money can help you do that.”

Similarly, Emily Uresti ’20 and Vy Luu ’17 — who spent spring 2018 in Paris, France and spring 2016 in Oxford, England, respectively — expressed frustration over their inability to explore the countries in which they studied.

“I feel like I saw the difference in my low income status more saliently than I did on campus,” Luu said. “They just had all this knowledge that I never knew about before, like traveling to different countries or at least see the continent.”

Because of the differences between her and the people around her, Luu felt out of place and incapable of building a community at Oxford. Uresti also said that the main difference between Stanford’s campus and her BOSP homestay in Paris was the isolation of the homestay from friends.

A particularly difficult experience for Luu was her inability to attend her siblings’ graduations while she was studying abroad, since she didn’t have enough money to pay for the flight.

“That’s the more tangible side, but I always felt out of place or didn’t necessarily belong [because I was a student in a different country],” she said. “It was really tough in the beginning and what helped me get through it was having a roommate.”

The Diversity and First Generation (DGEN) Office’s Opportunity Fund offers aid for eligible students to pursue an academic related activity they normally would not have the opportunity to do, such as attending student conferences or assistance with expenses due to an emergency. According to Saldívar, BOSP also makes it a policy for all of its students to experience activities like trips, special dinners and welcoming visitors.

“BOSP tries to create an educational and personal experience for all of our students that allows them to grow, to experience something they haven’t experienced before and to look upon this as an opportunity to perhaps even transform their ideas, thinking and experience for their future lives,” Saldívar said.

Without the help of financial aid, Ordonez said she would not have taken the opportunity to study abroad. In addition, BOSP also provided for the flight from her home to Chile as part of the financial aid package.

“It was an amazing experience, and I think everyone should have access to it,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I have plenty of friends who graduated from Stanford without studying abroad, and they love their experiences as well.”


Contact Elaine Sun at elaineasun ‘at’ gmail.com.

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