Learning conversion rates adds value to study abroad

When you’re traveling overseas, you need to be able to understand conversion rates.

As a study abroad student entering her third month overseas, I’ve found this fact to be undeniably true.

In the United States, the dollar reigns supreme. Before coming to London, I never thought about exchanging my money because our country is so vast. In Europe, however, where dozens of countries with different currencies bump up against one another, it’s important to make sure you know which currency a country takes and how that compares to the U.S. dollar.

This past week I was in four different cities, several of them with varying currencies. In London, you pay in pounds. In Dublin and Athens, you pay in euros. Then there’s Turkey — and I’m not exactly sure what currency they use because I didn’t buy anything during my layover in the Istanbul airport. But it’s different than the dollar.

One of the biggest barriers students say they have when studying abroad is funding their semester. London, which is a popular destination for many students (because we can still speak English), is notoriously expensive. One pound equals $1.50. Therefore, a quick dinner for takeaway that costs ₤8 adds up to almost $12. And before you know it, all those U.S. dollars you’ve been saving up to pay for study abroad have dwindled away.

Despite its cost, a mainstay benefit of studying abroad in London is that it’s so close to countries that use a currency with a closer conversion rate to the dollar. The euro, which is the official currency of 19 countries in the Eurozone, is a lifesaver when studying abroad. One euro amounts to $1.08. A few weeks ago, the euro and U.S. dollar almost reached parity after the exchange rate fell sharply. During my trips to Ireland and Athens this past week, I used the euro to pay for my housing, meals and souvenirs.

Because the euro and dollar are so close, I was able to fully grasp how much I was paying for my items and budget more effectively. The different currency rates definitely encouraged me to travel outside of the U.K. more, and I’m considering it as an open invitation to broaden my worldview, which is essentially the point of study abroad programs.

So as I continue my journey abroad (and if you are considering undertaking your own), I will be sure to not only use my conversion app on my iPhone and make sure my bank account stays balanced, but also to never let currency prevent me from traveling across as many countries as I can while collecting souvenirs and memories along the way.

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