Unlimited Dreams with a Limited Budget? Here’s How I Did It

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Studying abroad is becoming more important in today’s globalized world.  It allows students to boost their intellectuality to the highest level at an international learning environment.  Aside from studying in their designated countries, they can expand their horizon through summer courses, student conferences, and exchange programs in other foreign lands. Yet, these global opportunities sometimes don’t come to them for free. Such situation has no way to discourage Felicia, a student of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, to grab all of the opportunities that bumped into her. She has always found many ways to fund her global journeys. Here she would like to share with you  about her tips and tricks to get financial support for joining international events.

I set off to university with a limited budget but not necessarily limited dreams.

I only had one goal in mind when I arrived at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST): to get a bachelor’s degree. It didn’t occur to me at all that being in a university with so much international recognition would lead to more international opportunities such as regional competitions, global conferences, and exchange or study abroad programs. I wanted so badly to take up everything I could get my hands on, but I did have some roadblocks in financing those opportunities.

I didn’t let that stop me, though. Just in the past year and a half, I’ve attended a youth conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, a study abroad term at The University of Warwick, UK, and a summit at Northwestern University, USA, all independently financed without relying on my parents’ savings. Here’s how I did it:

1. Consult your university

The first stop you should make is to your university, and that’s to ask them what sort of grants and/or scholarships are available for a proactive student who wishes to venture out of the typical academic-focused route such as yourself. The Hong Kong government, for example, has schemes worth 10,000 HKD for any student enrolled in a public Hong Kong university who participates in any activity abroad.

You can get this information from your university, and by university, I mean every department possible. Go to the scholarship office, go to your academic advisor; the dean of students; faculty/department-level administrative staff; international students’ office. If they say no, don’t be discouraged—offer what you can do in return, e.g. be their student ambassador or help out for university events.

2. Search for company sponsorships

I personally wasn’t successful at this one, but I did get quite close.

Find out businesses that you’d encounter on your overseas trip, such as a mobile communications network company or your country’s national airlines. Fun fact: most of these companies need to fulfill their CSR obligations, and sponsoring a student is a common go-to.

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2017 Global Engagement Summit delegates and staff at Northwestern University.

3. Work part-time

You’ve got to put in the work. I didn’t put this up higher in the list because you always want to try out opportunities that would result in the least interference with your studies (that is your main responsibility, after all), but earning extra cash from working is never a bad idea, and would expose you to a lot of new experiences as well.

Hong Kong allows international students to work up to ten hours a week during regular terms when employed by your home university and full-time with no restrictions during summer term. (It’s important to check the legal limits of getting a part-time job in your host country. Breaking the law isn’t worth it.) Universities are always in need of student helpers, so you could easily work in a department of your interest—or even multiple ones! Personally, I’ve done various job roles: from administrative work to being in the reception counter for certain university-level events or giving incoming freshmen a tour of the university. I’ve also helped out professors with their research and have been compensated fairly for that. There are numerous jobs that are out there for you to take (or offer assistance to), and something will definitely fit in your schedule.

4. Save up

Nothing is without its sacrifices, and if it comes down to this, then you have to make certain cut-downs in your daily expenses to make it work. There’s nothing new I can offer here: cook instead of eating out, share some of your daily necessities such as detergent or soap with roommates or flatmates, get the cheaper dorm/flat/room instead of the pricier ones—you get the gist.

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The University of Warwick, December 2016

All in all, nothing should ever stop you from exploring your opportunities. There is a multitude of ways to reach your goal, and it’s important to explore every single one of them and figure out which one is best for you. Don’t forget to ask for help along the way—you’d be surprised at how well that can work out for you.




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Rebecca Isjwara (or Becky for short) is a final-year student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology double majoring in Global Business and Finance as well as minoring in Humanities. She now works at an industry publication to pursue her dreams of becoming a full-time journalist. Find her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebeccaisjwara/) or at @beckyisj (https://twitter.com/beckyisj).
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