Students heading back to school amid a slumping economy and a downgraded national debt rating need only two words to get their outlook and finances back on track: semester abroad. Students considering skipping the country for a semester face some tough choices, but could make out on the deal if they choose their destination wisely. Retail sales rose 0.5% from June to July, while July sales were up 8.5% from the same month last year, according to the Census Bureau, but consumer confidence tanked to a three-decade low around the same time. This doesn't paint such a rosy picture at home, but students headed abroad may also be in for some sticker shock as soon as their visas are stamped. Paul Watson, senior vice president for the American Institute for Foreign Study based in Stamford, Conn., says many of the 5,000 students enrolled in his program's academic year, semester and summer programs gravitate toward the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand when they're not up for learning a language or to Italy,Germany, Spain and France when they dream of romance languages and Eurail trips.
The problem is that all of these locations are fairly costly for students looking to convert their weak, wilting dollars into traveling money. The value of one British pound is up to roughly $1.63, which quickly turns a wad of American bills into the U.K. equivalent of a change purse. Economic upheaval and debt crises in many of its own nations hasn't prevented the euro from providing only a slightly deeper discount from the sterling at $1.42. America's study-abroad slackers shouldn't expect much love during trips north, either, as the dollar amounts to only 99 Canadian cents these days.Despite the fact that the decline in value of the dollar has impacted the cost of studying in the traditional and most popular destinations in Europe, the cost of study abroad has remained very stable, while the cost of higher education in the U.S. continues to increase dramatically, outpacing and often at double the rate of inflation,Watson says.For students attending private colleges, study abroad is comparable to the cost of staying on campus, and in many cases it can be lower.