Weak dollar increases costs of study abroad

As the value of the U.S. dollar takes a plunge, Elis spending this term abroad are feeling the strain, even as foreign students here spend more freely.

Over the past week, the U.S. dollar has fallen to record lows against the euro and weakened significantly against several other world currencies, including the British pound and Chinese yen, leading to wide fluctuations in the exchange rate. While the dollar’s decline is easing costs for many international students at Yale, it is sparking concerns about tuition and living costs among students in study abroad programs.

One euro is now worth about $1.40, a 12 cent jump from the same time last year and the highest it has stood against the dollar in the currency’s eight-year history. Last week, the U.S. dollar fell even with the Canadian dollar, also known as the “loonie,” for the first time in more than 30 years, and has since fallen lower.

American students studying abroad in Europe, along with tourists from the U.S. and businesses purchasing parts or goods from overseas, are among those to suffer when the dollar’s value drops. Every cappuccino, hostel stay and souvenir takes a slightly bigger bite out of students’ bank accounts.

Lauren Harrison ’09, who is studying in Paris this semester, said the declining dollar is forcing her and other American students in her program to pay strict attention to every cent they spend while abroad.

“Paris is an expensive city to begin with and then each price tag has to be multiplied by almost 1.5 in order to get a realistic picture of how much things are costing in USD,” she said in an e-mail.

Harrison said she hopes the less favorable exchange rate will not discourage students from going abroad to Europe.

“There is … such an entrenched ‘stay at Yale’ mentality that it would be a real shame if this lowered the already low rates of Yalies going abroad during the year,” she said.

The percentage of Yale students going abroad, although low compared to some other universities, has increased in recent years. In the 2006-’07 academic year, 180 students studied abroad — an increase of 45 students from the previous year.

Karyn Jones, director of the study abroad program at the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs, said she could not speculate on the declining dollar’s effect on this year’s study abroad programs. Jones said IEFP will not know until the Oct. 15 application deadline whether the number of students interested in programs in Europe has gone down this year.

Students who have been planning to go abroad in the spring said the new exchange rate will not affect their final decision to head across the Atlantic.

Dorota Poplawska ’09, who is preparing to study history at Oxford University next semester, said she will probably cut costs by limiting her travel around Europe. But she will not be deterred from her plans to go abroad by the potential for higher expenses.

“What I’m hoping is that even though [the exchange rate] will probably impact the fees, the experience will make up for it,” she said.

But the falling dollar has an upshot for another group of Yalies: international students whose families earn money in euros but pay tuition in dollars. Even as prices across campus — from tuition to a Starbucks cappuccino — have inched higher, this group of students may find it easier to stay within budget in the Elm City.

Octavio Medina ’10, who hails from Madrid, said he is thrilled with the new exchange rate. The drop has not only made it cheaper to book flights to and from school, it could also save Medina more than $2,000 in Yale College tuition fees.

He took advantage of it by going on a shopping spree in New York City before classes started.

“It’s really cheap to buy clothes and other things made in America and take it back to Europe right now,” he said.

Ryan Lowe ’10, who hails from Paris, said the relative strength of the euros he earned this summer in France has increased his spending budget for the school year. Because European retailers are typically slow to adjust their prices for exchange rate fluctuations, he routinely buys expensive products such as electronics in the U.S.

But the euphoria felt by international students enjoying the effects of the declining dollar may be short-lived, Medina said, as it will make prices seem even higher when they return home for the holidays. Furthermore, a declining dollar makes U.S. goods less expensive, which could take a bite out of other countries’ exports.

“In the end, it wouldn’t be good if it stayed like this for a long time, because it’s not so great for our countries,” Medina said.

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