One of the biggest factors deterring students from studying abroad may simply be the presumptive costs. Before writing off study abroad altogether, however, I encourage potentials to seek out and examine the actual numbers. They may be surprised by how affordable studying abroad in Japan on a budget can be. The cost of tuition and dorm stay can be found at the school, and other expenses, such as plane tickets and passport renewal, are to be expected.
The mystery cost factor of studying abroad then becomes the basic cost of living in that particular country. Tokyo is widely considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, although this belief is only partially correct. The city offers many wonderful opportunities, one of which being the ability to indulge in a huge range of products and foods from many different countries. My dinner last weekend at an Italian restaurant in Shibuya was a gourmet pizza with ham on top and egg-yolk cheese.
Connivence comes at a cost, and many American products or foods are often sold at a premium. For instance, a $9.00 hamburger at TGI Friday’s in the US costs around 1700 yen (aprox. $17.00) in Tokyo. Another example is Starbucks coffee, with the smallest size priced at over 300 yen. Many other American companies have a presence in Japan, including KFC, Subway and McDonalds, all of which are pricer than their US counterparts.
Aside from the occasional expat get-together, I recommend avoiding these places altogether if possible. The streets of Tokyo are filled with an overwhelming amount of local businesses and chains, most of which are cheaper and healthier. There may be no better way to experience Japan than by eating traditionally cultural foods in a local environment, surrounded by local students or businessmen. The dorm cafeterias offer filling meals too, generally for around 500 yen apiece. Most of my cafeteria meals have included a bowl of rice or miso soup. When watching my budget, I generally try to stick to around 500 yen per meal, which is just enough to buy a hearty bowl of noodles or a spicy plate of curry. Better yet, there is no tipping in Japan. Compared to the price of a meal out in the US, eating locally can be done cheaply.
I found another surprise savings when purchasing my school commuter pass, which cost roughly 16,600 yen for three months. For those who use Septa in PA, this is one-third of the price I pay per three months to ride a shorter distance. Additionally, 100 yen shops (equivalent to US dollar stores) and discount chains such as Don Quijote offer basic dorm needs for less, such as laundry detergent or extra clothing hangers.
Of course I am not implying that studying abroad will be cheap. But financially savvy decisions and lifestyle choices can certainly make Tokyo living that much more affordable. And regardless of the monetary costs, the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo for an entire semester is priceless.