as dollar strengthens u s students in europe feel the benefits

The pound and the euro are trading at decades-long lows against the dollar. For American students abroad, that has made weekend trips, dinners and theater tickets (somewhat) less of a splurge.

LONDON — In high school economics classes, Avery Scott studied foreign exchange rates through graphs and equations, but the subject felt confusing, faraway and theoretical.

Now a junior at the University of Georgia, Ms. Scott is studying abroad in England and getting a real-life lesson in currency movements, as the British pound trades near historic lows against the dollar. The stronger dollar has meant that savings from her side jobs at a coffee shop and at an internship at a church back home are going further.

“I’m seeing it happen every day,” Ms. Scott, who is studying English at the University of Oxford, said. She had envisioned budget weekend trips that involved hourslong bus rides rather than flights and dingy hostels instead of hotels. Instead, she has been able to travel around Britain and other parts of Europe without breaking the bank, said Ms. Scott, 20, who had never been on a flight before this study abroad trip and is paying for the program through scholarships and her savings.

American study abroad students, who may have once resorted to fast food and hostels while traveling in expensive European cities, are discovering that the strength of the dollar, which is up about 21 percent against the pound and 17 percent against the euro over the past year, is making it easier to find good deals. On a recent weekend trip to Versailles, France, Ms. Scott bought an enormous ham sandwich, with vegetables and several types of cheese, for just six euros (now worth $5.84) — about what she would pay at school in Athens, Ga.

Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that there had been an upward trend of students traveling abroad, especially to Britain, to study over the past two decades. The weakened British pound could be one reason, though it is difficult to disentangle it from other factors, Ms. Sumption said.

“We do know that the price of study is a major factor that people consider when they are thinking about the countries they want to go to or the institutions where they want to study,” she said. “Substantial currency fluctuations can have a really big impact on price.”

In the year ending in June, the British government granted 486,868 study visas, including for dependents, the highest number on record, according to official data. Of those visas, 16,137 went to Americans, a 9 percent increase since 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, the figures showed.

A 2017 study commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute, a British think tank focused on higher education, found that a 10 percent depreciation in sterling would be expected to result in a 2 percent increase in enrollment at the undergraduate level at British universities that year and another 2 percent increase the following year.

Aside from study abroad students, who typically take courses for just one semester, some students are choosing to pursue full-time undergraduate or master’s degrees in Europe, not only for the adventure of living abroad, but also because of the lower tuition fees compared with those at some schools in the United States.

The strengthened dollar sweetened the deal for Callie Colvin, 23, from North Richland Hills, Texas, who in September began a yearlong master’s program in modern history at the London School of Economics. Ms. Colvin said that she applied primarily to U.S. colleges, but that she chose the London university in part because the tuition was about £24,500, or roughly $27,400, about $30,000 less than what she would have paid at programs she was considering in the United States.

“When I saw that number, I was like, ‘OK, I thought this was going to be this dream, but then it became a reality,’” Ms. Colvin said. She paid off her tuition in October, taking advantage of the pound’s precipitous decline against the dollar.

“Once it really started tanking, in the last month, I was like, ‘I need to pay off my school as soon as possible,’” Ms. Colvin said of the currency plunge in September that was set off by the ill-fated economic plan of Liz Truss, Britain’s prime minister at the time. Ms. Colvin paid with money she had saved up from two years of work as a teacher in Texas and North Carolina.

Even though London is expensive, she says she has been surprised by how affordable certain things are, such as theater tickets or a student membership to Picturehouse Cinemas, a British chain of movie theaters.

To be sure, popular destinations for American students like London, Paris and Barcelona are still expensive, even for people whose spending comes from U.S. bank accounts. Rising inflation, which in September hit about 10 percent in Britain and in the eurozone, has cut into spending power. At the same time, wages have not kept up with the pace of inflation, exacerbating a cost of living crisis.

But the dollar’s relentless rise continues to bolster the spending power of Americans abroad, with another jump in value this week coming after the Federal Reserve’s latest jumbo increase in interest rates. Fed officials also signaled that rates may rise higher than previously anticipated, making the dollar more attractive to other currencies, even as central banks in Britain and the eurozone raise rates, too.

Emma Cotter, 20, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is studying this semester in Florence, Italy, said she had noticed that groceries cost less in Florence than in Los Angeles.

Mary Turner for The New York Times

Days after she arrived in Europe in August, the euro fell to a one-to-one exchange rate with the dollar, a 20-year low, making it easier to compare prices, she said. When she and her three American roommates go out to dinner, they rotate who puts down their credit card and pay one another back in dollars, said Ms. Cotter, who was speaking over the phone from a long weekend trip in Santorini, Greece.

Eli Gomberg, an undergraduate student in comparative literature at King’s College in London, is from New Jersey and said he chose to study in England in part because the tuition was so much less than what he would have paid at a U.S. university, particularly with the favorable exchange rate. To supplement his spending money, he works 20 hours a week as a chef at a central London cafe, where he makes £11.85 (about $13.25) an hour.

Knowing he will graduate without a huge amount of debt has made him feel more relaxed about spending in London, he said, such as on ingredients for cookies he bakes for his colleagues each week and for sessions at a North London climbing gym.

“I will get out of undergrad and have no loans, which is beautiful,” Mr. Gomberg said. “That gives me hope.”

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