The New School
Eugene Lang College
New York, NY 10011
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Resources for Parents, Family and Friends

Your student has decided to study abroad, and there is so much to understand as a parent or family member. Studying abroad will almost certainly be a defining period in their educational experience, a transformative journey that will influence their academic and personal perspective. Even as it generates feelings of excitement though, it naturally prompts many questions that can be stressful and anxious for everyone involved (including family). We have therefore compiled some useful suggestions to help prepare for the upcoming experience.  

Encouragement & Managing the Distance

Before your student leaves, offer reassurance that you will be there throughout the experience for support, and you can still be reached from overseas. Time abroad often begins with a ‘honeymoon’ period where students are excited to have finally arrived. Nonetheless, they soon confront some unfamiliar procedures, potential difficulties with the local language, confusion with commuting and transportation, and the absence of familiar advisory and health services, for instance. Culture shock frequently sets in at this point. As a parent or family member, expect to hear some tales of frustration, though your student will likely be having many wonderful experiences as well (even if you hear more about the frustrations). In many instances, your student may not expect you to help solve the problems, but needs an understanding ear.

Through overcoming these challenges abroad, your student will attain a new level of independence and adaptability, so resisting the temptation to become too involved is important. Ultimately, this is a profound learning experience for your student, and negotiating a balance in your involvement can be difficult. A student preparing to study abroad in another country should feel empowered, though some anxiety is natural and inevitable. As a parent or family member interested in providing support, while ensuring the student feels sufficiently empowered, we suggest you begin the process well before departure.

  • Allow your student to make the most of the study abroad decisions; be a guide, not a supervisor.

  • Provide needed information and resources you have available to help make informed decisions.

  • Don't expect to hear from your student every day while abroad, since communication options may be less available. Discuss a feasible time table and method to check in with each other.

  • Talk with other parents whose children have studied abroad and try to prepare for the emotions they remember experiencing.

You will certainly miss each other during the time abroad, but to help facilitate the most growth, students need to spend quality time fully immersed in the culture and experience, and developing relationships with peers abroad.

Research & Learning More

Chances are you will feel more secure about your student studying abroad if you have done similar research and preparation as your student, learning more about the upcoming experience together.

  • Research the destination country, including its history, culture, customs, laws, social/moral codes, dress and language. Having this knowledge allows you to help situate experiences in a fuller context.

  • Along with your student, learn a few of the local words and phrases.

  • Read all program literature and any testimonials from previous students abroad (if available).

  • Never hesitate to ask questions of your student, the advisor and/or a program administrator.

Student Responsibility

As mentioned, an important aspect of the study abroad experience is enhancing the individual sense of agency and responsibility of a student, feeling empowered and capable to handle unfamiliar (and sometimes challenging) circumstances. This represents a valuable learning moment, but even more importantly, cultivates lifelong skills.  

  • Discuss financial, social and educational responsibilities with your student, explaining that what is expected of him or her academically, personally, and otherwise at home will be expected in equal measure (if not more) while abroad. For students participating in a program with home stays too, the same responsibilities entailed with being a member of any household should be observed.

  • Encourage your student to resolve his or her own issues while abroad, and step in only when necessary.

  • Assure that your student conducts thorough research on the study abroad experience, including meeting with academic and study abroad advisors. This will not only equip your student with critical knowledge, but reinforce the benefit of thinking ahead and analyzing options to create an optimal experience overseas.

  • Reassure your student that you trust him or her to make the right decisions while abroad, but you are available as a “sounding board” to talk through important decisions.

Policies & Practical Considerations

There is a delicate balance between ensuring your student is prepared for the time abroad and all the practical matters, and allowing him or her to take the lead in preparing for the experience. Some important items to remind your student should be resolved before departure include:

  • Home Institution Questions. Ask the home institution for your student about credit amounts and/or credit transfer procedures relevant to the program abroad, financial aid options and any special fees for study abroad, and services the school will provide while abroad (advising procedures for the return semester, housing selection, etc). If prior approval for any courses is required from a departmental chair to count a course abroad toward a major, remind your student to obtain approval in advance.

  • Host Program Questions. Ask program providers about the terms of participation, such as standard credit load, changes to class schedules, grade reporting and transcripts. Make sure your student understands what policies apply while abroad, both academic policies (attendance, final exams, etc) and other policies (personal travel, conduct codes, alcohol consumption, etc). We also recommend researching supplemental fees (visas, required immunizations, etc) as well as applicable refund or cancellation policies for the program.

  • Travel Documents. Confirm that your student has a passport valid through 6 months after then end of the program, and any required visas are in order. You should also have a valid passport in case of emergency.

Communication & Contact Planning

Establish a plan of communication with your student prior to departure. It is important to realize that this plan may need to be altered once your child has settled into a study abroad routine. Discuss how you will handle any family or other emergencies that might arise during the time abroad. An emergency communication plan listing the methods of communication to use, and the order in which to use them, is always recommended. You should also be designated as an emergency contact with both the home institution and host program. Your student should have a copy of the plan, which includes all family telephone numbers; access codes for voicemail messages; phone numbers for several other relatives; and alternate email addresses.

Make sure you have a telephone number (or Skype address) where you can reach your student, and know the times of day when s/he is most likely to be available. You can minimize the cost of staying in touch by establishing methods in advance. Contact your phone service provider to arrange for a prepaid calling card, research internet phone options (including Skype), or learn the most inexpensive way to call collect or wirelessly from the destination country. You may be able to select an international plan that has reduced calling rates to that particular country to reduce costs of calling from home. Your student’s cell phone may only work overseas if you have T-Mobile, AT&T or Alltel, and only if you contact the service provider to open up the phone for international roaming, though this could mean large international roaming charges. Considering  the cost of overseas phone calls, a useful alternative might be to set a regular schedule for emailing or instant messaging each other instead. Another useful alternative may be for your student to create a blog, an inexpensive resource that allows friends and family members to follow along with the adventures (or create your own blog to keep your student updated on events back home).

Safety & Safeguarding

Safety is often the largest concern for most parents of students studying abroad. Study abroad emergencies are few and far between, but educate your student on ways to stay safe in another country.

  • Students should be encouraged to cultivate and utilize "street smarts" while abroad. Advise them to take the same precautions as practiced at home, but incorporate additional precautions until more familiar with the country. For instances, students are often discouraged from attending political demonstrations, advised to use official taxis only, reminded to protect their passport at all times, and so forth.

  • Establish emergency procedures with your student prior to departure, and be sure to create a list of emergency contacts, including home institution and host program contacts.

  • Use the State Department's website to stay current on safety issues in specific countries.

  • Discourage students from inviting others to their living quarters; and recommend socializing in public spaces (museums, restaurants, parks, host program student lounges, etc).

Health & Insurance

Before departure, your student is recommended to have a general physical and dental exam; and women should also have a gynecological checkup. Make sure complete medical records are included, including allergies, vision prescriptions, routine medications, etc; and pack an extra supply of any prescriptions. Ask the doctor and/or host program how best to handle refills of routine prescriptions.

In terms of health insurance, continue carrying your student as a dependent on your insurance policy, even if s/he will have other coverage while studying abroad. Be aware that in many countries the cost of medical services must be paid in advance by the patient (and then reimbursed by insurance). Insure valuables your student  will take on the trip, such as a laptop computer, camera, or video recorder; but remind them to avoid traveling with anything that would be irreplaceable. Also consider supplemental insurance options, such as tuition, travel, and luggage insurance.

Money & Financial Management

Discuss how to access money with your student for both everyday financial needs and for emergencies. Certain monetary instruments may be preferable in certain destinations, so ask your host program for more specific recommendations. Remember to clarify with your bank how its ATM card functions abroad, and what extra fees might apply. A personal credit card with cash advances or traveler's checks could also make sense. Discuss arrangements for other financial responsibilities as well, such as payment of monthly bills, completing the renewal FAFSA application for financial aid, and filing income tax returns if needed.   

Travel Planning & Information Files

You can help your student by researching travel costs and flight options, and being aware of any restrictions on the tickets ultimately purchased (such as change policies or luggage fees). Help your student evaluate what items are necessary for the time abroad, attempting to pack as lightly as possible. A money belt can help keep valuables safe during the trip.

Another recommendation for students studying abroad is to prepare an information file for both yourself and your student, with all the relevant documents and materials compiled.

• Contact information for

– The host program office, including the on-site residence director and any 24-hour emergency numbers

– The study abroad and academic advising office at the home institution

– Doctors who have treated your student in the past

– The citizen assistance section of the US embassy or consulate nearest the host program

– The US State Dept. Office of Overseas Citizen Services

• Insurance policy numbers and contact information

• Passport number for your student

• Banking card number and contact information

• A duplicate “passport kit” if lost, containing:

– two passport photos

– official copy of his or her birth certificate

– photocopy of the passport photo and signature page, and the visa pages

• A calendar of important program dates

Visitations While Abroad

If you have planned a visit, the best time is usually when the program has finished, or during a scheduled holiday/break from classes, so you can travel together without missing classes or exams. Likewise, students should plan to remain through the formal end of the semester; attempting to arrange an early return home at the end of the term can create complications. While a visit may be personal travel for a parent or family member, students still have academic responsibilities to keep in mind. And if you visit, prepare yourself for an enjoyable role reversal as your child becomes the one explaining how everything works!

Food & Drink

One of the most interesting differences between countries is the cuisine, and you will want to ensure that your student eats well while overseas. As a general suggestion, encourage students to patronize busy restaurants, since eating there is likely safer than at less popular restaurants. Freshly cooked foods are best, because they are less likely to contain contaminants. And remember not all countries practice the same process for pasteurization as in the US, so students should know how to check this for dairy products. Although they may be legally permitted to drink in the host country, students should be advised to drink with moderation and significant care while studying abroad; alcohol can mix with trouble overseas the same way it can at home, and sometimes even more seriously.

Reentry & Preparing for the Transformation

After living abroad for a full semester or year, students cannot help but be changed by the experience. This can manifest in many forms, from new styles of dress, to cravings for different cuisines, to new political and social perspectives. Your student may also express critical views of the United States, and exhibit some depression or longing to return abroad. Be prepared for some degree of “reverse culture shock” upon return, which is a normal experience as students readjust to living at home again. Some suggestions for approaching this:

  • Anticipate a period of adjustment when your student first arrives home.

  • Remember s/he has probably been quite independent and self-sufficient while abroad, so take that into consideration during the first few weeks after returning.

  • Encourage your student to stay in touch with the people s/he interacted with while abroad; these connections are important and can endure for a lifetime.

Once again, your support, interest, and understanding will help during this transitional period. Observing and discussing changes like these are excellent opportunities to share in the  international experience, and your student will undoubtedly appreciate having you available to listen and talk through these feelings. Any negative feelings usually last for a short time only, but study abroad participants consistently report the time spent overseas was one of the best experiences of their undergraduate years.

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