Parents of Students Preparing to Study Abroad

What are the benefits of sending my student abroad?

Studying abroad allows students to grow and learn in a way not possible in the classroom. Students grow both academically and personally by studying abroad. Students gain cultural, historical and geographical knowledge through their experiences abroad. It also allows them to acquire a new a way of looking at things, themselves and their world. It increases their interest in other cultures, which encourages them to embrace diversity and become more accepting, understanding and less ethnocentric. On top of the academic and personal growth students can experience, studying abroad could also prove beneficial to them on a professional level. Studying abroad can give students the advantage of making global professional contacts and allows them to expand their ideas about a future career. It also makes them aware of the many opportunities that lie before them.

What can I do to help prepare my student as they plan to travel abroad?

Ask your student if you can double check their paperwork to make sure it is in order. From passports to visas to health insurance and immunization forms, the task of keeping up with study abroad materials can become overwhelming. Sit down with your student and understand the requirements involved for going abroad. Ask your student to share the orientation materials they receive and read them in detail. Remember, every program is different, so be sure to seek these materials from your student and not the SU World Office. Pay attention to important due dates and program requirements and review your student's program dates to assist with flight arrangements (if necessary).

Read through the details of your student's study abroad program with them before they leave. Plan ahead for handling family emergencies. Should such an emergency arise while your student is abroad, it is important to have a strategy for what to do.

Lastly, get to know the country with your student! Read newspaper articles or magazines about the country and ensure they are aware and familiar with their current events and foreign policy. All in all, remind them to keep an open mind about the new culture and traditions they are about to encounter and prepare them to handle criticisms of their own culture and of the United States in general.

What can I do to support my student while they are abroad?

Make sure your student knows they have your support by allowing them to make their own decisions, while advocating them. Encourage your student to be independent by allowing them to solve problems on their own. While you will be available at home to support and guide them, it is important for them to understand how to solve problems autonomously if issues or frustrations arise during the study abroad process, it provides them an opportunity to grow in responsibility and independence. Communication is key. Promote open communication between yourself and your student, and encourage them to communicate with their program coordinator. Remember to be there to listen. You can't fix their problems while you're in another country, but you can listen and give your advice. Help them with their integration into this new world, adjusting to new habits and applying them to their old life.

Be there for their emotional ups and downs. Students will experience an array of emotions throughout their study abroad experience. Help by preparing them for the changes they are going to encounter. Their way of life as they know it will change quickly and often drastically, many times leading to emotional stress, sometimes called "culture shock." Students may have trouble adjusting to these changes.

What is culture shock and how can it be managed?

Students who study abroad can experience feelings of isolation, sadness and frustration in their new environment. Personal growth often requires treading in unfamiliar territory and attempting to be successful in the way "success" is defined in the host country. Culture shock can be defined as a set of emotional reactions to the loss of perceptual reinforcement from one's own culture, to new culture stimuli which have little or no meaning, and to the misunderstanding of new and diverse experiences. There are five stages of culture shock students may experience.

1. The first stage is known as the honeymoon stage. Students may experience this as they first arrive abroad. Everything is new, fun and exciting.

2. However, as time goes by they may begin to run into difficulties such as language barriers or adjusting to their new living situations or daily habits. This first encounter with new frustrations and changes is the second stage of culture shock.

3. At the third stage, students begin to gain a better understanding of the culture and start to adapt to their new environment.

4. The fourth stage involves a comparison and analysis of the pros and cons of each culture.

5. Returning students often experience the final stage, reverse culture shock. They've acculturated to their host country and feel like a stranger at home. These feelings subside with time.