Supporting Your Student
Your student is about to embark on an exciting adventure studying abroad. They'll meet new people, have new experiences, learn and see more than ever before and chances are they'll be excitedly telling you all about it back home. Supporting your student abroad is a core goal you share with the Office of Study Abroad. It can be a challenge but we're here to help.
Whether your student comes from outside the United States or from nearby Waltham, chances are your student will be a lot farther from home when they're abroad. Something to keep in mind is that how you communicate with your son/daughter may change.
Setting some expectations of the type of communication you want to receive while your student studies in another country is an important step to take before your son/daughter leaves and once they arrive in their new country. In some cases students may not have a useable phone at first, decent internet reception, or even electricity.
When talking to your student abroad, don't be surprised if you hear waves of excitement and disappointment. It is common for anyone experiencing a new culture to ride these waves often referred to as "culture shock." It's an important time to listen and calm your student if needed. Chances are that by the end of the semester they won't want to leave.
Video Chat Services
A popular program that students use abroad is Skype.com. This video/chat/call program allows users to communicate in a multitude of manners. On occasion the quality of connection may not be the best but this is dependent on location and internet strength.
Cell Phones & Land Lines
"Call me when you land!" That's a common request we all make but can be difficult when traveling internationally. Many times students have to obtain in-country cell phones or switch over services which might not happen the first day. We recommend asking instead, "Email me if you can!" The in-country program administration will communicate with your student the best way for your student to obtain a cell phone or gain access to a telephone.
Often considered the best way to communicate while abroad. It allows for consideration of time differences and can be used to share documents and photos. Students still have class though, so you might not hear from them immediately.
Physical mail may sound like a thing of the past but can be a welcome treat to students who have a mailbox abroad and may find themselves missing home. Packages may need to be mailed to a different address so check with your students program administration before sending anything. There will also likely be custom regulations for packages that it will be helpful to research first.
We encourage students to keep journals or blogs to keep track of their various experiences abroad and to share with others. Having your student share a blog with you can be a meaningful way to witness their experiences abroad. Popular blog sites include Wordpress.com and Blogspot.com.
Adjusting to a new culture and environment can be tough for a student. Many will experience highs and lows throughout their time abroad at varying levels. One of the best ways to prepare for this adjustment is for a student to set realistic goals. These goals will help your student work towards cultural understanding and ensure their time abroad is beneficial. We encourage students to think about how study abroad will affect the personal, academic, and professional spheres of their life. By coming up with some goals in this area beforehand a student may have a better sense of why they're studying abroad later.
Occasionally concerns do arise and a student may not feel at home in a different country. Students are always encouraged to reach out to Study Abroad staff but we find they tend to speak with family and friends first and more frequently. Here are some tips you can give your student if they're finding the adjustment difficult:
Tell someone on the program - staff or faculty. These professionals live on-site and can give your student some ideas on how to deal with their cultural adjustments
Refer to your student's goals for studying abroad. Remind them what benefits they'll be getting out of the experience.
Encourage your student to find a way to connect with the local community. Such ideas include: community service, university clubs/activities/sports, and cultural events.
Promote self-reliance, especially in the face of homesickness. Remind them that these feelings are temporary and that the sooner they focus on their experience the sooner they can enjoy their new country.
Be careful not to react too quickly. As communication will be strained and not as frequent as you might be used to, it is possible you may only hear how your student is feeling in the moment. We often find students need to vent in the moment and that allows them to release their frustrations while adjusting to a new location.
For many students, study abroad will be one of their first experiences managing a budget. There are many resources available to students through Student Financial Services and the Office of Study Abroad. A good starter is the Financial Overview page. On this page you can find:
Affording Study Abroad presentation
Budget Planning Worksheet
Budget Planning Worksheet video
Many students will have attended a Funding Workshop before going abroad and will have filled out a Budget Planning Worksheet. Occasionally this preparation is not enough or students may be excited/overwhelmed by the new opportunities in their new location once they arrive abroad. Continuing to check-in with your student about their spending as they begin their program has proven to be helpful.
For questions about the exchange rate for a given location, these resources may be helpful:
A semester or summer abroad goes by quickly and attendance in class, for academic programs, or internships is important and often mandatory for the student. If you do plan to visit your student abroad it's suggested that you do so during a schedule academic break or after the academic semester ends.
The worst times to visit are usually the first two weeks and the last two weeks of any program. These periods are full of cultural adjustments, academic intensity, and require the full attention of the student.
Many families and parents do visit their students while abroad or travel to other locations to meet their student. This can be a great experience if properly timed and with input from your student. Consult with your student about whether a visit will work. You could meet them after their program ends.
A student's return from studying abroad can be a bittersweet time of transition. In some cases it can be as hard or harder than the initial shock of living in a new country. You may ask yourself - who is this new person? Why does my son/daughter now talk with an accent or sit in silence? These could be cultural norms that they picked up while abroad. Chances are they'll wear off but hopefully you'll see a more developed and independent person who has grown from studying abroad - that shouldn't wear off.
Your student may find that their relationships with others have become strained while they lived abroad. This is normal and should adjust in time. Some coping methods for dealing with this and for the potential "culture shock" adjusting to home include: