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Santa Clara University

Family Resources

Understanding Study Abroad along with Your Student





Parents and family are an important part of the study abroad experience We want to help family members navigate and understand the process of study abroad so that they can help support their student.  We strongly encourage families to talk with their student openly and directly about study abroad and encourage them to provide answers to questions. This is an important way that families can support students in their own learning and engagement in the process.   

If you are not able to get an answer directly from your student we are here to help.  We prefer communication with students and families together, whenever possible. Feel free to contact us at or 408-551-3019.

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The Benefits of Study Abroad

Students who study abroad develop skills of intercultural communication, working in intercultural groups, language skills, skills adapting to a different delivery of learning and information, self-confidence and independence, and life-long relationships.  A recent study shows that students who studied abroad found full-time employment following graduation at rates faster than the national average. Studying abroad provides students with a broader understanding of the global dimensions of their major or field; they learn directly how business or health or music or engineering is taught and conducted in another country and culture.  

Study Abroad is one of the “high impact practices” associated with students graduating with higher grade point averages, graduating on-time, and succeeding in connecting their in-class theoretical learning with the real world.   Students who participate in two or more “high impact practices” at SCU tend to apply for post-graduate fellowships and leadership opportunities at rates higher than students who do not have these experiences.

For many of us, study abroad is where we made life-long friends, met partners, and developed into the person we are today.

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Passports, Visas, Documents 

  • Passports

A passport is an official government document that certifies one's identity and citizenship and permits a citizen to travel abroad. All students must have a passport valid for six months beyond the date of return to the US. Apply for or renew your US passport:  Students studying abroad who are citizens of other countries should refer to the embassy of their home country for information.

  • Visas

Visas are an official authorization appended to a passport, permitting entry into and travel within a particular country or region. Normally, visas are a stamp inside the passport.

The visa process is managed by the embassy/consulate of the country in which the student will be studying.  The visa process is often the first encounter with the host country culture and the administrative approach or bureaucracy of the process may feel very different to what students may have experienced in the past in the US.  

You can help your student by reminding them to begin the process early and to submit all documents as instructed by the host government.

Students may not be able to travel abroad while the visa is being processed and should plan for this.

Students who hope to participate on multiple programs abroad through SCU should consider the visa process and timeline required by each country and plan to adjust, as needed.


Encourage your student to make copies of the passport, credit cards, insurance cards, ATM and bank information.  If documents are lost or stolen, having copies will aid in the process of replacement. One copy should travel with your student and be kept in a safe place and a second copy should be left at home.

See also:

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Affording and Paying for Study Abroad

How much will it cost?

Cost will vary depending on the location and what is “included”.  Help your student understand what is included and what is not included.  Examples are:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Meals - all, some
  • Airfare
  • Excursions
  • Course/lab fees
  • Insurance

It is important to consider pre-departure expenses and personal spending.  Examples include:

  • Passport fees
  • Visa fees
  • immunizations

Personal spending varies significantly by student.  One strategy is to figure out what a student spends on a monthly basis while at SCU and then double this amount -- not because costs are doubled but because students generally go, see and do much more while abroad.  Personal spending and budgeting is addressed with students during the pre-departure orientation process.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Santa Clara University allows students to utilize all institutional, federal and state financial aid while abroad.  Students who have work study awards will not be able to work while abroad and should contact the Financial Aid office about the possibility of reallocating their work award.

Many SCU students receive scholarships for study abroad.  We strongly encourage students to apply for scholarships and our advisors are available to help guide students through the processes.

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Health and Safety

Discuss with Your Student

Talk ahead of time with your student about being responsible and making mature decisions. Examples of topics you might want to discuss include:

  • Traveling with friends rather than alone
  • Avoiding dangerous areas or situations
  • Following the laws of the country
  • Being respectful of the culture and customs of the host nation
  • Registering in STEP

Critical Incidents Abroad

If a critical incident or emergency arises, contact on-site program contacts immediately. Ask your student for the local emergency contact information prior to departure. If you have questions or concerns about the student’s program before, during, or after your student's study abroad experience, please email or call us us 408-551-3019.


Each program provides its own orientation to health and safety matters specific to that country.


It is typical that students will maintain multiple types of insurance coverage while abroad. Families should review the coverage to see how  it meets their student’s specific health needs.

  • Family or Individual Insurance: 

Students may be able to use their U.S. based personal medical coverage for routine or non-emergency medical expenses while abroad. It is important to contact your insurance provider to find out about coverage and reimbursement procedures.

  • Insurance Provided Through the Program:

Many programs require their own additional mandatory insurance as a condition of participation.  For some programs, such as Sweden, the UK or Japan, this could be the national health care service provided by the government.  For other programs that may be an additional policy that is required to be purchased.  

  • SCU Emergency Insurance:

SCU provides emergency insurance for all students abroad.  This cost is included in the cost of attending SCU and is not an additional charge.  

  • Should my student cancel our US insurance policy while abroad?

We do not advise families to cancel their US insurance policy while the student is abroad.  The US policy can provide any “gap coverage” in case dates of different policies do not overlap.  As well, if the student returns to the US at any point during the program duration, the US based insurance will serve as primary coverage.  

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While Your Student is Abroad and Upon Return

Create a Communication Plan

Exchange all contact information and discuss your plan for how and when you will communicate so you have the same expectations. Keep in touch once every week or two.  While it may be challenging for you to give your student time and space to adapt to their new environment, this can be an important part of the learning process that contributes his or her success abroad.  In addition to email, prepaid international calling cards or Skype, Google Hangout, or Facebook are examples of low cost options. Keep in mind time differences.

Should You Visit?

If you plan to visit your student, it is best to schedule it after the program ends. This is important because your student will need time to adjust and establish their own support at the beginning of their off-campus experience. Students who do not establish this independence at the start of the program may find challenges integrating into the local systems.  Depending on the structure of a program, visits are sometimes only possible after the program ends. The situation will vary program by program.

Expect Culture Shock

Abroad is going to be different -- after all, that is why your student is going abroad. Culture Shock - a sense of disorientation in a cultural environment different from one’s own --  happens at some point to most students abroad. This is part of the experience and, actually, is part of the process of learning, but while students are experiencing this it may not feel “good”.  It is important to understand that Culture Shock is a normal, regular part of the study abroad process. 

Some common symptoms are:

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Feelings of helplessness/dependency
  • Disorientation and isolation
  • Depression and sadness
  • Hyper-irritability, may include inappropriate anger and hostility
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
  • Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
  • Hypochondria
  • Excessive drinking or recreational drug use
  • Extreme concerns over sanitation, safety (even paranoia), and being taken advantage of
  • Loss of focus and inability to complete tasks

How you can help your student with Culture Shock?

  • Expect ups and downs. Support your student by listening.
  • Let your student know everyone goes through culture shock.
  • Remind your student of the initial reasons they chose to study abroad. 
  • Encourage your student to work through culture shock in healthy ways. For example, embrace the immersion and make new friends, speak the local language as much as possible (whether required or not), and refrain from seeking too much refuge among other Americans.
  • Encourage independent problem solving.
  • Avoid the temptation to immediately resolve your student’s problem(s).
  • If your student is struggling, encourage them to reach out to program support staff for help.

Returning Home and Reverse Culture Shock

For many, returning home is as challenging as adjusting to life in a different culture. It is not uncommon for people to feel like strangers in their own community. This is referred to as reverse culture shock. Re-adjustment is a normal part of the return experience.

  • Common symptoms:
  • Frustration
  • Boredom
  • Restlessness
  • Change in values, goals, priorities, and attitudes
  • Feelings of isolation or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reverse Homesickness (missing people and places from abroad)
  • Negativity towards your native culture

How you can help your student with Reverse Culture Shock?

  • Expect change and allow time to adjust. Let them know it may be difficult to readjust back to the U.S., home, and university life.
  • Listen and observe. Show an interest in your student’s experience and give them time and space to re-acclimate.
  • Encourage communication and involvement. Encourage your student to stay in touch with friends made overseas and to get involved in internationally related activities at home, on campus, and in the community.
  • If your student seems to need help, please encourage them to make an appointment with Cowell staff, Religious and Spiritual Life, Student Life or the Study Abroad Office.

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