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Supporting your Student

What we can promise you

  • We are complying with the FERPA laws that affect what information we can and cannot share with our student’s loved ones. If a student would like for their information to be made available to others, then they must first complete a FERPA waiver. 
  • We are preparing your student to adapt, learn, and excel in their new environment.
  • We are mitigating risks appropriately in all locations where we place students.
  • We are communicating with your student’s host institution (or program provider) appropriately with information pertinent to their experience before, during, and after their education abroad experience.
  • We are listening to your student and responding promptly to their concerns regarding registration, billing, and other university matters.

How you can work with us

  • Your student should understand the centrality of their role in co-creating a positive education abroad experience by disclosing any needs they have that might affect their health, safety, or wellness. We want students to feel comfortable sharing issues and concerns directly with us, faculty leaders, program staff in their host country, and anyone else overseeing their program administration.
  • Students are responsible for paying any bills, library fines, or balances owed to SCU in a timely manner.
  • Your student has made the time to discuss with you the goals and expectations that they have for their international or intercultural experience. Students must also be thinking ahead about housing and registering for classes for the quarter following their education abroad experience.
  • Your student discloses to you as well as the SCU Study Abroad staff any additional travel and activities they have planned which are independent of their education abroad program.
  • You are aware that your student – rather than SCU staff, Program Provider, or Host Institution – may be the most appropriate source for some information.
  • Your student develops a communication plan with you that addresses when and how often to be in contact while abroad. It is particularly important to discuss the importance of a first call home upon arrival in their host country.

Research The Host Country

Helping your student to research their host country before studying abroad can greatly reduce the severity of your student’s culture shock. It is a good idea to become familiar with the culture, history, politics, and everyday life of the host country and city. General information about your student's host country and the surrounding area can be found with the State Department's Country Information Pages. The Information Pages provide information in the categories of safety and security, health, local laws, destination description, travel and transportation, and more. Travel guides like Lonely Planet, for example, can also be a great resource because they contain information about cultural practices. SCU Study Abroad encourages you to talk with your student and read about your student's host country prior to departure. Gaining more knowledge about the destination will help to answer questions and address your concerns.

We recommend working with your student to create a folder of practical resources and their personal information. Here are some suggestions for what to include:

  • Name, address, phone number, and email of the host family or residence where your student will be staying while abroad.
  • Information for the SCU Study Abroad as well as the study abroad office in the host country, if applicable.
  • The phone, fax, and email address for your student’s academic advisor.
  • An emergency contact name, phone number, address, and email domestically and abroad.
  • A copy of your student’s passport, flight information, travel itinerary, and credit cards.
  • The address, directions, and phone number to the nearest U.S. Embassy in the host country.
  • Addresses, phone numbers, and emails for the loved ones your student wishes to write from abroad.
  • Landmarks and places of interest. Although store-bought travel guides may provide this condensed information, it is all available online, and the research your student will do can be very educational. Tourist-type websites usually list historical information, admissions costs, opening times, directions, and special events for places of interest.
  • Historical, political, and current event information about the host country. Understanding the host culture and its past will make your student’s study abroad experience more fulfilling. Information on politics and current events provides your student with conversation topics as well as an understanding of the culture.
  • Information about the culture of the host country. Search for sites about cultural etiquette, national sports, music, authors, food, and pop culture.
  • Special events that will occur at the time your student is abroad such as festivals, concerts, etc.

Develop a Communication Plan

Connecting across continents and time zones can be tricky, and you may be used to frequent or even daily contact with your student here in the U.S. Before your student goes abroad, it’s a good idea to talk about how you will communicate as well as how often. It’s important to stay in touch, but not to the extent that it interferes with the experience abroad. Students may need to separate themselves a bit from their home support networks as they build a local one. Be prepared for less frequent communication. Your student is experiencing, exploring, and seeking an opportunity for cultural immersion. Encourage an appropriate balance of communication so that your student can stay in touch with home, but be in touch with the host culture as well.

There are a lot of resources (many of them free) to help you stay connected to your student during the course of their study abroad program. The best method will depend on you and your student and the country where they will be studying.

Communication should be easy if you and your student have access to email. At the same time, understand that access to email overseas is not always as readily available as it is in the U.S.

If your student will have a phone overseas and you think you will be using the phone to communicate, then contact your phone provider. Many offer special services that allow you to identify one country as a frequently called one, and for a small monthly fee, you can cut the cost of your calls and texts considerably. Another option is to purchase a calling card with reduced rates for the country in which your student is studying. T-mobile provides users with free data usage and messaging while abroad. Whatsapp is also a great free messaging tool as long as your student has access to data or wifi.

Zoom is a free, downloadable software application that allows users to make live video and voice calls over the Internet. Skype users can also add money to their account and can then use the service to call landlines and cell phones internationally at very low rates. If two users both have web-enabled video cameras for their computers, they will be able to chat face-to-face. For users without a webcam, a microphone is all that’s required for calls to another computer. Other similar messenger software to explore is Google Hangouts and WhatsApp.

Even if you are regularly in contact via phone or Internet, consider sending mail. Students often appreciate receiving letters or postcards from loved ones while they study abroad because it assures them that they have not been forgotten. Care packages from home are also fantastic; however, international shipping costs can be very steep and all international mail (even postcards) might take several weeks to arrive. This information is important to keep in mind if you are on a budget or if your student is participating in a short-term program. Sending mail can go both ways, too! Considering asking your student to send a postcard to you! Never underestimate the power of the handwritten note. If your student is able to receive mail.

Read about Cultural Adjustment

Culture is a total way of life of any group of people, and adapting to a different culture can be exciting, frustrating, and challenging. When a student participates in study abroad, culture impacts the way that they interact with everyone they meet in their new environment – the people with whom they share accommodations, bus drivers, professors, café owners, classmates, and more. Learning how to engage with others in new cultural contexts while living and studying in another country has its adventures, benefits, and trials. Often, these opportunities to engage across cultures are considered the most rewarding aspect of a study abroad experience.

Learning to navigate another culture's values, beliefs, and thought processes can take a lifetime; however, most students only have a semester or two. This is why research prior to departure can greatly assist students to better understand the intricacies of cultural transition and gain more significant meaning from the experience while it occurs. Students should take the time to understand what culture is and how it affects them abroad.

No two students adapt at the same pace or in the same manner; however, there are several phases of cultural adaptation that people living in another culture for an extended period of time experience. The following information is adapted from Survival Kit for Overseas Living by Robert L. Kohls (chapter "Culture Shock: Occupational Hazard of Overseas Living"). 

Adjustment to a new culture tends to occur in stages. Initially, there is a honeymoon phase. Your student is in a new country, and everything is exhilarating and exciting. Perhaps they are involved in a flurry of orientation and getting settled, getting hosted around the town or city. The sights, sounds, and tastes are all a new adventure. And, at first, your student may even see more of the similarities between the host country and the U.S. than the differences.

Suggestions for support

Listen to the student's exciting stories and appreciate the unique experiences he or she has the opportunity to enjoy. Remember these good experiences to use when times become more challenging. Some cultures are so different from the U.S.that it may be difficult for the student to put it into words. Ask your student specific questions about the country, culture, and people in order to better understand their experience.

After the first couple of weeks, the initial excitement might pass and your student may begin to confront the deeper differences in their new location. Maybe they will be tired of the food or struggling with the language. Maybe the university seems incomprehensible and bureaucratic. Maybe they will be tired of long commutes whenever going somewhere. Maybe everything is much more expensive than the student originally anticipated. Or perhaps things are less expensive, but not of the quality or variety that is customary at home. The initial enthusiasm has drifted away and the student has entered the stage of irritability and hostility. Worse, the student may just feel like they don't really belong.


Suggestions for support

During the first few weeks, it is not uncommon for students to contact home upset about some aspects of the new culture, people, and programs. It is important for loved ones to remember that students may initially focus on what is going wrong in the program, rather than right. Find out exactly what is frustrating your student, but avoid judging the cultural differences. Be supportive of your student and encourage them to discuss these issues with the resident director. The on-site staff has dealt with many students in these situations and is well prepared to help your student during the initial adjustment period. 

Be patient. Almost always, the initial struggles will disappear with time and the student will experience a stage of gradual adjustment. A sense of humor will reappear. Things that seemed strange or just inconvenient will gradually become familiar. The student will be able to function more easily within the culture. When contacting home, the participant will begin sharing enjoyable experiences with you again.

Suggestions for support

Listen to your student's stories with interest. Congratulate them for understanding the social norms, making local friends, and other such successes. Your student is slowly adapting to new surroundings.

Adaptation or Biculturalism

Lastly, there is a stage of adaptation or biculturalism. Your student has managed to retain their own cultural identity but recognizes the right of other cultures to retain theirs. The participant has a better understanding of their self and others and can communicate easily and convey warmth and understanding across the cultural barriers.

Cultural Adjustment

There is no one way to experience culture shock. It may be acute or barely noticeable. You may find it returns once after you thought your student had already passed through all the stages. As a loved one, you may not even be aware that your student is going through a cultural adjustment, or to what extent. Simply be aware that cultural adjustment exists, that it will probably affect your student in one way or another, but that it doesn't last forever. The cultural adjustment can be a very valuable experience, which can leave people with broader perspectives, deeper insight into themselves, and a wider acceptance of other people.

Reverse Cultural Adjustment

Students often go through a phase of "reverse" or "re-entry" cultural adjustment when they return from studying abroad. Sometimes this phase can be more challenging than what was initially experienced abroad. Students expect to go through adjustments in foreign countries, but do not always realize that life has continued on without them at home and there may be changes for which they were not prepared. For your student, returning to their home culture probably feels much like when they arrived in their host country. Home might feel foreign, or no longer feel familiar and natural. The stages of cultural adjustment experienced abroad can repeat coming home, in reverse cultural adjustment.

It is important to remind your student that some people adapt to a new culture more easily than others. Encouraging your student to think about who they are, what goals they have, their way of thinking, behaving, and going about everyday tasks will make it easier for them to adjust to a new environment. Although there is no set formula to ensure that students will transition seamlessly, there are certain skills and traits we all have (or with minimal effort, can develop) that make the adjustment process easier. Below is a list of skills that are important to leverage when trying to adapt to life in a new culture:

  • Tolerance for Ambiguity
  • Low/Goal Task Orientation
  • Open-Mindedness
  • Being Nonjudgmental
  • Empathy
  • Communicativeness
  • Flexibility/Adaptability
  • Curiosity
  • Sense of Humor
  • Warmth in Human Relationships
  • Motivation
  • Self-Reliance
  • Strong Sense of Self
  • Acceptance of Differences
  • Perceptiveness