Study Abroad—Parents Ask

Study abroad is a wonderful opportunity. It may also be the farthest distance and longest time your son or daughter has spent away from home. We've put together some of the most common questions we hear from parents before, during, and after the study-abroad experience.

If you have questions or need help in any way, feel free to contact the Michigan Tech International Programs and Services office at (906) 487-2160. Our study abroad staff is happy to hear from you!

Pre-departure Information

Will my son/daughter be safe while abroad?

Weighing Risk Factors

It's natural to be concerned about your son or daughter venturing into strange territory. Study Abroad programs and offices, including ours, cannot guarantee safety. They can't monitor the decisions that your son or daughter makes while abroad. The Study Abroad Office is vigilant in its responsibility to remain in contact with program administrators, resident directors, and other staff who is in direct contact with students abroad. We monitor U.S. Department of State safety updates. And we prepare students with a series of orientation sessions and safety guidelines.

What documents need to be taken on the trip?

Our Orientation Manual is a must. It contains essential information. Students should also carry:

  • Passport with appropriate visa stamp
  • Proof of insurance
  • Any necessary legal documents or medical records related to specific conditions, such as a copy of a medication prescription.
  • A list of contact addresses and phone numbers, including directions and contact numbers in carry-on luggage that they can immediately access so they know where to go when they arrive overseas. Include 800 numbers for any credit cards in case of loss or theft
  • Students should leave Social Security cards, extra credit cards, and other documents they don't need at home to avoid theft

It's wise to obtain or update your passport at the same time your son or daughter does. If there is an emergency, you'll be prepared to go quickly.

While They're Away

How will I communicate with my student abroad?

Expect a Slowdown

Prepare yourself for lack of communication, especially in the beginning. Habits and access change with new barriers of time and space. Try not to worry. Gaps are normal. Letters take a long time, the phone is expensive, and in some countries, email access is difficult to find or costly. When available, email in general tends to be the least expensive option. Setting up weekly or bi-weekly 'phone dates' works for some families.

Postal Service takes Patience

'Snail mail' is neither cheap nor fast. It's expensive to ship packages and letters overseas via airmail. Surface mail—literally by ship—is cheaper but can take more than a month to arrive. That's not to say your son or daughter won't be thrilled by a care package full of treats from home.

Email is Easiest

Email is a reliable and common way to communicate, though the Internet may not be readily available in all countries. A word of caution about using smart phone hot spots: Charges can run into thousands of dollars. Form your electronic communication plan and consult your phone provider before your student leaves for study abroad.

Tracking Down Addresses

Don't be surprised if your son or daughter leaves the country without a direct residential address. Most often students don't know their addresses. But they can give you the address and phone number for the study abroad coordinator or resident director. In an emergency, parents can contact their son or daughter via the coordinator.

Students should take a small address book on their trip with pertinent street and email addresses, and phone numbers, including the Study Abroad Office address, email and phone number. This helps eliminate problems with missing or unknown contact info because if you can reach us we can help you track down the numbers.

Can parents send money to students abroad? How?

In some countries and programs, students may open a bank account in the host country. This facilitates any money transfers, including wire transfers, American Express money orders, foreign currency drafts, or cashier's checks. Be aware that wire transfers can be expensive, and are only a good option for sending large amounts of money. One easy, inexpensive way to send smaller amounts of money is to open a joint checking account in the US. You can deposit money into the account; your son or daughter can use a debit card to withdraw the money overseas. This is a workable option in most countries; talk to your bank about it before the trip. Please see the Orientation Manual or the Survival Guide for more information.

What is culture shock? How can I understand what my son or daughter is experiencing?

Culture shock is physical and emotional discomfort experienced while living in a culture different from your native culture. It can't be avoided. Patience and effort ease the adjustment. Parents can help by listening with love and patience, and reminding their son or daughter that culture shock is normal and temporary. Some common symptoms:

  • Sadness, loneliness, depression
  • Preoccupation with health
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of vulnerability or powerlessness
  • Isolationism, irritability, or loss of identity
  • Inability to solve simple problems
  • Lack of confidence
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture
  • Obsessing about small things, like over-cleanliness
  • Homesickness
  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited

Here are suggestions for study abroad students to cope with culture shock:

  • Develop a hobby
  • Do something fun that reminds you of home and celebrates the present moment, like going to a café and reading a novel in English
  • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.
  • Maintain some contact with Americans for a sense of belonging. Just remember that spending time with onlyAmericans won't enhance your study abroad experience.
  • Stay confident in yourself. Remind yourself of your original ambitions and plans. Set small goals each day and evaluate progress.

Home Sweet Homecoming

What is reverse culture shock? Will my son or daughter experience it? How will it affect me?

Your son or daughter is finally here! But something is different. You don't understand his negative reactions to everyday activities. She's irritable and critical. It's confusing. Parents have a right to wonder: after a summer, semester, or year abroad, shouldn't they be as excited to see you as you are to see them?

Culture Shock in Reverse

It's not uncommon to feel out of touch at home after working so hard to acclimate to a lifestyle abroad. Returning students may remember words in their host-country language before the English comes to mind. They may want to eat later in the day, eat different foods, or denigrate the way things work in the States. Other signs:

Feeling alienated from friends and family, feeling like no one cares about their stories or photos from the trip—or having a hard time describing the experience. They may feel bored or directionless.

What to Do

Reverse culture shock is usually not severe or long-lasting, just frustrating. Parents may notice outer changes that students don't see. Students notice their inner changes that parents can't see. The best advice is to wait out the period of adjustment, dealing with it in the same ways you dealt with culture shock. Resuming an academic routine—and interacting with other study abroad students—is part of the cure.

Encourage your student to focus on responsibilities that come with coming home, including setting up living arrangements, finding roommates, registering for classes and other forward-looking activities.

A fiscal year is different from an academic year, and I need to show that I paid tuition in two semester payments. How can I straighten this out?

This is common for parents whose son or daughter attends a year-long study abroad program. It’s easily solved. If you or your accountant needs to show additional detail for tax purposes, the International Programs and Services Office, or the appropriate study-abroad program provider can give you an invoice.