Away From Home
Parents' FAQs: Student Abroad
How will I communicate with my child while he/she is abroad?
Above all, parents will need to prepare themselves for the lack of communication that they may face while their children are abroad, especially in the beginning of the program. Communication habits will be different. If you generally talk with your child once or more a week while he/she attends college in the States, then you should probably be prepared to speak to your child less frequently while he/she is abroad. There will be new barriers of time and space, and don’t worry if there is a gap in the communication exchange. This is normal. Letters are slow, the phone is expensive, and in some countries, e-mail access is difficult to find or is expensive. In general, e-mail is the least expensive option, but if you do not have e-mail or if access is difficult, if you can set up weekly or bi-weekly “phone dates" this is also a good method.
The post office can be slow to send packages and letters. Shipping packages is expensive by airmail, and though surface mail (by boat) is cheaper, it can often take over a month to arrive. However, your son/daughter will always be thrilled to receive that very American care package that reminds him/her of home.
E-mail is a reliable and common way to communicate with others, though the Internet may not be readily available in all countries.
Parents should not be surprised if their child leaves the country without a residential address that goes directly to him/her. Most likely, the student will not know his/her address, but can provide parents with the coordinator or resident directors' address and phone number. In an emergency, parents can contact their children via the coordinator.
Also, it is important that students remember to take along a small address book with pertinent addresses and phone numbers, such as the Study Abroad Office address and phone number, etc. This will help to eliminate any problems for the student and the parents if there is missing or unknown contact information.
Can parents send money to students abroad? How?
In some countries and with some programs, students may acquire a bank account in the host country. This will facilitate any money transfers that students may need (wire transfers, American Express money orders, foreign currency drafts, or cashier’s checks). Be aware that wire transfers can be very expensive, and are only a good option for sending large amounts of money. One easy and inexpensive way to send smaller amounts of money to your son/daughter is to open a joint checking account in the U.S. Parents can then deposit money into the account while the son or daughter (who has the debit card) can withdraw the money from abroad. This is a good option for most countries, but it is a good idea to verify with your bank that this is possible before going abroad. Please see the Orientation Manual or the Survival Guide for more information.
What is culture shock? How can I understand what my child is experiencing?
Culture shock can be described as the physical and emotional discomfort people suffer when living in a culture different from the native culture. Often, the norms of life in the native culture are not accepted or considered normal in the host culture. Everything seems different and hard to understand, and the ability to easily function in a familiar culture has disappeared.
Culture shock cannot be avoided, so it is important to be able to recognize it in order to be able to better deal with it. With effort and patience the adjustments can be made, and parents can help their children by recognizing the symptoms, listening with love and patience, and reminding their children that culture shock is normal and temporary.
Parents can determine whether students are experiencing culture shock by recognizing the 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
- Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited
Culture shock has many identities, from feelings of elation to feelings of resentment or depression.
Below is a table that does a good job of explaining the stages of culture shock (quoted from The Experiment in International Living Cross-Cultural Orientation Guide, 1984):
The Honeymoon: Everything is new and exciting.
Culture Shock: The excitement is gone. Differences begin to emerge; questions arise about how to relate to friends or to their host family. Students may feel lonely or homesick.
Surface Adjustment: It is starting to make sense. Students can communicate basic ideas and they begin to make friends. They start to feel more comfortable in the host culture.
Unresolved Problems: Problems with friends or family of the student may surface, or the student may wonder why he/she ever went abroad and might be extremely homesick.
They Feel at Home: The student accepts the new culture as just another way of living. They may not approve of it always, but they accept and understand differences.
Departure Concern: The student begins to sense personal changes. They have mixed feelings about returning home.
Here are some ways your son/daughter can combat culture shock:
- Develop a hobby.
- Take personal time. Have them do something they like to do, like going to a café and reading a novel in English.
- It is important that they include a regular form of physical activity in their routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner.
- Maintaining some contact with Americans can help to give a sense of belonging, therefore helping the student combat feelings of loneliness and alienation. HOWEVER, spending time with Americans ONLY is very harmful to the study abroad experience, as it limits a student’s interaction with the host country and also limits a student’s ability to learn the host language.
- Establishing simple goals and evaluating progress gives students a feeling of power in a culture where they may feel powerless.
- Students should be reminded to maintain confidence in themselves. Remind them to follow original ambitions and plans for the future.
Study Abroad programs and/or offices (such as the Michigan Tech Study Abroad Office) cannot guarantee the safety of your child, and neither can they monitor the decisions that your child makes while abroad. Often, U.S. norms of due process, rights, and equality are not enforced in the host country. The Study Abroad Office realizes its responsibility of remaining in contact with program administrators, resident directors, and any other staff who are in touch with students abroad, and closely observes the U.S. Department of State safety updates.
Participants need to know and obey the laws of the host country because they are subject to the laws of that country regardless of their own rights as Americans. American civil rights and legal procedures are not protected once Americans leave their homeland. Prison conditions may be sub-standard and pre-trial bail may be different and/or non-existent in the host country.
The Embassy or Consulate in the host country can provide only limited kinds of assistance to Americans. They cannot bail a person out of jail or convince officials to bend laws for Americans in the host country.
Parents may ask the Study Abroad Office for health information of the host country, or they can get information at www.tripprep.com. Most study abroad sites have good medical access, and the U.S. Embassy can provide students with a list of English-speaking doctors. Common ailments include diarrhea, Hepatitis A, Malaria, and Tetanus.
Students on exchange must avoid any involvement with illegal drugs. Many drug laws in foreign countries are severe. Students have been jailed for possessing only three grams (less than 1/10 of an ounce) of marijuana, and the average sentence for drug use worldwide is 7 years.