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Parents Supporting Their Students

Deciding on an education abroad program may seem like the hardest part of the education abroad process, but there is still much to do before departure. Encourage your student to avoid waiting until the last minute! Your student must take the time to research the country, culture, and people in order to gain the knowledge and information necessary to have a successful education abroad experience. Here are items to complete before going abroad:

  • Passport - You will want to be sure that your student has a valid passport. Most countries require that a passport be valid for at least six months beyond the date of a return ticket; if not, it must be renewed. 
  • Visa - A visa is an official stamp, seal, or document affixed in a passport that allows entry into another country for a specified amount of time and for a specific purpose. A visa is required for a stay longer than 90 days in most countries, and some countries require students to have a study visa regardless of the length of time. Students can determine if they need a visa by visiting the U.S. Department of State's website and entering the name of their country in the "Learn about your destination" section.
  • Make copies of important documents and information - Your student should leave a copy of each document with a trusted family member and scan and save them to his or her hard drive or upload them to their education abroad portal to allow for easy digital access. 

Supporting Your Student While He or She Is Abroad

Once your student has left, it is time for you to let go and be supportive from afar. Succeeding abroad depends largely on your child's ability to effectively adapt to the local culture, which is not always easy. 

Culture Shock

It is important to understand culture shock, because your student is going to experience it in some way, and you will need to educate yourself on the phases so you are not caught off guard when it happens. Culture shock is the confusion, disorientation, and emotional upheaval that comes from immersion in a new culture. 

Stay in Touch - But Not Too Much

Staying in touch with your student is extremely easy while they are abroad due to mobile phones, Skype, Facetime, email, and texting apps, but be prepared to have less frequent communication with your student. The less your student checks in with you, the more independent he or she becomes. When you do interact, listen more than talk. Give updates on family news, but don't overwhelm your student to the point of making him or her homesick. Ask questions about what your student has seen and done, but also what has surprised him or her and what has not. Make sure your student knows you are glad he or she has taken this important step and that you can't wait to hear all about the experience and the great stories once they return home.

Don't Get Too Involved

Part of the education abroad experience is learning how to overcome difficulties and move past them. Students must figure it out for themselves. It can be frustrating, though, and your student may even go through a phase of negativity, discouragement, and homesickness where nothing is right or good. You will be tempted to try to solve the problem, but don't unless your student is experiencing serious difficulties. Listening may be one of the most important, and undervalued, communication skills that we use. Show support and understanding during the difficulty, but avoid getting too involved. Encourage your student to first make use of the student support services that are available or their local contact and be sure to ask if things are improving or working out. 

Visit With Discretion or Not At All

Keep in mind that students abroad are not on vacation; they are there to learn and attend class. They will have homework, projects, and deadlines. They will also be developing their own lifestyle. Take care not to interrupt any of these aspects of your student's time abroad. 

Helping Your Student Transition Back Home

It is essential that you try to understand the wide range of feelings your son or daughter is likely to experience. Take the time to listen and get reacquainted, acknowledging that you may not be able to help him or her adjust to returning home.

Prepare for Transformation

Most education abroad students report years later that the time they spent abroad in college changed them for life. Each student's experience is going to be unique, but some ways that your student probably changed are by having:
  • A greater sense of independence
  • Better communication skills
  • An enhanced ability to build relationships
  • Increased adaptability
  • A greater acceptance of diversity
  • More patience
  • Improved diplomatic skills
  • Strengthened or reinforced core values
  • A strong desire to go abroad again
He or she may have a difficult time at first articulating what he or she is experiencing, and you should allow time to work through it. Readjusting will require both time and the same skills and approach he or she used while abroad because the experience will be a reverse culture shock.

Understand That Reverse Culture Shock is Real

Experts agree that reverse culture shock is actually more difficult to get through than traditional outbound culture shock. With reverse culture shock, your student feels out of place in his or her own country, and that sensation is generally more fundamentally disorienting than feeling out of place abroad, where you are, in fact, somewhat out of place. As a parent, you may not be able to help your child through the process directly, but you can help indirectly by encouraging him or her to:
  • Share stories
  • Talk with people who have had similar experiences
  • Seek out authentic international culture at home
  • Continue language learning
  • Document memories
  • Keep thinking globally
  • Share the experience on campus and at his or her former high school

Leveraging the Education Abroad Experience

Your student is now a member of a small group of students that has international experience prior to graduating. This experience constitutes a real marketplace differentiator. Yet one of the biggest mistakes that students who have been abroad make when it comes time to apply for jobs is not incorporating all of their global learning into their job-search materials.

In order to fully leverage his or her study abroad experience, your student will need to be able to articulate his or her growth. So many students return from abroad asserting that "It was the best time of my life!" But they cannot express why it was or how they changed. Immediately following your student's return, advise him or her to articulate exactly how he or she has changed, with a special emphasis on identifying skills they acquired that may help in the job search and be relevant to longer-term career pursuits. Encourage your student to highlight his or her cross-cultural competence in his or her resume, cover letter, and job interview.