Congratulations on getting your student this far in their academic career! Now that they are preparing to go abroad, there are many things they will want to take into consideration. Please keep in mind that this can be a very stressful time for you student, and if they have never been abroad before, they may not have thought about these essential topics. So we have prepared a list of "talking points" to guide you through useful conversations with your student when leading up to the start of their program.
·Have you heard of culture shock?
·How do you anticipate coping with culture shock?
·What are the culture norms in the host country (religion, politics, gender, social, etc.)?
·How often and by what means will you communicate with friends/family at home?
·In case of an emergency, what is the communication plan?
·What are your expectations for housing, transportation, and food?
·What are your goals for your time abroad?
·What do you anticipate being your biggest challenge during your time abroad?
·Have you looked on a map to familiarize yourself with the city, office, school, etc.?
·Can you get your medications there or will you be required to bring enough for the entire duration of your program?
·How do you plan to avoid unwanted attention or unsafe situations?
·How do you plan to stay up-to-date with current events in neighboring countries as well as world news?
·If your purse/wallet is lost/stolen, what will you do?
·How are you saving money for your time abroad and how much money do you plan to spend weekly?
·Are you budgeting for extra/optional weekend trips?
·Do you plan to use a credit/debit card while abroad? If yes, will you use your credit/debit card on a daily basis or for emergencies only?
·What is the local currency, exchange rate, and most common form of payment? A good website for checking this is www.xe.com.
When helping your students pack consider the following:
·Your student will have access to laundry facilities while abroad so it is not necessary to pack for their entire term abroad.
·Wear plenty of layers!
·Coordinate colors/styles to mix and match outfits- neutrals are always a good choice.
·Pack clothes that will not need to be ironed.
·Comfortable walking shoes that coordinate with multiple outfits- break in shoes before travel.
·Note that some countries or specific sites may require a more modest dress code. Such as cathedrals.
·Consider pants with buttoned/zipped pockets. Although not as theft-proof as a money belt, these can deter pickpockets.
·Be sure to take into account what the weather will be like for the entire duration of the program, especially noting any seasonal changes if spending a semester/year abroad.
·Please remember that most common toiletries can be bought on site, but your student may wish to bring along their own if they prefer specific product brands.
·If your student plans to take weekend trips to other places be sure to have an empty duffel bag or backpack for them to use.
Culture shock is a normal process that occurs as on leaves their home culture and enters another. As defined in the Education Abroad Glossary, published by the Forum on Education Abroad, culture shock is:
The anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) one feels coming into contact with an entirely different social environment, such as a different country. It often relates to the temporary inability to assimilate the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not.
It is important for students to acknowledge culture shock when it happens and respond positively to the process. One way students can lessen the severity of culture shock is by taking a step back to observe their own traditions and customs, as well as familiarize themselves with their new host culture prior to going abroad. By observing the differences, your student can learn to understand what to expect and not be as “shocked” by the differences they will experience once abroad. Taking a deeper look at the traditions and peculiarities of your own culture aids in the understanding that just because a way of living is different, does not necessarily mean it is better or worse, just different.
The misunderstanding of culture shock can lead to communication problems and potentially compound frustrations felt while abroad. Therefore, understanding culture shock and how to respond to it are vital in communicating effectively and enabling your student to have a successful experience abroad.
Many students express the symptoms or feelings of culture shock in their communications with home, as this represents their connection to a familiar culture. In some cases, the symptoms of culture shock can be misinterpreted by family members and friends as an indication that the student is truly struggling and in need of assistance. In most instances, however, this is not the case as the student is only expressing normal sentiments that occur during an extremely valuable learning, immersion, and growing process.
Every student needs time to learn about and adapt to their host culture and become comfortable with their new environment. This process of experiencing internalizing and accepting cultural differences is unique to each student and may take some students more time than others, but it is a normal and healthy process. It is important to understand that going through this process is vital for a positive immersion experience and a successful study abroad program overall.
If your student is expressing discontent and frustration (remember this is a normal and expected process) remind them that they have a support system right there on site. Encourage them to speak with our staff abroad as they understand the complexities of the host culture, interact with international students on a daily basis, and can assist by giving advice on how to best adapt and enjoy the host culture. When communicating with your student, take into consideration that your student’s response will likely reflect your attitude and reaction to their emotions and concerns.
Along the same lines, you may want to consider shifting the types of questions you are asking your student in order to generate a more productive conversation. Open-ended questions such as “How are you?” can be difficult to answer for a student dealing with the complex nature of culture shock. Inquiries such as “What did you see today on your walk home?” or “Have you gone back to that pastry shop you went to with your host mom on the first day?” can serve to remind your student of all the exciting things happening around them, and how they now fit into that picture. With all of this in mind, use the information above to continue providing them with support and positive reinforcement as they face the challenges of culture shock. Remember this is a once in a lifetime experience, your student should face each day with a positive attitude and an open mind!
Effective communication between the student and their family and friends back home is one of the most important elements for a successful study abroad experience. As you probably have already experienced when your student headed off to college, they are embarking on a voyage of independence and growth. This time abroad will prove to be a tremendous opportunity to gain independence and learn about themselves. That being said, you may face a new set of challenges corresponding with your student while they are abroad. Together, you will want to find the delicate balance between staying in touch and allowing for a positive immersion process for your student.
Having a constant connection to home, and using this as a crutch, can prevent your student from fully engaging in the immersion process in their new host culture. This can have a harmful overall effect and may actually worsen the symptoms of culture shock by increasing your student’s feelings of homesickness. This lack of integration could hinder them from developing strong relationships and connections with new people and friends abroad. Furthermore, it is important to consider how the advent of the internet, and especially the smart phone, has changed the study abroad experience. Where even just 10 years ago a student might have called home several times a day through various mediums. Although it’s comforting for families to be able to check in with their student when they are so far away, we strongly recommend that students and families limit such close contact.
We have found that it is useful to create a prearranged communication schedule, utilizing various methods of communication, to positively interact and keep up to date with your student abroad. Of course, each student and situation is unique, but we have found that starting out with being in touch a few times per week is useful and effective. This allows students the opportunity to experience and immerse themselves in their new culture, effectively processing and internalizing the experiences they are having. Formulating a basic communication schedule can give both you and your student something to look forward to.
Keep in mind, your student may consider something as simple as posting on a blog or commenting on Facebook to be valid methods of communication. Remember, a very small percentage of U.S. college students get the opportunity to study abroad, so encourage your student to make a global network of friends- meet locals!
Throughout your student’s time abroad, it is likely that problems may arise. Problem solving is a part of everyday life and this will be no different when your student is abroad. We encourage you to support your student through any challenges, while remembering to let them solve problems on their own. These experiences can be some of the most significant life learning experiences, ones you will likely hear stories about for years to come, with your student’s pride in the fact that they solved the problem on their own. Again, problems are to be expected and there is always a solution.
What if their wallet is lost or stolen?
Your student should access the copies they have previously made of the items in their wallet to obtain credit/debit card contact information. Have your student notify their bank and credit card companies immediately to have any cards cancelled or placed on hold.
What if my student has an issue with housing?
It is possible your student may experience housing conflicts while abroad, and realistically, they have also probably witness similar conflicts in their housing at their home university. That being said, there is a resolution… The following are some common examples of housing issues and helpful ways for them to be resolved:
Homestay conflicts:It is our hose that your student’s homestay experience (if applicable) will be one of the best attributes to their entire time abroad. This integration will ideally provide your student with a unique window and access to the host culture. If your student finds themselves in conflict with members of their host family, please encourage them to approach the host family to discuss the concern. In most cases, conflicts can be attributed to a simple cultural misunderstanding... an element that is lost in translation. Often, as a result, both student and host family walk away with a better understanding of the other’s culture. If your student continues to have difficulties within their homestay accommodations, their next step is to then approach their Study Abroad Coordinator to further discuss a resolution to the matter.
Roommate conflicts: Frustrating as they may be, your student should approach the issue with a mature and respectful attitude. It is important for you and your student to also keep in mind that all parties are going through an adjustment process when learning to live among new people and new cultures. Encourage your student to first communicate with their roommate(s) about any conflict. If an agreed upon resolution is not met, they should then communicate their concerns with their Study Abroad Coordinator who can assist as mediators to the conflict at hand. Again, if the Study Abroad Coordinator is not aware of the conflicts your student is experiencing, they cannot extend their assistance.
Food concerns: Many Tennessee Tech University Study Abroad Programs include meals. If your student has specific dietary needs, please be sure they outline those needs/requests on their Study Abroad Student Application. If living in a homestay, once on site your student will want to communicate food likes and dislikes with their host family. If your student expresses a concern about the meals being provided, they should first communicate their concern with their host family. If your student’s concerns persist, they should contact their host resident staff. Your student should already be aware that depending on their program location and housing selection, the ability to accommodate specific food preferences will vary. Remember sharing meals and culinary traditions are great insights into another culture. Your student should take advantage of these opportunities to further learn about their host community. For example, your student can offer to cook their host family a “traditional” American dinner, or request to accompany the host family when shopping, preparing, and cooking the meals. This is a rewarding and collaborative way to share the culinary experience.
Frustrations with daily commute: Please keep in mind that it is highly likely that your student will have a significant daily commute between their housing and the host university. Many Tennessee Tech University Study Abroad programs are located in very large cities and commuting is simply part of the everyday routine. While your student may find this daily commute to be a burden, this can be a great time to explore the city through various routes, read local newspapers, finish coursework, get some exercise, observe the locals as they go about their day, or simply gaze out the window. Remember, flexibility is key to a successful study abroad experience and is always a great tool for traveling.
It is important to mention that because you are your student’s safety net, you may often times be used as a source to vent to regarding certain aspects of their study abroad that may be, at the time, frustrating or upsetting. We encourage you to support your student through any challenges, while remembering to let them solve problems on their own. In the event a problem arises, urge your student to speak with the on-site staff to discuss possibilities of bettering the situation. Although it may be an uncomfortable situation for your student, they must understand that the on-site staff is there as a resource to assist with any issues first hand. Furthermore, while the Study Abroad Coordinator welcomes feedback from our students’ families, in order for us to address a problem, we must hear the concerns from the student directly.
Culture shock is not only a process that occurs when going abroad, but also when returning home. This is referred to as reverse culture shock and can be just as challenging as the initial culture shock. Upon return, a student may experience difficulties in returning to their previous routine. This is a normal part of the re-entry process that students may experience due to the fact that they have learned to live and identify with another culture. It is therefore important for the student, family, and friends to be aware of the challenges that reverse culture shock can impose on everyday life. The impact of reverse culture shock is not necessarily related to the length of time spent abroad or the destination. When students return to the U.S., their emotions and reaction will vary and may include one or more of the following:
·Feelings of restlessness, boredom, depression, uncertainty, confusion, or isolation
·Reverse homesickness: missing the people, places, attitudes, or lifestyles of their host country
·Changes in career, academic, and social goals and priorities
·Negativity or intolerance towards their home culture including common behaviors, attitudes, and customs
·Frustrations with common social and academic practices on-campus
·Difficulty relating to and communicating with friends who haven’t shared the same experience
When your student returns from abroad, it is helpful for them to find outlets to cope with the challenges of reverse culture shock. There are many ways for them to stay connected with the time they spent abroad, enabling them to build upon their international experience. The following suggestions/activities are ways for your student to overcome the challenges associated with reverse culture shock, while also incorporating their international experience into their future academic, personal, and professional goals. A large investment of both time and money has been made to enable your student to experience this unique opportunity and we encourage them to maximize this investment. Just because your student has returned from abroad, doesn’t mean the study abroad experience, and benefits gained from it, have ended… it’s really just the beginning.
Ways to build upon academic goals:
·Add a minor or concentration to their academic degree using the credits they earned while abroad.
·Use their international experience to apply for grants and scholarships for which they may now be eligible.
·Study abroad again!
·Continue your education by completing a master’s degree abroad.
·Volunteer or intern internationally.
·Give presentations about their experience (to classmates, student organizations, fraternities/sororities, faculty members, local schools, church groups, after-school programs, community based organizations, etc.).
·Join or start a student club or organization (language clubs, international student club, study abroad returnee organization).
·Include their international experience on graduate school applications.
There are many offices and resources available at Tennessee Tech University to further assist with maximizing the study abroad experience. Upon return, encourage your student to reach out to the study abroad and international offices, writing center, financial aid office, career center, community outreach office, academic advisor, language lab, and faculty members. These resources are at your student’s finger tips.
Ways to build upon personal goals:
·Subscribe to international publications.
·Practice language skills (volunteer with community organizations as a translator or language tutor).
·Skype, Facebook, and exchange letters, postcards or emails with friends, families, and staff from their time abroad.
·Join Tennessee Tech University Study Abroad Facebook page.
·Review the blogs on our Study Abroad website or suggest they write their own blog.
Ways to build upon professional goals:
·Volunteer with their Study Abroad Office on-campus.
·Integrate their international experience into their resume and focus on how they are going to highlight their experience in job interviews (include specifics such as personal growth, managing group dynamics, problem solving, crisis management, etc.).
·Seek out international organizations, restaurants, events, and festivals in their community (a great way to network and survey job opportunities).