This is the third of a series of three posts about college students and studying abroad. In the first post we looked at some of the reasons why a study abroad program might make sense for your college student. In the second post, we considered how to help your student prepare to go abroad, and in this final post we look at what to do while he is away.
Your college student has headed off confidently (or perhaps with a bit of trepidation) on her study abroad experience. You are proud of her, excited for her, and perhaps, a bit concerned for her. You know that the experience is important and wonderful for her, but you are a parent and you worry. Here are a few suggestions of things that you can do to help ease the transition – for her – and for you.
Stay in touch – but not too much.
There are so many ways to keep in touch these days. Your student may have an international cell phone, she may have skype on her computer, she may have e-mail and text message access. You want to stay in touch and hear how things are going, and your student probably wants to share. But try to keep the contact to a reasonable amount. If your student is constantly checking in with you – or her friends at home – she may not be taking the time and making the effort to make new contacts in her host country or to immerse herself in the new culture. Once the first few days of adjustment are over, decide with your student on reasonable communication. Perhaps you will decide to talk once a week, or to stick to mostly e-mail, or to write a blog or actual snail mail letters.
Remember that Culture Shock is real.
Your student will go through a transition while she is away. The concept of culture shock is a real phenomenon. Once the initial “honeymoon” period is over, your student may go through a phase of negativity and discouragement. Be prepared if you get some phone calls or e-mails in which everything sounds dismal. Your student may be finding fault with everything, nothing is going right, classes are awful, roommates are miserable, the food is terrible. Be patient and supportive. Use your best listening skills. This is a normal phase (not unlike what happens to many students during freshman year) and it will pass for almost all students. Soon she will be integrating into her new culture – and may eventually have some difficulty adjusting back once she gets home.
Encourage your student to send photos.
Whether they are digital or hard-copy photos, pictures will help you visualize your student in his new environment. He will be anxious to share his new “home” and his new friends. Encourage him to send or post pictures often. (And don’t forget to do the same so that he can stay up to date with what is happening at home.)
Buy a good map.
Try to buy a map of the country and/or city where your student is located. Mark the school and his apartment or dorm. As he tells you about his adventures, mark them on the map. It will help you visualize where he is and what he is doing. (He may appreciate being given the map later as documentation of his travels.)
Be aware of vacations, school breaks, or holidays.
Remember that vacations and holidays may be significantly different in your student’s host country. Try to be aware of his schedule. Does he have a school break? Are you celebrating a significant holiday (such as Thanksgiving) that is a regular school day for him?
Now more than ever, mail and care packages from home will be appreciated. Your student may be especially grateful for familiar foods or cosmetic items. (Be sure to check customs regulations.) Cards, newspaper items, drawings by siblings, and notes will be especially meaningful. Packages do not need to be large or contain expensive items. Personal items and familiar items are very welcome.
If you plan to visit, plan carefully.
Visiting your student while she is abroad may provide a wonderful opportunity for other members of the family to visit. If you plan to visit your student, think about several things before you make your travel arrangements.
- Don’t visit too soon. Give your student time to adjust to his new environment before you arrive.
- Remember that your student may not be on vacation even though you are. Don’t expect him to be able to take time to travel with you. He may need to be attending classes or taking exams.
- Relax and let your student be the host. She will enjoying showing off her new environment.
Express confidence in your student.
Your student has come a long way. If you can remember those feelings you may have had as you dropped her off for freshman year, you will realize how many changes have taken place. You know that your student is capable. Continue to let her know that you believe in her and her abilities, that you are proud of her accomplishments, and that you know that she can handle whatever might arise during her stay away. Let her know that you miss her, and will be happy to see her when she returns, but that you are excited that she has this opportunity.