Before your student leaves, you should make a plan for communicating with each other while he or she is abroad.
- When and how will your student contact you upon arrival in the host country? Options could include; buying a SIM card for the current cell phone; buying a cell phone on-site; using VoIP (internet-based verbal/video communication) via a service like Skype; or even buying a local phone card and calling on a pay phone.
- Set a regularly scheduled check-in, making sure not to make it too often. Plan to be flexible due to class schedule, traveling, time zone differences, and other events that will be happening.
- Have a system in place for connecting in case of an emergency. Designate relatives or close family friends to call in the United States, and (if possible) in his/her part of the world, in the event that you have trouble contacting each other.
Remember that the more time your student spends communicating with family and friends at home, the less time he/she will spend integrating into the local culture, one of the main experiences he/she is hoping to gain by studying abroad. If your student is busy and fully engaged in the study abroad experience, there will be less time to email/call you, which is a positive thing! Encourage your student to communicate when they can, and to tell you about all of the things they are learning and doing. This will help him or her make the most of their experience, while still including you.
Ways to Communicate
- Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calls to other users of the service are free, while calls to landlines and mobile phones can be made for a small fee. Additional features include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing.
- Cell phones, usually on prepaid plans, are also very popular in some countries. Phones can be purchased (or sometimes rented locally) for a fee. Most mobile phones work using a SIM card, on which your student can purchase minutes. Minutes will be deducted from the account for outgoing calls (incoming calls abroad are free) and text messages. Students can “top up” their account at any time to add more minutes. Rates vary by provider.
- International calling cards are also an option; it is generally best to purchase them abroad as those offer the best value.
- Snail mail via the postal service can take quite a bit of time, and packages can pose added challenges. Excessive charges on packages can sometimes surpass the value of the items being sent. Check and verify any customs procedures and regulations before sending a package to your student; items taken out of original packaging that appear to be personal in nature or that would have no commercial value should be clearly marked as such in order to avoid being assessed as imported goods.
- Almost anyone who travels, works, or studies abroad will experience culture shock to some degree. This is not only a normal part of the experience, but may actually present some of the best opportunities for intercultural learning and personal growth. Culture shock is rarely identified as such by the person experiencing it, instead it may feel as if there is a problem with the host country, the program, or the local population. This can even be true despite having an understanding of the “symptoms.”
- Students are much more likely to share the negatives than the positives, as students are more likely to call in times of frustration. It’s important to remind your student that while differences can be uncomfortable, they can also contribute to a great experience. Avoid getting overly involved. Encourage him/her to stay positive and to work things out, while still letting him/her know that you are there to listen and to be a support.
- If your student calls home saying he/she wants to come home, having made a mistake by going abroad, the best response is to be patient. Living in a new place that has different values, expectations, standards, and practices than those at home can be difficult, especially without one’s usual support network. Encourage your student to be patient with him/herself and to make the most of everyday until coming home. In serious cases, your student should contact the on-site program/university staff or his/her study abroad advisor at SAIC.
- Visiting your student abroad can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved; however, good timing is key. Allow your student to work through the initial transition to life abroad independently, and consider visiting after the completion of the program. He/she will be able to show you around, impress you with new language skills and competency, and enjoy your company.
- Some programs may prohibit or limit visits to certain times (i.e., scheduled holiday breaks, or post-completion). If your student is in accommodation arranged by the program, do not assume that you will be allowed to stay with him/her; seek out separate accommodation for your stay.
- Don’t feel badly if you are unable to visit—some students actually prefer to keep the experience their own. You will be able to share the experience with your student via email, pictures, and souvenirs when they return. Just remember to leave plenty of time for sharing once he/she returns.
- Some students have difficulty readjusting to life at home, including resuming relationships with friends and family and getting back into the routine of school, upon return. Symptoms can be very similar to the initial culture shock that students experience when first going abroad.
- You can help your student through this period by listening to stories, looking at photos, and showing genuine interest in his/her experiences, and encouraging him/her to stay in contact with the friends made abroad. Encourage your student to connect with his/her Study Abroad advisor as a way to process the experience upon return.
- Be prepared for change (typically positive), upon your student's return. Acknowledge/affirm the changes you see.