In addition to the information covered in the Website, we want to highlight the following advice specifically for the families and friends of students participating in study abroad.
Programs have extensive safety plans and every consideration has been given to providing a safe and rewarding experience for your student. Safety procedures and emergency preparedness are outlined in the handbooks and are covered in the on-site orientation sessions. Please go over the guidelines in the handbook thoroughly with your student and encourage them to follow the instructions of the program director and staff regarding health and safety practices. Students do bear some of the responsibility for their own safety by choosing to follow the safety guidelines advised by the program and using good judgment while abroad.
Handling last minute doubts
It is common for students (and their parents and friends) to have last minute doubts about whether doing study abroad program is the right thing at this time. There may be concern about missing family and friends while so far away, worries about credit transferring and nervousness about travel in general. This is quite normal and we would encourage your student to give us a call before changing plans drastically at the last minute. Every semester there are a few students who have some anxiety and think about withdrawing, but they eventually do go and are very glad they did, so don’t let a normal case of “cold feet” prevent a student from having this educational experience.
Contact with your student while abroad
Keep in mind that your student may not be able to call you immediately from his or her program site – it depends on the country. Although some students are able to call within the first day or two, in some cases there are no phones with international lines or cell coverage nearby and the on-site orientations are often so intense that students do not have time to call right away. After the orientation period, the students may travel to areas where international telephone and email access may be limited or non-existent. Please do not be alarmed if you do not hear from your student for long periods of time. Usually, students simply haven’t been able to call, but they are still in close contact with the program staff. If you are concerned or if you need to reach your student immediately you may call the Office of Study Abroad and International Programs for students on Pitzer programs and exchanges (909) 621-8104 or the program sponsor if your student is on an alternate program.
Expect some culture shock
Many students are in a euphoric state during their first few weeks in a new country. This is known as the “honeymoon” phase. It is not unusual, however, for students to experience immediate culture shock or stress accompanied by actual physical symptoms. For some students this may not happen until the middle of the semester – the fifth through the seventh week are typical times. Adapting to another culture and living with a family or roommate from that culture can be very challenging, but it is in meeting these challenges that much learning will take place. Please know that the culture stress phase is a normal part of adjustment to a new situation and, with some persistence, this stage will pass. This knowledge will not necessarily make it any easier if you are the recipient of an emotional phone call or letter. Should you receive such a call at any point during the semester, remember to stay calm and know that students often turn to their family and friends at home when they are at the lowest points in their cultural adjustment process. In most cases, after airing their concerns and complaints, students hang up the phone feeling refreshed and renewed. Unfortunately you do not get to see that since you are so far away. Expressing confidence in your student’s ability to adjust and offering constructive advice (emphasizing the importance of a sense of humor, patience and adaptability) is the best thing you can do. If your student is having significant difficulty with any issues, encourage them to talk to the on-site program staff about their problems and concerns. The program directors are in the best position to help them over any hurdles and can provide a sympathetic ear and helpful strategies to get through this normal slump.
Visiting your student
Many of you may have the opportunity to visit your student during the study abroad period. We have found that the best time to visit is after the program has ended – then your student will be an excellent guide with new language skills and cultural knowledge and will have ample time to spend with visitors. Earlier visits can be problematic. Some programs are very structured with little free time, especially in the early weeks of the program. Students are expected to participate fully in all program activities and to spend a good portion of their free time with their host families or roommates to better understand the daily rhythms of the culture. Family and friends cannot join in most program activities, and host families should not be expected to accommodate visitors. There is usually a break during the program that would seem to be a good time for a visit but be forewarned that the program schedule may have to be adjusted without notice. Some students will be doing an independent study project, and the period devoted to this project is less structured. Students may have more flexibility during this time but they are meant to be doing research on their project and writing a substantial paper. Again, please consider visiting after the program ends.