Supporting Your Student
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Parents and family members can be key supporters of student's education abroad experiences. The UW-Platteville Education Abroad staff hopes that by reading the information below and speaking to their student, parents and family members will better understand the education abroad process and can support their student accordingly.
the Application Process
The UW-Platteville Education Abroad office is student-centered and communicates all essential information to students directly as they are the ones embarking on the international experience. As such, students often times already have access to information that parents may be curious about via their UW-Platteville Education Abroad online application. Family members are encouraged to first approach their student with questions, and if the student does not have the answer, encourage them to contact the UW-Platteville Education Abroad office themselves. Doing so will help students be more accountable for their international experience and will help prepare them to be more independent abroad.
While the UW-Platteville Education Abroad staff members are more than happy to speak to and meet with parents and family members to answer questions, in some cases, student-specific information cannot be shared because of the U.S. government's Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
As a backup and for family members' peace of mind, it is helpful to prepare an "education abroad folder" with copies of all the essential documents and information for both the student and the family. It is suggested that copies of each of the following are on hand:
- U.S. Passport
- Visa and corresponding documents (if applicable)
- Credit and debit cards photocopies (front and back)
- Banking account information (it is also recommended that a parent or other trusted family member be made a co-signer on the account while the student is abroad.
- CISI health insurance information (copy of the card and the policy)
- All flight information and itineraries
- Accommodation information (if the student is traveling before or after the program)
- UW-Platteville Education Abroad office contact information
Even though students are thousands of miles away, there are still ways in which parents and family members can support their student while they're abroad:
Find out about the host country and stay informed
Parents and family members are encouraged to find out more about their student’s host country and to stay informed about current events in the country and region. Gaining more knowledge about the destination may help to answer questions and address concerns, and there are a variety of books on the market which provide basic information for studying and traveling abroad. For recommendations on health, safety, and staying informed about the student’s host city and country, please see the Health and Safety page.
Online communication via e-mail, Skype, social media, etc. can be easy if both the family and the student have access to the internet. However, it is important to understand that internet access abroad is not always as readily available as it is in the U.S. Furthermore, daily online contact is not always recommended as students need to separate themselves a bit from home as they build connections abroad. Encourage students to limit their time communicating home and set a weekly “date” to Skype, e-mail, and otherwise catch up with family back home.
Visiting students abroad
For families who want to visit their student abroad, UW-Platteville Education Abroad recommends arranging visits to coincide with vacation times or after the program has ended. Then students do not have to make the difficult choice between academic work and having fun showing visitors their host country and culture.
All students, regardless of maturity, previous experience abroad, or knowledge of the country in which they will be living, experience some degree of culture shock. Culture shock is a term used to describe some of the more pronounced reactions to spending an extended period of time in a culture very different from their own.
Culture shock can be characterized by periods of frustration, adjustment, and even depression. The worst homesickness often occurs two to three months after students leave home, and it is common for students to call or write home more during moments of low morale. Consequently, families often picture a more negative situation than actually exists. There is no one way to experience culture shock. It may be acute or barely noticeable. Parents may find it returns once again after they thought their student had already passed through all the stages or may not even be aware that the student is going through culture shock or to what extent. Simply be aware that culture shock exists, that it will probably affect the student in one way or another, but that it does not last forever. Culture shock can be a very valuable experience, which can leave people with broader perspectives, deeper insight into themselves, and a wider tolerance for other people.
It is helpful to be able to recognize when it occurs so families will understand what is really happening. The following information (adapted from Robert L. Kohls' Survival Kit for Overseas Living) breaks down of the four stages of cultural adaptation and may help families recognize the process as it happens to their student:
Honeymoon Phase: Adjustment to a new culture tends to occur in stages. Initially, there is a honeymoon phase. As the student is in a new country, and everything is exhilarating and exciting. Perhaps they are involved in a flurry of orientation and getting settled, getting hosted around the town or city. The sights, sounds and tastes are all a new adventure. And, at first, the student may even see more of the similarities between the host country and the U.S. than the differences.
Suggestions for support: Listen to the student's exciting stories and appreciate the unique experiences they have the opportunity to enjoy. Remember these good experiences to use when times become more challenging. Some cultures are so different from the United States’ that it may be difficult for the student to put it into words. Ask the student specific questions about the country, culture, and people in order to make the experience clear to everyone back home.
Irritability and Hostility: After the first couple of weeks, the initial excitement might pass and the student may begin to confront the deeper differences in their new location. Maybe they will be tired of the food or struggling with the language, the university may seem incomprehensible and bureaucratic, they may be tired of long commutes whenever going somewhere, or they may notice that everything is much more expensive than they originally anticipated or perhaps things are less expensive, but not of the quality or variety that is customary at home. The initial enthusiasm has drifted away and the student has entered the stage of irritability and hostility. Worse, the student may just feel like they don’t really belong.
Suggestions for support: During the first few weeks, it is not uncommon for students to contact home upset about some aspect of the new culture, people, and program. It is important for parents to remember that students may initially focus on what is going wrong in the program, rather than right. Find out exactly what is frustrating the student, but avoid judging the cultural differences. Be supportive of the student and encourage them to discuss these issues with the on-site staff who has dealt with many students in these situations and is well prepared to help students during the initial adjustment period.|
Gradual adjustment: Be patient. Almost always, the initial struggles will disappear with time and the student will experience a stage of gradual adjustment. A sense of humor will reappear. Things that seemed strange or just inconvenient will gradually become familiar. The student will be able to function more easily within the culture. When contacting home, the participant will begin sharing the enjoyable experiences with their family again.
Suggestions for support: Listen to the student's stories with interest. Congratulate them for understanding the social norms, making local friends, and other such successes as the student is slowly adapting to new surroundings.
- Adaptation or Biculturalism: Lastly, there is the stage of adaptation or biculturalism. The student has managed to retain their own cultural identity but recognizes the right of other cultures to retain theirs. The participant has a better understanding of themself and others and can communicate easily and convey warmth and understanding across the cultural barriers.
Although it may seem like a long way off, UW-Platteville Education Abroad suggests that parents start thinking now about their student's return to the United States after the program ends. Students often go through a phase of "reverse" or "re-entry" culture shock when they return home, sometimes more challenging than what they went through abroad. They expect to go through adjustments in foreign countries, but do not always realize that life has continued on without them at home and there may be changes for which they were not prepared. As with culture shock, one way to alleviate the difficulty of re-entry shock is to keep the student aware of what is going on at home. Students often go through periods of mild depression once they return home because of feelings that no one is interested in what they experienced in their time abroad.
Faced with questions such as "How was your time in...?" a student often can only answer "Great!" before conversation moves on to another subject. Encourage friends and family members to ask more specific questions like "What were the best things about living abroad? The most difficult? What places did you visit? Are people's daily lives the same as in the United States? Do you have any pictures?" Have a party where the student can show off food, customs, and souvenirs from their travels. Not only will such questions and activities remind students they had a worthwhile experience and help them to readjust, it will help others in the community or family learn more about the world.
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