How to Support Your Student

The Towson University Study Abroad Office encourages parents, friends, and family to take an active role in supporting their student's interest in study abroad. Your encouragement can make all the difference! Below you'll find some tips on how to best support your study before, during, and after their study abroad experience.

BEFORE THEY GO

Orientation

All students attend a mandatory Study Abroad Pre-Departure Orientation in the semester prior to their departure.

Country Research

Students should learn about the country where they will be studying and living in order to minimize culture shock and understand the context of their experiences.

The U.S. Department of State is a great resource for international travel. They provide free of charge updated information on the country, travel warnings, health and safety, overseas emergency advice, etc. They also have international travel safety information specifically for students.

There are many sources of information about the student’s host country: books, movies, embassies, magazines etc. Travel guidebooks are an excellent resource for obtaining information on the host country. The Study Abroad Office suggests purchasing a guidebook such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Let’s Go before departure.

Packing: What should my student bring with them abroad?

We recommend that students pack light since they will be carrying their own bags. The general rule of thumb is to pack what you think you will need, let it sit, and then remove half.

Airlines have become more stringent about observing their weight and size limits on luggage and the number of bags permitted per individual in recent years. Each airline has its own maximum amount the traveler is allowed. Check with the airline to find specific baggage allowances, weight or size restrictions and a list of restricted items for both international and domestic flights. Some students will take an in-country flight after arrival to reach the overseas institution and that flight may have different weight limits than the international flight. We recommend arriving at the airport three hours before departure for international flights.

Nearly everything available here can also be purchased overseas. We recommend purchasing or renting linens overseas, so as not to use up space in luggage and also because the sizes of beds overseas may be different from the standard U.S. size. Toiletries are available all over the world. Consider buying substitutes for U.S. brands after arrival. Even if available overseas, U.S. brands can be very expensive.

We do not recommend shipping boxes overseas because oftentimes it will cost more than bringing extra luggage due to the customs fees that are assessed on boxes entering the host country.

In addition to what was stated above, we recommend that students pack:

  • Good, comprehensive bilingual dictionary if living in a non-English speaking country.
  • Battery powered travel alarm clock.
  • A good travel guide like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.
  • Journal or diary is a good idea for a going-away gift. We recommend students keep one as it will be treasured in years to come.
  • Small photo album of the student’s family and friends.

Passport
A valid passport is required to enter and leave the United States and other countries, including Canada and Mexico. Instructions for obtaining or renewing a passport can be found on the Department of State's website.

Please check that their passport has not expired and that it will be valid for at least six months beyond their planned return to the United States.

Copy of their passport  
Advise your student to keep a copy of their passport information pages and number with them in case the original is lost or damaged. Keep the copy somewhere separate from the original. The Study Abroad Office requires a copy of each student's passport to have on file in case a copy is needed.

Be sure there is a specific place for them to keep their passport. Having a designated place leads to less confusion and easier access for them. When choosing the location make sure it is not an area that can be easily accessible to other people besides the student.

Visa
Most countries in the world require foreign visitors to obtain an entry visa. A visa is usually a stamp on a page of the passport that signifies an agreement on conditions of entry. In some cases, stays of more than three months require that you obtain a residence permit before leaving the country, instead of a visa. Common visa types are tourist, student, and work. Visa fees vary.

Visa and residence permit requirements vary widely. Please consult the U.S. Department of State Travel website for the most current information on entry and exit requirements for your student’s destination.

Birth Certificate
An official, state-certified birth certificate with a raised seal is invaluable if a passport is lost or stolen. A copy may be useful in the purchase of air tickets restricted to specific age groups.

Electronics / Electrical Appliances
Electricity voltage and plug sizes vary around the world. Consider buying electrical appliances upon arrival, substituting with battery operated, or in some cases doing without. Alternatively the student can buy converters and adapters for existing appliances before departure. They are available at travel, hardware or stores such as Target or Wal-Mart.

Laptops
Laptops with universal power supplies can be useful for your student depending on the program or exchange location and facilities. Electrical outlet adapters will be required but these can be purchased very inexpensively. We do not recommend that the student takes a desktop computer or printer abroad.

Internet access is widely available on most overseas campuses or in inexpensive internet cafes, but not in all overseas dorms or apartments. Please make sure the laptop is fully insured if they decide to take one abroad.

Note: Laptops are easily stolen and not mandatory for study abroad. Having to negotiate local computer labs is a good way to interact with locals and to meet people. Instant communication with home can prevent a student from building local support networks.

While They’re Abroad

Accessing Money Overseas

Students can withdraw funds with their ATM card at an ATM machine, without having to enter the bank. This is the easiest and least expensive way to obtain cash while overseas. We recommend students notify their bank that they will be using their card(s) abroad and confirm that their card is activated for international use.

A fee will probably be charged for using an ATM not owned by the home bank – students should check with their bank for applicable charges and ask if they have a partner bank in the host country.

Note: ATM machines may not be available in rural locations.

Other Options
Credit cards are widely used in most countries and are convenient for making purchases. Students should be sure to alert their credit card company of the location and dates they will be abroad. Be aware that using a credit card to obtain a cash advance (in local currency) can involve many hidden charges. These cash advances are often considered a loan and you can get an advance only up to the line of credit. Be advised that each time a withdrawal is made from the account, an additional and variable fee is applied. Check with the home bank and/or credit card companies for their fees. Credit Card Cash advances are recommended for emergencies only.

Note: The credit card bill will reflect the exchange rate on the day the credit transaction was processed.

In most cases it is not advisable or necessary to open a bank account in the host country.

Local currency
It is a good idea to plan to obtain some local currency to pay for initial expenses. There are currency exchange bureaus located at international airports (bring U.S. dollars to change), and most also have ATM machines. Some countries restrict how much currency can be brought in or out. Check with the appropriate embassy or consulate for any such requirements. Travel guidebooks always include information on how to get money as well.

Check current exchange rates online. 

Staying in touch

By phone
Most U.S. cell phones will not work abroad. It is usually less expensive to purchase or rent a cell phone from local providers in the host country after arrival, than to purchase a universal cell phone in the U.S. or pay for an international plan with existing cell phone carrier.

Students can also consider using land lines to be in touch with people at home. If your student is staying with a host family, be aware that they may only be able to use the phone at certain times of the day and may be required to pay for personal phone calls.

Email
Developing an email schedule may be better for the both of you. At times phone calls can seem rushed with no lasting conversation. Emails give both of you time to prepare what needs to be said and what information needs to be exchanged.

Skype/Viber/WhatsApp/Google Talk
There are several good apps that allow you to stay in touch with your student through audio, video, and/or text for free! 

'Snail' Mail
Being in constant contact with friends and family can lead to increased homesickness and may contribute to a student not engaging fully with locals and the local culture. One way to help combat homesickness and to keep in touch is to write letters. Having a letter to read and re-read can be a treasured gift that they can also save as a memento of their time abroad.

TIP: It is a good idea to know the time difference between you and your student. Developing a time chart can help avoid calls at unreasonable hours.

Trip Cancellation Insurance

Students may want to consider purchasing trip cancellation benefits to cover any losses incurred when canceling or changing travel itineraries. A guide to shopping for travel insurance and a list of insurance carriers is available in the resources section of the TU study abroad website.

Cultural Adjustment

The following outlines the stages of adjustment that characterize culture shock and suggests how friends and parents can offer support. For more information on culture shock and what to expect, go to the resources section on our website.

Honeymoon Period: Your student arrives overseas with great expectations and a positive mind-set. If anything, their expectations are too high and attitudes toward the host country and their upcoming experiences are unrealistic. Anything new is exciting at this stage but they mostly notice similarities between cultures. This state of 'euphoria' may last from a week or two to a month, but the letdown is inevitable.

How to help: Listen and remember these stories for future reference. Asking specific questions can make the experience come alive for you as well.

Irritation and Hostility: The focus turns from similarities to differences. Your student begins to see differences everywhere and the differences noticed are troubling and unsettling. Insignificant difficulties turn into major catastrophes. This stage is identified as "culture shock" – your student may experience any or all of the symptoms associated with this stage.

How to help: At this point, you will be hearing about what is wrong and your student may be contacting you only during their low points. Try to remember that they are also experiencing periods of happiness, so do not automatically conclude that your student must return home immediately. Encourage your student to be specific about what is going wrong and to seek help with local representatives for solutions to concrete problems. You can recommend that your student get involved with local clubs or groups to make connections with people with similar interests – it’s important to stay busy and set realistic goals during this period. Everyone goes through some level of culture shock – help your student to realize that there is no shame in admitting they are experiencing culture shock and that many others have survived it.

Suggest some of the following activities that can aid in adjusting to a new culture and way of life:

  • Share feelings with other foreign students or advisers.
  • Write in a journal or read a letter from family or friends.
  • Improve language abilities through talking to people, going to the movies, reading local papers and magazines.
  • Learn about the new school and the new neighborhood.
  • Pursue or develop a hobby.
  • Join a club or athletic team.
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in.
  • Plan excursions.
  • Maintain a sense of humor.
  • Speak with people in the International Office at your host university or your Program Director or TU Study Abroad Adviser.

Adjustment: The crisis is now over and your student is on their way to recovery. This step may come gradually at first. They begin to orient themselves and are able to interpret some of the subtle cultural clues which went unnoticed earlier - the culture will seem more familiar. Your student becomes more comfortable and feel less isolated.

How to help: Recognize that your student is making it through the storm, and revel in the stories of successes, new friendships, experiences, travel, etc.! Their survival seems assured, and they may even find success!

Acceptance (biculturalism): Your students can now function in two cultures with confidence. They can maintain your own culture and recognize that members of other cultures rightfully want to do the same. They find many new ways of doing and saying things. Personal attitudes in their host culture have become enjoyable and they will miss them when they return home. You can expect your student to experience "reverse culture shock" upon their return to the US. In some cases reverse culture shock can cause greater distress than the original culture shock.

How to help: Don’t judge the student who adopts new habits or outlooks on life. Maintaining some customs and habits fondly reminds the student of their home away from home. Listen to stories and look at photos from the time abroad.

Visiting Your Student Overseas

It can be a wonderful opportunity to visit your son or daughter overseas and gain insight into their experience studying abroad. Please respect the academic calendar of your student’s host institution and do not plan visits that jeopardize any academic responsibilities your student may have. Instead, visiting during vacation periods or after the program has ended will allow your student maximum freedom to demonstrate their mastery of their new hometown and to show you around without constraints.

When They Get Back

Reverse culture shock

Remember that culture shock can happen upon return to the United States as well. Upon returning home, you may find that your student experiences disorientation and a yearning for the host culture. The steps they took to adjust to the host environment will be useful in readjustment to the home environment: keep busy and set goals. Remind your student to give it time to readjust and to keep an open mind.

Some students who did not experience culture shock while abroad will instead suffer from it upon their return home. Parents can use the same tools outlined above for culture shock overseas to help the student adjust to reverse culture shock at home.

Please remember that the Study Abroad Office is also available for help, and that we are interested in talking with your student about their experiences, seeing their photographs, and helping them readjust to life back on campus. We offer a reentry conference to meet the students’ needs, and will advertise activities on our website, as well as informing the student directly.

One Last Thing

We also encourage parents to apply for a passport. If you already have one, be sure that it is current and it will not expire while your student is abroad. In an emergency situation, having a passport gives you the ability to immediately fly to your student’s host country. If there is a crisis, we know, the last thing you want is to spent time on paperwork (or pay excessive fees) if your student needs you.

Have a question that was not answered here? Please contact our office at .

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