Preparing to Study Abroad
How to Help Students Help Themselves
Once your student has been accepted to participate in an off-campus program, parents are encouraged to offer emotional support and guidance as your student takes on the responsibility of preparing to study off-campus. Recommend to your student they obtain as much information as they can about their program requirements. Ask your student about required paperwork, health and safety issues, as well as travel arrangements such as visas, payments for the program, and accommodations. Encourage your student to begin to prepare emotionally for their adventure through an awareness of the cross-cultural adjustments that may occur upon arrival in their new community.
Learn About the Host Destination and Stay Informed
Increasing your knowledge about your student’s destination will help answer your questions and address your concerns about their upcoming journey. The CIA World Factbook provides general information about countries around the world including the history, people, government, economy, transportation, political conditions, surrounding area, and foreign and US relations. Guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet, are also a great reference for information on cultural practices. Additional resources, such as online newspapers from the community where your student is studying, are a great way to stay informed about the current events in their host destination.
World Travel Tips, http://www.worldtraveltips.net
CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
Lonely Planet Guidebooks, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
Let’s Go Guidebooks, http://www.letsgo.com/
Rough Guide, http://www.roughguides.com
Traveling and living in a different culture requires adjustment and adaptation. As students integrate into a new and unfamiliar culture they will likely experience some degree of culture shock. Culture shock is natural reaction to spending an extended period of time in a culture very different from your own, and the struggle to become competent in a new environment in which the rules, behaviors, food, language, and systems are all different from home. Normal feelings associated with culture shock include frustration, a sense of helplessness, confusion, homesickness, and depression. Culture shock is often described as an adjustment cycle, with an initial high point upon entry, a low point or the culture shock phase, and a high point near the end of the experience as the student learns to function successfully in their new environment. The process of going through culture shock is a powerful learning tool as students work through the challenges and emotions of cultural adjustment. Moving through the stages of cultural adjustment is a time of tremendous personal and academic growth in which students develop psychologically and socially. It is important to be aware that culture shock is not limited to travel abroad experiences. Students can experience culture shock throughout their lives, including when they begin a new career, get married, and live with new roommates.
The encouragement and support of family is a powerful tool throughout the adjustment process. The following is a description of the stages of cultural adjustment individuals experience when they enter a new environment. This information will help you recognize the stages of adjustment as well as how to support your student. Most often when a student is experiencing culture shock, no intervention is needed, with time and support, it can become a positive developmental experience.