So your student has decided to study abroad. Congratulations! He or she is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. What do you need to know to be supportive during this process?
We hope you are proud that your student is interested in seeing more of the world, making new friends from other cultures, developing cross-cultural competence, and enhancing their academic interests and career prospects.
By now, your student has met with and discussed their program with a UNCG Study Abroad Advisor, completed the study abroad application and other requisite forms. For the rest of the semester, your student will be attending to logistical matters as well as the academic preparations involved in studying abroad. We know you will be with your student every step of the way so we want to help answer some of the questions and concerns you might have on topics relevant to your student’s overseas experience. Other useful websites and references are also on our website at: studyabroad.uncg.edu
The Center for Global Education also has an excellent resource site: www.studentsabroad.com/resources.html.
Study Abroad is a unique educational and cultural opportunity for all students at UNCG. The 18th century French author Fougeret de Monbron wrote that “The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only a page.”
We will try our best to help your student get a good start for a productive and enjoyable experience, but your support and interest are equally important. Together, we can ensure that our overseas scholar gets to read many pages of this great book!
– IPC Study Abroad staff
In today’s global society, an international experience has become an essential component of higher education. Studying abroad enriches students’ academic experience. The benefits of studying abroad are many and varied:
- Students get to live in interesting places
- Students can study at often prestigious universities abroad
- Students are able to hone their interpersonal, foreign language, teamwork and communication skills
- Students become more adaptive, assertive and independent
- Students increase their confidence and self-assurance
- Students are able to enhance their professional credentials, adding experience to their résumé
- Students become more culturally sensitive
- Students are able to explore different majors and careers and develop a better idea of what they would like to do after they graduate
Your student has already met with their advisor at UNCG about studying abroad. The advisor assisted your student in deciding what courses would benefit them while they were abroad. While your student’s advisor will be available to answer questions and offer assistance for the rest of the semester, the student should assume the primary responsibility of staying on top of things.
We expect the student to complete all UNCG Study Abroad required forms, return host university or program forms in a timely manner, obtain course approval, secure the requisite travel documents, make travel plans, and do the necessary preparations for life overseas, such as familiarizing himself or herself with the host country, getting information about the academic program, meeting with returned and exchange students, setting up a communication plan with family and friends, and attending to financial matters.
Upon acceptance to the Host University, your student will receive a packet of information in the mail, be given access to a program website, or get important documents by e-mail. These materials could include an official letter of acceptance, housing information, pre-registration forms, visa application information, arrival instructions, the onsite orientation program, and information about the university. We instruct our participants to go through these documents carefully, follow instructions, and share the information with family and significant others.
Frequently, the acceptance materials will include time-sensitive materials that have to be returned to the host university or program organizer, i.e., university forms, instructions about remitting a deposit or the housing fee.
We also encourage students to keep you informed about their Study Abroad program or to refer you to the appropriate websites and resources for additional information.
The federal law known as the Family Education Reform and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents us from releasing information that concerns students even to immediate family members. If you have questions, your first point of contact should be your student who will most likely have the information already.
Study Abroad programs are just that – study. They are not vacations or tours in different countries, or a break from a student’s studies at UNCG. Students must attend class, meet all course requirements, stay for the duration of the program, take their examinations, and earn respectable grades during their time overseas. All courses taken will be posted to students’ UNCG transcripts as the “equivalent” UNCG course.
UNCG has always insisted that students should still be able to graduate on time if they study abroad. We encouraged students to make plans as early as possible if they wish to study abroad so they can choose the program that will allow them to take courses that will fit their UNCG degree program.
Students get transfer credit for courses taken abroad (i.e. grades do not transfer). Before departure, your student must work with his or her Academic Advisor to choose the courses to be taken abroad. Because these courses will count toward graduation, they must be equivalent to the student’s UNCG degree requirements. The courses and their corresponding UNCG course equivalents will then be recorded on the Transfer Credit Form, which the student must file with the International Programs Center by the end of the semester.
Students remain enrolled at UNCG while participating in a Study Abroad program. The International Programs Center will register your student for 12 credits per semester, which keeps them active at UNCG and activates Financial Aid.
While abroad, your student must maintain full-time status, i.e., he or she should take the course equivalent of at least 12 UNCG credits. If the student does not fulfill this requirement, he or she could potentially lose financial aid benefits in the following semesters.
Neither the IPC nor UNCG has any influence on how courses overseas are conducted. All UNCG study abroad students have been instructed to find out as much as possible, from various sources (past participants, exchange students, program representatives, online information), about the academic system of the program in which he or she is participating and what can be done to be successful. We do not make adjustments to grades students earn when they study overseas notwithstanding the differences between U.S. and international academic evaluation standards. There is a standard conversion table that gives the U.S. letter grade equivalents for grades earned in various countries. For example, a “D” earned while studying in Australia is an “A” in the United States (“D” stands for “Distinction” in the Australian grading scheme).
It is important for students to know what the academic system is like at their host institution. In many countries, higher education is a privilege and one of the things our students very quickly learn is that there is less hand-holding in universities abroad than what they are used to at UNCG. Overseas students also take courses in their area of specialization immediately, unlike in the United States where students typically take introductory courses during their first year. Grade inflation is also nonexistent abroad. In France, for example, a D or C is more typical, as a B is nearly impossible, and an A is an act of providence.
How do UNCG students fare when they study abroad? Pretty well, actually. Many UNCG students know to expect the more challenging academic environment and rise to the occasion. They claim that having more control over their studies, time to pursue their own academic interests, and being regarded as a scholar by their professors is an excellent motivator. If your student earns top marks for courses taken abroad, you know that they did very, very well indeed!
The student’s transcript generally arrives from the host institution within a few months after the study abroad period has been completed. There is no deadline for sending transcripts however, and they are mailed to the IPC following the host institution’s timetable. Once we have your student’s transcript, the IPC will contact the student about scheduling a Transfer Credit Appointment. Once the student receives official signatures from departmental advisors, the individual courses are entered into the student’s official record. This entire process may take up to several months.
UNCG requires all students to take the equivalent of at least 12 UNCG credits per semester. Typically, that will be about 4-5 courses, depending on the country in which the student is studying.
No. UNCG requires all Study Abroad Students to take the equivalent of at least 12 UNCG credits every semester. So they can make progress on their degree program while abroad, students should try to choose courses that will take the place of some of their degree requirements.
Students must consult their academic advisor to determine (a) which courses to take while overseas, and (b) how many credits will be assigned to each course. If students take less than 12 credits, they could lose their financial aid.
No. Students will receive transfer credits for participating in a UNCG study abroad program. The student’s GPA will not change during their time abroad.
Yes and yes.
Because students receive academic credit for courses taken abroad, it makes sense to take courses that will enable them to make progress toward their degree requirement. In fact, what gets recorded on their academic record are the designated UNCG equivalents of the courses taken overseas. Securing course approval ensures that students are going to take the appropriate course so that they and their academic advisor will know exactly what degree requirements they are satisfying while abroad.
It is required to secure approval for all courses to be taken abroad if the student hopes to graduate on time. If the student would like to get additional approvals, it is possible to get them while overseas. The student should email his or her academic advisor to make the request. He or she must provide the syllabus for each course.
If a student takes a course that has not been pre-approved he or she will receive credit hours for the course, but there is no guarantee it will satisfy degree requirements.
The application fee for a semester/year exchange program is $250. This fee is not refundable once the student has been nominated to study abroad.
If your student is participating in an exchange program, you will be charged the regular UNCG semester tuition and fees, plus the cost of international health and medical insurance for the duration of the student’s program (about $40 per month). As statements are no longer mailed out by the Cashier’s Office, be sure to have your student check UNCGenie for the final bill amount.
Payment of the UNCG bill (tuition and fees and insurance) must be made in full by the requested deadline. Failure to pay on time will result in the cancellation of a student’s registration at UNCG.
The International Programs Center awards each student a travel grant ranging from $700-$1300. Students apply for these on their study abroad application. If your student is receiving federal financial aid, the funds will be applied to tuition, as usual. The award, however, will not be issued until the start of the UNCG semester. For programs that start before the regular semester (e.g. Australia, S. America) you will most likely have to shoulder travel and other initial expenses.
If your student is a scholarship recipient, please confirm with the appropriate scholarship agency or administrative office that those benefits will apply if the student studies abroad.
While the IPC believes that students are in no more danger by studying abroad than by staying in the United States, we take safety concerns very seriously. Please be assured that the social and political climate in the area in which your student will be traveling is conducive to studying. Our approach to safety includes careful monitoring of U.S. Department of State travel warnings and advisories, regular consultations with colleagues around the country, with responsible officials of foreign host universities, with contacts in the U.S. Department of State and other agencies, and with other experts who are well informed on international issues and events.
We have also implemented an emergency preparedness and crisis response plan. The response plan calls for working with overseas partners as well as University officials in developing any necessary action plans. All students are encouraged to register with the Department of State and the US Embassy in their host country.
For more information concerning the safety and health of your student, please see the State Departments students abroad website at http://studentsabroad.state.gov/
We cannot, however, guarantee the absolute safety of each participant. Similarly, we also cannot monitor the daily personal decisions of individual participants any more than is the case on the home campus. We can only encourage students to use common sense when going about their daily life abroad.
To offset safety concerns, we address these issues thoroughly in the mandatory orientation and pre-departure meeting. We encourage you to discuss safety with your student and to develop a plan for emergency (e.g. family health or natural disaster).
The medical insurance that covers your family is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs also do not cover medical services outside this country.
Furthermore, doctors and hospitals abroad often expect immediate cash payments for medical services.
For these reasons, UNCG has mandated that all students on exchange programs will be enrolled by the IPC for insurance coverage.
This coverage is provided through HTH Worldwide: www.hthstudents.com
The policy covers them from the official start to date of the program to the last date students are required to be there.
Additional coverage can be arranged if your student plans to do some traveling either before the official start date of the program or after the program ends.
If your student plans to do some traveling either before the official start date of the program or after the program ends, you may opt to extend his or her coverage.
Studying abroad will certainly be a defining period in your student’s educational experience. It will be a personal journey that will likely transform your student into a global citizen with new ideas and perspectives about the world and its people. Studying abroad is also an experience that will distinguish your student from peers and enable him or her to stand out in the eyes of prospective employers or post-graduate interviewers.
Just the same, we understand that there will be conflicting feelings about the upcoming experience. You and your student are excited at the opportunities that lie ahead but at the same time, there is some trepidation about being several thousand miles apart.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do before, during, and after the study abroad period to support and maximize the learning experience of your student. Your support is very important and how you handle the time away will go a long way toward enabling your student to thrive and learn from the overseas experience.
Encourage your student to be in charge of pre-departure preparations. Students will have to do many of the tasks involved in preparing to study abroad while attending to their regular semester activities. This is a delicate balance: ensuring your student is prepared for the time abroad while letting them take the lead at the beginning of this new experience. As tempting as it may be to relieve your student of some of the responsibilities, he or she will be in a better position to cope with next semester’s challenges if the student attends to pre-departure preparations personally. Next semester, the reliable support network of family and friends will not be as readily available and students must be prepared to fend for themselves. If the student has had very few opportunities to handle challenges at home, imagine how daunting it could be to have to do so in another culture. So stand back and let your student handle this responsibility. There is no better time to start flexing those muscles to stand on one’s feet than now!
Stay in touch but maintain a level of distance. One way to reduce the feeling of homesickness next semester is to for you and your student to stay in touch regularly. There is a close correlation between morale abroad and messages from home. Stay informed about current events in the country and region where the student is studying. Many friends and family find reading about the overseas location to be both interesting and a good way to feel more in touch with the experiences of their student. However, while you will be very eager to know everything about your student’s novel experiences, it is usually not a good idea to encourage your student to call or email home constantly. If the student is always on the phone or the Internet communicating with family and friends, the incentive to integrate with the community abroad is much decreased. Instead of exploring the host country, learning the traditions and norms of the host culture, and making friends with the locals, the student is spending precious time emailing or calling people back home. If the student is participating in a language program, he or she would more readily improve second language proficiency by immersion in that language rather than communicating extensively in English by email or phone.
You can support your student’s efforts to become more immersed in the host culture by reassuring him or her that you do not expect frequent, long e-mail messages, a daily phone call, or text messages several times a day. By doing this, you are giving your student permission to spread his or her wings and fly — and in all likelihood, they will!
There is also a phenomenon that’s referred to as “destructive dialing.” This is a situation in which a student gets upset about something and calls home; the parent gets upset and calls back later, making the student more upset—and so on until the situation reaches a crisis point. You’ll want to avoid that, and regular, limited calling can help do so. Make it clear to your overseas scholar that you expect him or her to be resilient and resourceful enough to overcome minor road bumps along the way—and to reach out to appropriate resources and advisors.
Time your visits to minimize disruption. If you are planning to visit your student, try not to do so when the term is just getting started. At this early stage, the student is still getting accustomed to the norms of the culture, to the academic system, to the city and how to get around. Instead, give him or her time to adjust to the new environment, acquire mastery of the local language, and develop new expertise, skills, and knowledge to show off when you do come. If you hold off your visit until later in the semester, your student would have gotten over culture shock and has already made the transition to life in his or her host city. The student will also really relish showing you around and you get the benefit of having a knowledgeable guide to introduce you to the city and country. For once, you don’t have to lift a finger! You can just sit back and let your traveler to do all the work planning the itinerary! You will be proudly introduced to his or her new friends, taken to the group’s favorite local hangout, given an informative walking tour of the city, and others. It will be a very positive experience for you and the student.
If you do visit, also try not to undermine the student’s academic commitment by pulling them from class for vacation jaunts. Instead, get a copy of the student’s semester schedule and schedule your trip during program vacations.
One thing we strongly discourage parents from doing is to accompany the student to the program’s location. This can be disruptive to the program staff and other participants and may prevent your student from getting off to a good start.
Culture shock can and will happen — but it passes. Still, it is true that it won’t always be easy, and your student will encounter some challenging situations while overseas. He or she might have to adjust to a new academic system, find university procedures bewildering, dislike the more modest accommodations, or have trouble communicating in the local language. The onsite university staff is there to assist students and issues are usually resolved after direct intervention, usually after a student has had time to settle down in the new environment.
Remember that complaints usually occur during the student’s first few weeks overseas. Many of the situations that cause students to feel anxious are simply new situations to which they will eventually adapt. Thus, resist the temptation to solve the problem yourself, intercede with host university or program staff on behalf of the student, or, even fly the student home.
Though you might feel anxious or alarmed to hear your student complaining, there is really little that you or the IPC staff can do from here. Instead, provide a sympathetic ear but encourage your student to show some patience, learn to go with the flow, have a sense of humor, engage the people in the host culture, find reasons for perceived cultural differences, and not to despair if assistance is not immediately forthcoming.
Urge the student to work on being more independent, figure out possible solutions to problematic situations, request assistance from program or university staff if the task seems too daunting, seek out local students who know the ropes and could provide invaluable suggestions, or discuss the problem with the host family to get tips on how to handle the problem. Express confidence at the student’s ability to handle the problem himself or herself. More than likely, the student will come through —in a blaze of colors!
However, if you feel your student is facing an unsafe or perilous situation, please contact the IPC. We will follow up with the host institution on your behalf.
Prepare for the transformation. Your student will return home changed by the experience. He or she may dress a bit differently, like new foods, speak differently, express new political perspectives, or even speak somewhat disparagingly of the United States. This is normal. Your daily routine probably changed very little during the time the student was abroad. On the other hand, your student’s life was anything but routine! He or she was exposed to a plethora of new ideas, practices, and philosophies. Do expect some changes and be patient. It will take time before your student sorts through his or her experiences to determine which traits and personal lessons learned abroad are worth keeping.
Be prepared also for some reverse culture shock. After the excitement of being back and regaling friends and family with tales of their adventures, many students find themselves moping and feeling sad because they miss their new friends, the novel experiences that happened almost daily, the exciting activities, or their favorite food. Your student might express boredom, assert that his or her life has become quite ordinary, and suggest that he or she spend time abroad again.
Again, your support, interest, and understanding will be crucial. Discussing these feelings and changes in your student’s outlook is an excellent way of sharing his or her international experience. Encourage him or her to stay in touch with overseas friends but to find local avenues in which the knowledge and skills gained from their time abroad could be useful. In time, your student will fully readjust to being back though most likely changed by his or her time overseas.
“Culture shock” is the term given to the collection of feelings that sometimes arise when travelers are overwhelmed by cultural differences. The symptoms can include feeling lonely, homesick, overwhelmed, fearful, angry, confused or judgmental. The onset, severity, and length of time with which culture shock will affect any one student will vary. Always keep in mind: culture shock is a common and a natural part of the study abroad experience.
When students first arrive at the host country, they feel happy and excited. Everything is new and interesting, and they want to explore it all. This is the honeymoon stage when students fall in love with the host country and nothing could possibly get in the way of a fabulous experience.
A few days, weeks, or months later, the students start feeling somewhat disillusioned and while things in the environment have remained the same, they now regard everything negatively. This is the next stage of culture shock and the time when some students are apt to feel that they’ve made a mistake and would like to return home. The students are finally able to discern cultural differences and feel like interlopers in the new culture.
They’re also exhausted from constantly making behavioral adjustments and frustrated because the usual emotional support system – family and friends – are not there. Fortunately, with effort and time, this stage usually passes and the students achieve a state of balance or equilibrium with the environment. This is the stage when the students become more integrated into the host culture, aware of cultural expectations, and cognizant of the behaviors and attitudes of people from that country. The anger and disappointment fade as the students realize that they can function effectively outside the home culture.
If there is one sure thing about culture shock — it is that it has an ephemeral nature. It will end, but it will not disappear magically. We hope you would not become distressed and alarmed if your student starts complaining about his or her situation. In all likelihood, he or she is going through the second stage of culture shock. A few helpful hints:
- Encourage the student to persist through the challenges that come with cultural adjustment.
- Remind them of their goals for studying abroad, and the things that will be gained from this experience.
- Applaud their efforts to become immersed in the host culture.
- Encourage them to continue initiating interactions with fellow students or the host family, participating in local or university activities, and learning from mistakes.
In a few weeks, the student is likely to look back at these seemingly dark days and be incredulous that he or she even considered returning home!
Be prepared for your student to go through reentry or reverse culture shock when returning home, as discussed previously. For more information, visit www.studentsabroad.com/reentrycultureshock.html
Passports and Visas
A passport is the most essential document everyone needs in order to enter a foreign country. New passports could take 4-6 weeks for processing so we advised the students to apply early to avoid delay.
If your student already has a passport, make sure it is valid until at least six months after the return date to the United States. General information about obtaining a passport can be found at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english.html
A visa is an entry/residence permit and official permission granted by the authorities of the country (via its Embassy or Consulate in the United States) where your student will study. Many countries also require a visa or residence permit (via its Embassy or Consulate in the United States) to enter the country. If the student has to apply for a visa, know the appropriate foreign consulate that has jurisdiction in the student’s state of permanent residence.
Consular websites will also have this information, and your student has been advised to research this information early.
Making Travel Plans
Because of the multitude of options and destinations available to students, we cannot just have one statement on this matter. Here is some information about how you and your student can plan their flight.
You can start researching travel costs and available flights, but you should hold off booking the flight until the student has been accepted to his or her study program, or has received assurance that the acceptance is forthcoming.
When booking the student’s flight, don’t focus solely on the cheapest airfare. Pay attention also to layover time between connecting flights, how many connections the student has to make, and arrival time at the final destination. Choose flights with reasonable layover times to avoid missing connecting flights should there be a delay. If a direct flight costs just a little bit more than another that has several connections, opt for the former. The convenience will be worth the additional price. Some websites that might be useful are statravel.com or studentuniverse.com.
The student should have received arrival instructions from the Host University or Study Abroad program coordinator. Check with your student that he or she has gone through this list.
We recommend that students plan on arriving on a weekday and during office hours. In an emergency, they can call the International Office at the host university and more than likely reach someone who is in a position to help. Finally, we encouraged students to have contingency plans in place in case something goes awry with their arrival plans. Follow up with your student that alternate plans are in place. Students may benefit from travel guides such as Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Insight Guide, and others. These books give lots of practical information, useful phrases, even a history of the host country, plus some customs and traditions of which newcomers need to be aware. Let’s Go is written by students, so this book always gives the cheaper alternatives and will always have a section on the nightlife attractions of a city.
If available, the student might want to bring $50-150 in foreign currency for food and drinks during a layover or to take a taxi immediately after arrival. Do not carry more than that. If none of your local banks sell foreign currency, it’s OK. The student can simply use his or her ATM card to withdraw money from a machine in the local airport. U.S currency can also be exchanged in a pinch.
The Host University will provide arrival information in the acceptance materials sent to your student. However, one of the things you might want to do as the departure date nears is to review with your student what to do upon arrival. The first day at the host country is very important and we would like the student to get off to a good start. Specifically, we’ve asked study abroad students to make sure they have the following information: What to expect at the airport (layout, immigration and customs procedure, location of ATMs, ground transportation, etc.)
- Directions to your apartment, residence hall, program office, or the university’s Study Abroad Office
- What form of transportation to take and where to get it
- Who to contact or where to go in case of emergency
- How to say a few key expressions and questions in the host country’s language
Contingency plans in case Plan A doesn’t go according to plan
Family members and friends frequently ask students to call home immediately after arrival. We understand your concern, but please be aware that it may not be always possible. On some programs, students may need to catch an airport shuttle immediately after retrieving their luggage and going through Customs and Immigration. Some may arrive late at night or after having traveled for a day to reach their destination and are too exhausted to even think about calling home. Please give them at least a day or two to get settled, and do not panic.
Gather all of the information and documents you and your student might need while he or she is away, including:
Contact information for:
- Your student (street address and cell phone number)
- IPC advisors and host university Study Abroad Office
- U.S. State Department Office of Overseas Citizen Services
- Citizen assistance section of the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest your student’s program site
Also be sure to gather:
- Insurance policy number and how to submit claims Emergency and communication plan
- Student’s passport number
- Duplicate lost passport kit containing two passport photos, an official copy of his or her birth certificate, a copy of your student’s passport information and visa pages
- Academic calendar
- Name of local physician (if your student requires medical supervision)