A Note for Browsing Parents/Guardians/Supporters of Study Abroad Student


If you are the parent/guardian/supporter of a U.S. college or university student who is contemplating study abroad, we would like to encourage you to recommend this website to that student. We believe that participating in a study abroad experience can be life changing. Crossing cultural boundaries and adapting to new languages or varieties of English can be exhilarating, but such activities are often accompanied by ambiguity and anxiety that can create significant stress.

We applaud you for encouraging your loved one (or at least allowing them) to make study abroad a part of his or her academic and personal experience. Only a small percentage of US-American undergraduates take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity to live and study in a foreign country or culture. The benefits of  "learning how to learn" about other cultures, and how to appropriately adjust your behavior in unfamiliar social settings, can have practical benefits that often extend far beyond the relatively short time (three to nine months) that the study abroad program lasts.

However, in order to maximize the overseas experience it is necessary to learn something (often a great deal) about the destination culture. Knowledge about the history, politics, economics, language(s), and current events are all important. Equally useful, but often overlooked, is having some idea how to objectively and accurately compare and contrast different cultures. It is very valuable to understand how other cultures prefer to communicate, how they organize themselves both socially and mentally, what their value systems are, and how all of this effects their behavior and attitudes.

The fact that other cultures are different, often dramatically and systematically, from US-American ideas and social practices often takes unprepared students by surprise. We believe that encouraging your about-to-go-abroad student to take a serious look at the materials in this website would go a long way towards giving them a head start in gaining such knowledge. It can also help them deal effectively with cross-cultural misunderstandings and avoid the more severe forms of culture shock. You may find it interesting to click around the various sections and see how we have organized and approached the variety of topics related to international transitions.

If you have traveled extensively yourself, you might find some descriptions of behaviors and attitudes with which you are familiar or even an explanation for an event that took place in a culture you were visiting. If you have not traveled much, familiarizing yourself with this material will give you an added appreciation for the kinds of challenges and experiences your traveler is about to confront. In either case, your taking an interest in their upcoming trip and supporting them as they plan for and then go through it, is very important, even if they might be reluctant to admit it.

This is not a course, per se, but a resource that can be consulted at any stage of the intercultural transition process, beginning with selecting where to study abroad and continuing through orientation, the overseas residency, and even after return home. However, it would be most effective and efficient for study abroad students to begin with Module 1 and work their way through the entire site following the phases of transition in order. They include materials that will help them at each stage: before they go abroad, while studying abroad, just before coming home, and after return. It can always be profitably consulted anytime during the journey, particularly when trying to figure out the possible reasons behind cultural conflicts or reasons for breakdowns in communication. Of course, a student should take advantage of any cross-cultural training courses or logistical briefings that their school or study abroad program offers. This website should be considered an additional source of useful information and advice, not a substitute for already available courses or orientations.

Finally, the unique knowledge and skills acquired as part of study abroad can confer a lifetime advantage to your student. This is because the value of understanding and appreciating cultural diversity is not limited to "international" situations, but can be just as useful when applied to "domestic" social and professional multi-cultural settings back home in the United States.

As someone obviously concerned with the student's success while overseas, we also recommend you consider the impact of their reentry after study abroad. The dynamics of returning home can be more complicated and emotional than people normally expect. We have found that the more successful the overseas adaptation is, particularly where the student has succeeded in feeling a part of the country/culture abroad, the more difficult the return home can become. Since you will want to continue offering support when your student returns, we have included Twelve Tips for Welcoming Returnees Home (see section 2.5.1).

We wish you, the parents/guardians/supporters as well as the study abroad student, every success as you all look forward to sharing one of life's most intense and interesting adventures.