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Responsible Study Abroad

The following information was taken from Responsible Study Abroad: Good Practice for Health and Safety Guidelines, Revised November 8, 2002.

In study abroad, as in other settings, parents, guardians, and families can play an important role in the health and safety of the participants by helping them make decisions and by influencing their behavior overseas.

Parents/guardians/families should:

  • Be informed about and involved in the decision of the participant to enroll in a particular program.
  • Obtain and carefully evaluate participant program materials, as well as related health, safety, and security information.
  • Discuss with the participant any of his/her travel plans and activities that may be independent of the study abroad program.
  • Engage the participant in a thorough discussion of safety and behavior issues, insurance needs, and emergency procedures related to living abroad.
  • Be responsive to requests from the program sponsor for information regarding the participant.
  • Keep in touch with the participant.
  • Be aware that the participant rather than the program may most appropriately provide information.

What Parents Need to Know

The following information has been compiled from a variety of sources including What Parents Need to Know: Before, During, and After Education Abroad by Janet Hulstrand (2007).

Your student can have the best experience with just a little bit of help from you!

We know how difficult it was for parents to send their children to kindergarten, and then again to college. So, we definitely know how difficult it might be to send your child to a different country to study! As difficult as it may be, RELAX. Remember that your child is growing up. Your students are learning responsibilities and experiences that will help them mature for the future and their careers.

The best way to help your students prepare to study abroad is to allow them to take the responsibility and prepare for the experience themselves. You should be there to lend a hand, give advice and support, but you must also permit them to establish credibility and maturity in preparing for such an experience. Furthermore, if the students prepare the trip themselves, with help from the Study Abroad office and advisors, they will be able to follow-through on decisions while abroad. The preparation stage will also help them to tackle obstacles abroad if there ever are any.

More advice is also offered at The Center for Global Education.

While Students Are Abroad

Much of the information was compiled from a variety of sources including "What Parents Need to Know: Before, During, and After Education Abroad by Janet Hulstrand (2007)."


You should make an arrangement for communication with your student while he/she is abroad. Even though you may be used to communicating with your student everyday, maybe even more than once a day, you need to understand this may not be the case while abroad. You must take into consideration the time differences, different modes of communication (i.e. home phone, cell phone, instant messaging, email, etc.), traveling and trips, expenses, school work, and immersion. It is important to communicate with your student, but you must also allow for your student to immerse into the new culture on his or her own or with other students abroad. Therefore, maintaining regular communication is good, but when it is too frequent, it may interfere with the student's experience abroad.

Please make arrangements for communication in case of an emergency. Your student should contact you and the Study Abroad Coordinator as soon as he or she has arrived, so that you know he or she is safe. Also, give you students other phone numbers or emails to get into contact with in case you are not available in the case of an emergency. You should also give your student's contact information to others whom may be of concern.

Another important consideration of communication is the costs associated with it. If you want your student to have a cell phone abroad, you should check with your cell phone provider and see about international rates. Please remember that by communicating by you, family, or close friends from home too much with your student may interfere with his or her experience. A good way for students to communicate with friends and family about their experience is through mass email updates and blogs online. Other ways to communicate is through instant messenger online (hotmail, yahoo, AOL), email, or phone services through the computer such as Skype. Calling cards are also a good way to communicate. It is normally cheaper for the student to find a calling card while abroad and call home.

Support Your Students While Abroad

Culture shock and/or homesickness can be tough on your student while abroad. No, not everyday is going to be a good one. You must keep in mind that it is just like here in the United States: We can have good days and we can have bad days. Culture Shock happens to everyone, some to a greater or lesser degree. Culture Shock associates the student with anxiety and confusion when immersing into another culture. Some cultures, it is easier, some it is harder. The student will go through the different stages of culture shock at the mandatory pre-departure orientation. In the meantime, you can learn more about culture shock at the following sites:

What Can You Do?

Listen when your student wants to talk. Listening and letting your student "get things off his/her chest,"; is a very helpful method. The student may or may not even need advise, but just someone to talk to. Let the student know that they are not alone. There are many other students in the program that are experiencing the same thing! It is best when the student gets a good nights rest and starts a new day the next day. Furthermore, being involved and associated with other students in the program will lessen the feeling of complete culture shock. Sometimes the student may express regret of studying abroad. You should encourage your student to keep discovering and learning about new opportunities. It may be hard for the student, but this is also a great way to increase his or her independence, confidence, self awareness, and maturity. You have to remember that your students are growing and this is a great opportunity for them to do it on their own.

If your student is expressing that he or she is having an absolute terrible time, is having regrets, or wants to come home, please consider the following:

  • Don't do something immediately. Let your student "play it out" and learn how to cope with culture shock and new discoveries.
  • Advise your student to get assistance from other students in the same program. More than likely your student is not the only one.
  • Advise your student to participate! There are plenty of activities and trips that the students can participate in. It will only make things worse if the student stays in his or her room and dwells on the problem.
  • Teach your student to fix the problem. If he or she is feeling alone or left out, encourage participation. If he is feeling homesick, send some cards or care packages. If she is stressed about class work, direct her to organize and get school work together instead of too much participation. There are many kinds of scenarios. The best thing to do is to use your best judgment, and to teach your student to do the same.

Student Privacy

Many parents want to know the status of grades, transcripts, and other information about their students. However, according to the Northwest handbook, the Study Abroad Office is not permitted to release such information.

Visiting Your Student

Many parents, friends, and family visit their loved ones while abroad. It is a great excuse for a vacation and it is a great way for your student to teach and show you the experience. The best time to visit your student is anytime not in the beginning of the program. Your student will still be in the process of learning about the host institution and country, as well as meeting new people and attending orientations. The best time to visit is more towards the end of the program. Sometimes it is even suggested to visist after the program ends, so you can travel to other places as well. Also, your student will have a better idea of the city, country, language, and other interests abroad and can better direct you.

Your Student and Returning Home

"Much of the information was compiled from a variety of sources including What Parents Need to Know: Before, During, and After Education Abroad by Janet Hulstrand (2007)."

The best way to support your student when returning home is to listen. Your student will want to share and tell you stories of his or her experience. All you need to do is listen attentively and express interest. Your student may go through what is called "reverse culture shock." Reverse culture shock is a lot like culture shock while abroad, however, it is upon return. There will be things in the home community and society that your student may have never noticed before. There may be ways the host culture does something that is more appreciated or less appreciated upon return. There will be constant comparison between the cultures, when can indeed lead to reverse culture shock. You should encourage your student to get involved on campus with different international programs or volunteer at the Study Abroad office. Your student should talk to others that have had the study abroad experience, because they can relate to one another and learn about experiences.

For additional resources for parents helping their student's re-adjustment to their new life back home please email

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