| Summer Abroad Home
Information for Parents and Families
1. Why Should Students Study Abroad?
You may be wondering why your son or daughter wants to study abroad and whether an education abroad experience really has value for a young person. The following are some reasons that the
Education Abroad staff believes that students should study abroad:
- A study abroad program is the first – but rarely the last – overseas experience for many students.
- Studying abroad gives students in-depth exposure to foreign cultures in a way that is not possible on a vacation.
- Studying abroad exposes students to new ways of thinking about the world and their own country.
- Study abroad promotes a greater awareness of the importance of conservation.
- Studying abroad develops intercultural competency skills and greater confidence, independence, and self-sufficiency.
- Studying abroad can help students develop or improve foreign language skills.
- Studying abroad gives students an opportunity to see parts of the world and meet people whom they might otherwise not ever meet.
2. What Are Our Shared Responsibilities?
The Education Abroad staff understands that preparing for and participating in an education abroad program can be both exciting and overwhelming, and we are committed to providing
reasonable assistance and service to the participants and their families.
Education Abroad will:
- provide program advising (as appropriate) and predeparture orientation to help prepare students for their program
- make decisions regarding student selection for programs, and redirection of students to more appropriate study abroad locations if necessary
- provide general information about immigration and visa requirements abroad
- advise students about the costs of participation and offer information on the availability of financial aid and scholarships
- answer student questions, to the best of our ability, about all aspects of their program
- communicate with students, in meetings and/or by e-mail, regarding program details, as appropriate
Students/participants are to:
- learn about their host country and institution prior to arrival (by reading travel guides for their host country, reading online news from their host country if available, looking at
the Web site for their host institution, etc.)
- read all predeparture orientation materials carefully, including information from the Education Abroad office
- understand the administrative details regarding their program (e.g., how to apply for a passport and, if applicable, a visa for the host country)
- behave maturely, responsibly, and respectably while abroad, and be a good "ambassador" for both Penn State and the United States (Please be aware that the staff at each program site
has the authority to send home any program participant whose actions compromise the program's educational aims or damage the reputation of Penn State or the education abroad program.)
3. What Should I Know about Health and Safety?
There is much you can do to ensure the overall health and safety of your son or daughter. Consider our top ten tips:
- Does your son or daughter know what to do in the event of injury or sickness? Make sure your child is familiar with the health insurance coverage provided by the HTH Worldwide Study
Abroad Insurance Program.
- Make sure your child knows what to do in the event of a medical emergency.
- Students are provided with the Web site for information regarding insurance at www.hthstudents.com. They should read the information prior to travel and take a copy of the guide with them.
- Monitor the U.S. State Department Web site. The U.S. government provides accurate and timely information for overseas travelers at www.state.gov/travel and www.travel.state.gov. You will
find information about emergencies, other countries, visas, passports, living abroad, and other topics.
- The Education Abroad office registers participants who are U.S. citizens with the U.S. Embassy. This registration will aid students in the case of an emergency or lost passport in the
- At least one parent or family member of each participant should have a valid passport in case someone needs to join the student in the event of an emergency.
- While all cultures value safety and stability, the ways they achieve them may vary considerably. Students can enhance their experience and personal safety by being aware of the
cultural norms for appropriate behavior. By employing cultural common sense and making responsible, intelligent choices, students can greatly narrow the risks to their own safety. By far,
the greatest threat to student safety involves alcohol. That alcohol impairs one's judgment is well known, but too often ignored.
- Personal safety and security begins with the multitude of decisions each student makes on a daily basis, which include the choice of transportation methods, whom they associate with,
when and where they go out, etc. Encourage your son or daughter to learn from local residents which areas of town are safe and which are dangerous, and when to avoid certain locations.
When traveling away from the program site, have your son or daughter leave an itinerary and contact information with the on-site staff.
- Though more expensive, having your son or daughter purchase a flexible airline ticket will make it easier to accommodate a change in program dates or to respond more quickly in the
event of an emergency.
- Uncertainty causes a great deal of anxiety. The students are asked to check in regularly with their families, by phone or e-mail. Cell phones are quite inexpensive in many countries,
and many plans do not charge to receive calls. Students should ask the on-site program staff which cell phone plans are best. For many parents, simply knowing that they can reach son or
daughter at any time of the day or night reduces their anxiety considerably.
4. How Can I Be Most Supportive?
Parents (and other family members) can play a very important role in helping students prepare for an education abroad experience, and in supporting them both while they are away and after
they return from abroad.
Prior to departure:
- Talk with your son or daughter about his/her interest in education abroad. Why does he/she want to study abroad? What are his/her expectations of the program? What does he/she hope to
gain from the experience?
- Share your feelings about the upcoming international experience. How do you feel about education abroad? Do you feel that your child is ready to study abroad?
- Take a look at your child's predeparture orientation materials so that you understand both what has been provided to your child and what is expected of him/her prior to departure.
- Encourage your son or daughter to be proactive in predeparture preparations. Some students have a tendency to leave preparations to the last minute, which often ends up causing them a
lot of stress and hassle.
- Be supportive of your child's feelings and reactions to his/her new environment, but try to keep an open mind when he/she reports on living conditions or the host city, especially
during the jet lag and overtiredness of the first few days. Students going through the early adjustment phase abroad may be more emotional than usual and may overreact to situations
abroad that are simply unfamiliar. This may make you think they are in a terrible or dangerous situation when in fact they are just tired and confused.
- Keep in touch with your child on a regular basis, for your own peace of mind. We recommend a phone call once a week, or a couple of e-mail messages per week. See below for more
information about communication with your child while he/she is abroad.
- Live vicariously through your child and his/her peers! The GlimpseAbroad Web site features first-person, cultural-experience pieces written by study abroad students
and international volunteers. Articles delve into quarries in France, take you into taxicabs in Kyrgyzstan, and expose the devastating consequences of genocide in central Africa. With
depth, breadth, and intimacy, GlimpseAbroad tackles the international issues that no one else talks about, and delves into the daily cultural realities that no one else sees.
Visit GlimpseAbroad at www.glimpse.org.
- Be aware that just as students go through a period of adjustment at the start of a study abroad program, many go through a similar, difficult period of re-adjustment upon returning
home. Returning from a study abroad experience is not like coming home after a weekend away!
- Understand that if your child has had a full experience living and learning overseas, he/she will have changed a bit and may have some difficulty returning to old routines. Remember
how the sophomore who came home to you was not quite the same as the high school senior who lived with you a year before? You should expect similar changes after your son or daughter
returns from study abroad.
- Be patient. Keep in mind that your child will just have had one of the most important experiences of his/her life and will probably not be ready for it to be over. Try to be
understanding if he/she insists on making ten-dollar-a-can Italian coffee or playing that Egyptian music day and night; your child is trying to hold onto something that's very important.
Also try to really listen when your child wants to talk about living abroad; many returning students complain that no one wants to hear anything but the most superficial or sensational
details. Do not be disturbed if your child seems obsessed with the country where he/she lived or is excessively critical of the United States for a time; this is normal and it will pass.
- Above all, do not expect your child to be the same as he/she was before having lived abroad. By the time he/she returns, your child will have taken another important step toward full
adulthood and toward developing a wider and deeper understanding of truths about the world.
5. How Will I Stay Informed?
Education Abroad encourages parents to stay informed about current events in the country and region where their son or daughter is studying. Many countries now have a variety of
information online, ranging from official government statements and statistics to newspapers and unofficial guides. In addition, many English-language newspapers publish in-depth articles
about events in international areas.
With regard to information about your child's behavior or discipline on-site, please note that federal legislation authorizes Penn State to inform parents of violation of laws concerning
alcohol or controlled substances, or general discipline, involving students less than 21 years of age. For detailed information, see the Penn State Judicial Affairs Web site: www.sa.psu.edu/ja. Please note that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) we are not
permitted to disclose other information without prior student consent.
6. How Will I Remain in Communication while My Son/Daughter Is Abroad?
While exciting, living in a new cultural context can be very difficult for a young person; many students find cultural adjustment challenging. When speaking with your child, please keep
in mind that culture shock is a normal process and also a good sign that your child is learning about the host culture. Be aware that your son or daughter may be overly emotional at times
and may make things sound worse than they really are.
Communication should be easy if you and your child have access to e-mail. At the same time, please understand that access to e-mail overseas is not always as readily available as it is in
the United States. Keep in mind that daily e-mail contact is not always desirable, as students need to separate themselves a bit from their home support networks and build a local one by
immersing themselves in the local culture.
If you think you will be using the phone to communicate, call your long-distance company. Many companies offer special services that allow you to identify one country as a frequently
called one, and for a small monthly fee you can cut the cost of your calls considerably. Another option is to purchase a calling card with reduced rates for the country in which your
child is studying.
We encourage the students to contact their families as soon as possible after arrival in the host country, but this may take a few days.