Resources for Parents and Families
Dear Parents and Families,
Study abroad is one of the most powerful methods for helping students to develop independence, flexibility, and resilience, and as such, working with students while overseas as well as upon return from abroad is a true pleasure. Marist Abroad promotes international engagement and academic, personal, and professional development through rigorous, reflective study abroad, overseas internships, and international campus programming.
As your student prepares for their study abroad program, we would like to connect with you to offer resources as well as words of advice for how best to support your student in having the most productive experience overseas. The professional research clearly shows that study abroad facilitates personal, academic, and professional growth. Likewise, the research also shows that there are particular strategies that you, as the study abroad participant's family, can take to support this critical development.
In the application and pre-departure phase, it can be useful to speak with your student about their objectives in study abroad, their overseas plans, and any apprehensions they may have. You may not be able to answer all of their questions, but through discussion you can assure them of your support. Learn something about the format, content, and philosophy of the program on which your student plans to participate. Confirm that the student's passport is valid and extends six or more months beyond the intended return date to the USA.
Likewise, while offering limited assistance with pre-departure paperwork and logistics, encourage your student to take responsibility for themselves in completing all necessary steps in a timely fashion, including those related to securing any necessary visa or other travel and study documents. Students will participate in pre-departure meetings where necessary steps are covered. In our experience, many students are pro-active and take the initiative to complete paperwork, while some are not. In a number of the latter cases, some students do not take adequate initiative in completing paperwork on time, assuming that their parent(s) will do it for them. Recall that in addition to academics, study abroad is also about personal development - the ability and initiative to step up and take responsibility and accountability for oneself. Support your student, and if useful, confirm with them that paperwork is being completed (discuss, review, etc. as appropriate), but also try to encourage him/her to be pro-active in solving problems, asking questions, and completing tasks.
Some of the pre-departure discussion revolves around returning to campus following the semester abroad. Perhaps the most common question is that of housing. All housing decisions at the College are made based on the priority point system, which assigns points to students based on their academic average, involvement with extra-curricular activities, disciplinary history, and condition of their residence area. The system is used by the Office of Housing and Residential Life to place students in housing after their entering first year at Marist. Housing decisions for students choosing to study abroad are also made within the framework of the priority points system. However, because the College has a fixed number of beds available on campus, a large number of students choosing to study abroad in one semester may limit the number of beds available on campus in the semester they return. In that case, campus housing is offered to study abroad participants with the highest priority points.
Once your student is overseas, they will be well served if you strive to encourage self-reliance and independence. Encourage your student to develop a local support network for understanding their situation, identifying problem areas, and developing the nuance of recognizing culture shock. Things will be different abroad - personal space, communication styles, the pace of life, and tolerance of ambiguity, not to mention the size of one's room, "amenities," forms of transportation, food, and the list goes on. One often-stated rhetorical question, in fact, is that if things were the same overseas, then why should the any student study abroad? Expect that your student will experience some degree of culture shock, and that it might not always be recognized as such. Again, encourage your student to develop a local network of support, and to discuss issues in context with individuals most familiar with them.
Suggestions on how to manage communication while your student is abroad:
- Plan how often, and through what means you will communicate.
- Do not accompany your student to the host country at the start of the program.
- Understand that all students will experience culture shock and that this may have a significant impact on what your student is communicating to you about the experience.
- Allow your student the time and space to develop a support network abroad rather than relying totally on the one back home.
- Avoid too frequent e-mail or phone communication; this can interfere both with language learning and with integration into the host culture.
- Avoid visiting while the academic program is in session.
The Marist Abroad Team