SUPPORTING YOUR STUDENT
while they’re abroad!
When your student speaks with you after arriving in their host country, and in the weeks to follow, they may share their first impressions with you, including things that are “different” or make them uncomfortable.
For instance, the internet might be slower or not as available as it is in the U.S., the housing may be older than they expected, and locals may seem unfriendly. As a family member, you will likely be your student’s first call when they are faced with a new situation — before they have thought through how to manage the situation for themselves or contacted their Verto onsite staff. You may even receive several such calls as your student copes with homesickness, needs a sympathetic ear, or wants to be reassured that they’ve made the right choice. While it’s natural to want to “fix” these issues so your student can get on with having the great time they were expecting, students should be encouraged to communicate their feelings and concerns to Verto onsite staff. These experienced professionals are readily available and are trained to assist your student as needed. They’re able to see the whole picture, while you only hear your student’s perspective. Encourage your student to connect with their staff who will help explain cultural differences and provide resources to make your student’s transition easier. Avoid trying to mediate a roommate or academic concern for your student. Remember, roommate challenges or academic issues are opportunities for your student to speak for themselves and resolve their concerns independently, which builds their confidence and coping skills.
Effective communication between the student and their family and friends back home is one of the most important elements for a successful study abroad experience. Having a constant connection to home, and using this as a crutch, can prevent your student from fully engaging in the immersion process in their new host culture. This can have a harmful overall effect and may actually worsen the symptoms of culture shock by increasing your student’s feelings of homesickness.
“CULTURE SHOCK 101 Culture Shock is a normal process that occurs as one leaves their home culture and enters another. As defined in the Education Abroad Glossary, published by The Forum on Education Abroad, culture shock is: The anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) one feels coming into contact with an entirely different social environment, such as a different country. It often relates to the temporary inability to assimilate the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. It is important for students to acknowledge culture shock.”
Many students express the symptoms or feelings of culture shock in their communications with home, as this represents their connection to a familiar culture. In some cases, the symptoms of culture shock can be misinterpreted by family members and friends as an indication that the student is truly struggling and in need of assistance. In most instances, however, this is not the case as the student is only expressing normal sentiments that occur during an extremely valuable learning, immersion and growing process.
If your student is expressing discontent and frustration (remember this is a normal and expected process), remind them that they have a support system right there on site. Encourage them to speak with our staff abroad as they understand the complexities of the host culture, interact with international students on a daily basis and can assist by giving advice on how to best adapt and enjoy the host culture. When communicating with your student, take into consideration that your student’s response will likely reflect your attitude and reaction to their emotions and concerns.
It’s important to keep in mind that a text message or Facebook post is often unable to convey the full story. We encourage you to communicate with your student via a medium that allows them to truly explain an issue they are facing before becoming alarmed. Remember that the on-site staff are always nearby and available to assist your student in person, and remind your student to always contact local emergency services and the on-site staff when facing a true emergency.