Information for Parents of Study Abroad Students
Study abroad is a life altering experience but it is a transition not only for your son or daughter but for you and your family. There will be times when you would like your son or daughter to leave now and other times when you want them never to go. And he or she will feel the same about you! Following are some general guidelines for all study abroad students and also specific information on how study abroad "works" at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
About Study Abroad
Preparing for Study Abroad
Culture Shock and Coming Home
About Study Abroad
The Study Abroad Office
The Study Abroad Office
at UMSL is a part of the Office of International Studies and Programs
and is located in 261 Millennium Student Center on the North Campus. The Director of International Studies and Programs is Dr. Joel Glassman. The staff members responsible for study abroad are:
Nate Daugherty (314) 516-6497 DaughertyN@umsl.edu
Liz Shabani (314) 516-6983 ShabaniE@umsl.edu
Hours of the study abroad office are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Study Abroad Advisors are available by appointment.
One of the goals of the Study Abroad Office is to include as many students as possible in study abroad because of the conviction that many benefits flow from this experience. The staff also believes that the student, him or herself, should make the major decisions and do the work required in preparation for study abroad. While we are certainly happy to talk to parents and welcome interested parents to orientation it is ultimately the student's responsibility to see that the required processes are followed. The role of the parent is one of support and encouragement. Due to privacy legislation, the Study Abroad Office cannot release information to any third party (including parents) regarding your student or program without his or her explicit consent. If you have questions about your child's program or plans, the best place to start is by asking him or her.
As parents you are to be commended for supporting your son or daughter in their time abroad. We think you will be pleased with the son or daughter who returns as a more aware, more mature person. Even though there are "secrets" and your student did the majority of the work involved in getting there he or she could not do it without your help and support. Thank you.
Types of Study Abroad Programs
In general there are three types of study abroad programs: faculty led short-term programs; exchange programs; and non-UMSL programs. The first, which represents most of our study abroad participants, is a faculty-led short-term study tour (usually 2-6 weeks) led by a University of Missouri-St. Louisfaculty member. A second type is the exchange program, which can be during the summer or academic year, and occurs with a student attends one of UMSL's partner universities throughout the world. For both faculty-led and exchange programs, UMSL students pay UMSL tuition and their credit earned is UMSL credit. In some cases, UMSL does not have a program that offers what a student wants or needs. In this situation a student can apply and be accepted in a non-UMSL university or program. In non-UMSL programs the student pays the fees, including tuition, directly to the host university or program provider. Credit earned is transfer credit.
The Application and Approval Process
The UMSL study abroad website is the necessary tool both to begin and conclude a successful experience. All UMSL programs are listed there with a sample cost sheet for each program. Also on the website are instructions for applying to study abroad, passport and visa information, recommendations for travel, health and safety information, and MUCH MORE. Of course, the staff is always available to consult, advise and otherwise assist in every stage of the process from determining an appropriate program to grade and credit transfer.
At the very beginning the student should:
- research programs on the website
- attend an information session
- complete a preliminary information form
- make an appointment with one of the staff
- discuss the possibilities with the parent
The student applies for a particular program by completing the application, submitting a transcript and essay (in a foreign language if applying to a non-English speaking university) and having two faculty members write letters of recommendation. When the Study Abroad Office has received all the appropriate materials the student is either accepted or denied. If accepted the Study Abroad Office recommends the student for acceptance at the host university. In most cases the host university will require that the student complete its own application which might include sending additional passport pictures, financial statements, foreign language tests, etc.
During this initial process a student decides which courses to take in consultation with his/her academic advisor and/or department and gets written course equivalencies for these courses. Information on courses is available on each university's website or in the database maintained by the Study Abroad Office. It is definitely not true that study abroad will delay graduation. Proper planning will ensure that appropriate courses will fit into the student's academic timetable. The one concern is students who elect to spend the final semester of senior year abroad: because of varying academic calendars it is not possible to receive official transcripts from the foreign university and complete credit transfer in time for UMSL graduation. Also a student should check with his/her department to see about residency requirements for graduation if he/she is considering a non-UMSL program.
Preparing for Study Abroad
Passport and Visa
The student should have a passport that will be valid for at least 6 months beyond the time he or she plans to return to the U.S. He or she should investigate the visa requirements for the host country (information available on each country's embassy website) and, in a timely manner, apply for the visa. This oftentimes can take two months or more and involves sending the passport to the foreign embassy or consulate or visiting the consulate in person.
Mandatory Insurance Program
The University of Missouri system requires that all study abroad students have adequate insurance including emergency evacuation and repatriation for their physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Each study abroad participant is required to purchase accident and sickness insurance through HTH Worldwide. The Study Abroad Office will provide specific instructions for enrolling in the HTH insurance. No students may register for classes if not enrolled in the insurance. The HTH website provides additional information about the details of the policy, contact information about English speaking doctors and facilities throughout the world and details about specific medications allowable and available in every country.
Registration and Orientation
The majority of the paperwork for UMSL is almost complete. There remains the registration process, orientation and one more paper to sign.
- Registration. All students, regardless of program, MUST register at UMSL. Instructions for the specific ways of registering for study abroad are given to the students at orientation. During the academic year students take 12 credit hours. Summer programs vary but usually run from 3 to 6 credit hours. It is extremely important that students register: without this step financial aid and scholarships cannot be disbursed. The Study Abroad Office will register students for the second semester if the student is participating in a year-long program. But it is the responsibility of the student themselves to register for classes for the semester for which they will return to UMSL.
- Orientation. The Study Abroad Office holds mandatory online and in-person orientation sessions prior to each semester or summer study abroad opportunity. Parents are welcome to attend this meeting which is usually held on a Friday afternoon. At the orientation students learn about registration, credit transfer, health and safety matters, culture shock and are given general information about living abroad. Oftentimes, returned students or international students are available to answer specific questions.
- Risk and Release. The students are required to sign a "Risk and Release" form which outlines the responsibilities of both students and UMSL during study abroad. In general the form requires that the student understand and accept the limits of University responsibility for personal safety and health and agree to certain standards of conduct.
Of course, completion of the paperwork for UMSL does not really complete preparation for the study abroad program. It seems a thousand details loom:
- Are housing arrangements finalized?
- Is the passport valid and has the visa arrived?
- Does the student have a clean bill of health and appropriate medications, if necessary?
- Do the parents have copies of important documents?
- Are airline tickets purchased? Does the student know how to get from the airport to the host university?
- What should students bring? ANSWER: As little as possible remembering that suitcases are heavy and clothes can be worn more than one time.
- Are lines of communication clear and do parents know how to reach the student?
An important part of pre-trip planning is financial. Some expenditures are pre-determined, i.e. housing, airline transportation, fees, etc. Other expenses are much more difficult to pin down, such as personal expenses, food, and independent travel. Your student should talk to study abroad returnees or international students at UMSL to get help in determining those expenses. Other sources of information are newspapers or magazines from the host country which, through ads and articles, will give you an idea about the cost of daily items and food. Your student should make a budget and you should be in agreement about financial arrangements. For example, are you willing and/or able to give your student additional money while abroad?
Tuition and other expenses
For each UMSL faculty-led or exchange program, students pay for tuition plus the information technology fee. These expenses will appear on the student account. Faculty-led programs often have a program fee payable to UMSL that covers housing, excursions, etc. Other expenses such as airline tickets, housing, passports and visas and personal expenses are the responsibility of the student and another party, for example the housing organization of the university. Housing often involves a contract which, depending on regulations, might be binding. The student should thoroughly investigate all details involving expenditure: are deposits required? Is any money refundable? Is payment accepted by credit card or are checks and cash acceptable? Must students have certain funds available when checking into their housing?
Scholarships and financial aid
In most cases financial aid will will apply towards a UMSL study abroad program. Students should, however, make an appointment with the Financial Aid Office to discuss requirements and resources. Tiffany Izard (314-516-4796) is the Financial Aid liaison with study abroad. If a student plans to study abroad during the summer, it is extremely important that financial details be discussed at the beginning of the academic year so that sufficient financial aid funds will remain to finance summer study. It is important to note that to qualify for summer financial aid a student must be registered for at least 5 credit hours.
Scholarships are available from different sources. International Studies and Programs has a limited number of scholarships available for qualified students. These scholarships are merit based and announced shortly after the closing deadline for application. Each student is given an application for these scholarships when applying for study abroad.
The Study Abroad office has a brochure listing other possibilities for study abroad scholarships. Students should also search the web for additional sources of funding.
Scholarships and financial aid are disbursed to the student account no sooner than ten days prior to the beginning of the semester or summer session. If financial assistance is required prior to disbursement, the student should talk to Financial Aid about an "emergency loan" which provides money prior to scholarship or financial aid disbursement. Also, no financial aid or scholarships will be disbursed if there is a "hold" on the student account. The student should make sure that library books are returned, parking tickets paid and the student account balance is $0.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document that creates a relationship between two people who are designated as the "principal" (student) and the "agent" (parent). The principal designates the agent in the document, and the agent is authorized to act on the principal's behalf--to stand in the shoes of the principal--for whatever business the power of attorney permits. A power of attorney can be general, so that the agent can conduct any sort of business on behalf of the principal, or it may be specific, limited to the transactions expressly provided for in the document. Third parties may treat the agent as if he or she is the principal in any transactions which the agent is authorized to conduct. Power of attorney forms are available in the Financial Aid office, 327 MSC, and are useful, for example, in banking transactions, paying bills and obtaining academic records.
Other Important Money Matters
Your student should have his or her own credit card and ATM card. Most credit cards now charge for international transactions. Your student should check with the issuing company so that he/she understands the financial responsibilities of the card. Even if the student does not plan to use a credit card, it is necessary for each student to have one in his or her own name in case of emergency.
Prior to departure you should discuss payment of credit card bills, cell phone bills, car payments, rent. How is this to be accomplished while the student is away?
In general, most study abroad students do not establish bank accounts in their host country.
Safety and health concerns rank number one especially with increasing accounts of terrorism and violence throughout the world. However, considering the global situation it is unfortunately true that the United States is regarded by those outside our borders as a very dangerous place to live and travel. Statistically the rate of violent crime in the US exceeds most other countries. Of course there is crime in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. However the crime overseas is usually of the non-violent type, pick pocketing, theft, etc. No one plans to be a victim and a few common sense measures alleviate much concern about safety: travel in groups, do not call attention to yourself by clothing or mannerisms, be especially wary in tourist locations and do not participate in political or social demonstrations.
Study abroad participation throughout the U.S. has grown since 9/11 although it is a growth with a new awareness and emphasis on safety concerns. Universities throughout the world are certainly more cognizant of dangers and have implemented their own policies and procedures to ensure a safe and healthy experience for all their international students. Your own student should check with the international office of his/her host institution to determine their procedures and ask for assistance if necessary. He or she should also check to see what the emergency number is for their country (remember not everywhere has 911).
UMSL offers a mandatory pre-departure orientation for all study abroad participants that covers many important health and safety topics. The importance of safety cannot be stressed enough and preparation for study abroad should include discussion with you son or daughter about safe travel and health practices. Discussion should include:
- Familiarization with the U.S. State Department website. This website lists travel advisories and cautions in countries or areas where the US government feels it might be unsafe to travel. Students should check this website occasionally and definitely before they travel to countries outside their host country.
- Familiarization with the Center for Disease Control website. This website is an invaluable source of information about diseases inherent in every country in the world and also includes information about suggested inoculations, water purity, etc.
- Personal health habits such as birth control measures and alcohol consumption
- Personal safety habits such as driving, participation in athletics, dating and relationships and jogging or exercise security.
- Personal and family planning on what to do in case of an emergency. Your student should provide you with emergency contact information for themselves and contact(s) at the host institution. In case of emergency it is possible for students and parents to reach the study abroad staff after hours by calling the UMSL police: 314-516-5155.
- Registration with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the host country. Students may register prior to travel by going to the website. This registration provides the students with a valuable resource in case of an emergency.
While abroad, students must live according to the laws and regulations of the host country. In case of a dispute, ignorance of local law is no defense. Parents should specifically emphasize that other countries' laws are very different especially regarding drug use and/or drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol. Most countries' laws on these topics are much more stringent than in the U.S. Also legal procedures vary from nation to nation and rights assumed in the U.S. are not always granted in other countries. The U.S. embassy may assist in finding legal representation but cannot get a student out of jail once he/she has been accused or arrested for a crime.
Culture Shock and Coming Home
Culture shock is much written about and many students conclude that they know all about it and it will never happen to them. HOWEVER, some sense of disorientation will occur and while the symptoms vary in intensity and length from student to student, there is a general curve that the "malady" follows. When the student first arrives there is a period of euphoria because their planning and hard work has landed them under the Eiffel Tower or on Mount Fuji just where they want to be. However, reality soon appears and there is a rapid disillusionment with the country, the university and life in general. Everything seems too difficult. At this point all the student may want to do is sleep or, more extreme, go home. Symptoms of that stage include boredom, restlessness, inability to focus, irritability. This is the time that you may get frantic phone calls or, conversely, no communication at all. If too many phone calls are the rule, the role of the parent is to listen and support the student, reminding him or her of their skills. Some remedies include adequate exercise and proper nutrition. Congratulations are in order for what may seem the simplest things-learning how to buy groceries in a different language or getting from point A to B on public transportation without getting lost. For students who cope by not communicating, a call or email reminding him or her of your trust in them and their abilities may help shorten this phase of discomfort. Of course, if you feel something major is wrong, do not hesitate to contact the program leader or international office of the host university. As with the measles, there is gradual improvement when the student learns to accept and adjust to his or her new environment. All is well as it can be and once again phone calls and emails will decrease in number but increase in reports of new friends, foods and experiences. It is helpful for parents to remember that a student who does not experience some measure of culture shock may not be making the most of the experience of study abroad.
Re-Entry Adjustment or "Reverse Culture Shock"
When your son or daughter returns to the US, he or she is stepping off the plane with a new set of problems: reverse culture shock. Again this will vary from student to student and will be more apparent in those who have spent the longest time away or spent most time in cultures very different from the U.S. The "curve" and symptoms of reverse culture shock are very similar to the ones experienced when first overseas. But there is a difference because it is so unexpected. How can there be a "shock" when the student is returning home? Your student has been places and experienced things that have changed him or her and you were not there to observe. Hopefully students have learned not only about another city and country but also about themselves and their home country. This may make a student very critical of our customs, laws and life styles. They have stories and pictures and refer to people and places you never met or saw. They may use foreign phrases or expressions. Their friends may be "shallow" or boring. Again, listening and looking at the pictures, accepting their irritability and criticism will help them smooth this latest transition. Gradually they will assimilate their new experiences into their lives making them and their family richer for it. And, if he or she really enjoyed their experience, do not be surprised when talk begins about going back or doing another study abroad.
The Study Abroad office provides opportunities for students who want to maintain their links to their other "home." The staff can always use returnees to talk to potential study abroad students or at orientation. The International Student and Scholar Services (another part of International Studies and Programs) advises and assists international students coming to UMSL. There are a million little things to do to help our visitors feel at home here-from pick up at the airport to planning shopping trips. There are foreign language "tables" for those who want to keep up their language skills. Throughout the community there are also opportunities to maintain contact with other cultures: volunteering with the International Institute, participating with immigrant groups, joining organizations such as Alliance Française all help returned students keep in touch and aid in smoothing out the transition home.