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Supporting Your Student

How to Be Partners for Their Journey

Application Process and Preparation to Leave

We believe that your student needs to be the one leading the charge when it comes to their preparation and decision making around their program abroad.  By encouraging and fostering their decision making skills, critical thinking, and ability to be flexible during all stages of this process, we are setting them up for success in navigating new and complex environments abroad.  Much of the application process can feel frustrating, and it is common for them to feel a “hurry up and wait” mentality as they move through phases of the application cycle. This is because there are many tasks to complete and they are often intertwined, with one task relying on a piece of information from another task. They often have to work quickly to get the ball rolling, but then wait for information back before they can proceed. Each student can react differently to this process, so please use the suggestions below to support your student accordingly.

What it can look like: 
  • Extreme excitement and wanting to ‘jump ahead’ in the process.  
  • Frustration or agitation in not having concrete answers. 
  • Anxiety in making sure they did applications ‘right’ or haven’t missed anything.
  • Complacency and not staying on top of deadlines or requirements. 
Suggestions on how to support: 
  • Encourage students to review materials emailed from our office, or provided in their application, to confirm timelines/next steps 
  • Remind them of their goals and motivation for going on the program.  Focusing on outcomes often decreases stress and anxiety of the unknown. Help build an “It's worth it” mentality  
  • Instead of skipping steps in the application process, during downtime, encourage your student to research the country they are interested in.  Making lists of must-sees or doing deep dives into local events happening while they will be onsite helps redirect energy towards better preparation.
  • Remind them that they are welcome to stop into the GIA Center at any time to check in, ask questions, or seek information. Professional advisors are available by appointment and Peer advisors are available for walk-ins Monday through Friday, 8:30-4:30 in Alumni Hall Room 211. 

IES Re-entry Resource Graphic
Arrival, Orientation & Jet Lag
Arriving on site, after months of preparation, can induce a whirlwind of emotion and adjustment. It is not uncommon to receive worrisome phone calls or messages within the first few days of arrival, as they process their initial adjustment to being abroad. The most important thing to keep in mind is that this perceived discomfort is often exacerbated by the effects of jet lag. Lack of sleep, adjustment to the timing of meals, regular medications and routine, as well as the general need to orient themselves to their new surroundings can sometimes lead to less desirable reactions.  However, this period of time is often short lived, but can seem the most distressing to those on the other side of their call. 

What it can look like:
  • Irritability and/or negativity towards their new location
  • Perceived loneliness or slight depression
  • Temporary physical illness like: constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive issues
  • Not responding to calls or messages due to irregular sleep patterns
  • Insomnia
  • Sometimes, in rare cases, asking to come home
Suggestions on how to Support: 
  • Encourage setting up, and sticking to, a new consistent routine  
  • Reminding them to take advantage of healthy food options
  • Reiterating their goals and what they were most excited about experiencing while abroad
  • Reassurance and words of encouragement that this too will pass
  • Encourage them to limit their engagement “back home” via social media, phone calls, etc. Immersing themselves in their new environment aids in the adjustment.
  • Though tempting, do not encourage or support coming home immediately, unless the situation is dire. It can take up to a week and a steady routine to get adjusted and know their true feelings about their experience

On Site Stages of Cultural Adjustment
Honeymoon Phase
What it can look like: 
  • Everything is exciting, new, and full of enthusiasm.  
  • There is a perceived notion that they understand everything and it's going perfect.
  • Students are seeing more of the similarities between their host country and home, instead of cultural differences.  
  • They are often making note of the quirky, intriguing, and fun differences they are experiencing between cultures and locations.
Suggestions on how to support: 
  • Listen to their stories with shared enthusiasm.
  • Ask for specifics because this phase can be overwhelming and hard to explain.  The more direct your questions, often the easier it is for them to share.  Instead of “How are things going?” ask specifically about experiences, classes, and revelations.
  • Make mental notes of the stories and moments that are bringing them the most joy and fulfillment.  These are good reminders to bring up later when they might have moments of struggle in the future.

Culture Shock: Frustration and Irritability
What it can look like:
  • Irritability of inconveniences or frustrations
  • Increased homesickness for comforts and faces from home
  • Sometimes there is a level of blame and directed agitation to the people, behaviors, and day to day of their host country  Stages of Cultural Adjustment
  • Possibly questions of belonging or being part of the community
  • Tired and level of exhaustion of translating, or explaining themselves, as a visitor.
  • Suggestions on how to support: 
  • Remember that you are often their safe outlet for decompressing.  They may be sharing more of the negatives, than the list of positives that are happening.
  • Try to avoid judging cultural differences they may share, but instead, ask thought provoking questions like ‘That’s interesting, have you heard or seen why they might do that way?’
  • Encourage them to reach out to on-site, or home campus, support.  This can be onsite faculty, on site resident coordinators, UD or host country international and Ed Abroad office staff, or the UD World Associate Peer Advisors.  Information on how to contact UD staff can be found here.

What it can look like:
  • When students contact home the ratio of stories about frustration and irritability begin to be less in comparison to the stories of enjoyable moments.
  • Students may ask prompting questions, or seek responses from those at home, that support which reaction they move towards: continued irritability or celebration of their success
Suggestions on how to support:
  • Encourage and bolster the stories, no matter how small, that align with memorable happy moments.
  • Celebrate the moments they share about making local friends, trying new activities, or pushing themselves to try something new.
  • Tread lightly on sharing or encouraging how much they are missed at home, and how much they are missing while they are away.  Focus on the positive opportunities they have for their limited time abroad.

Acceptance & Adaptation  

This often takes time, and may or may not happen during a student’s time abroad.  However, the experience often helps move someone towards a life of seeking acceptance and adoption.  The goal is that student’s come to a place where they can appreciate their own personal cultural identity without dismissing the importance and value of other’s unique and distinct cultural identities that are different from their own. 
Re-Entry and Reverse Culture Shock
Though it seems like this may be a long way off from the application process, we encourage you to start thinking about your student’s return from their program.  Re-entry and reverse culture shock are often terms used for one of the most difficult times for students who have spent time abroad on any length of program.  The readjustment to a life that was, pre-program, is often daunting and confusing. Though the education abroad office is here to support students in their return, it is often difficult to be present to students, in the time and ways they need, as reverse culture shock affects each student differently and in their own time.

What it can look like:
  • Mild depression as a result of shifting atmosphere and experiences
  • Agitated, seeking more independence, as they just came back from an experience where they were dictating their schedules and plans solely on their own.
  • Disdain, critical, or agitated with behaviors and the ways society is structured at home. Example: “I hate it here, they don’t do (fill in the blank policy or behavior) in XXX country abroad” 
  • Feeling annoying, or unimportant, as family and friends often do not want to hear solely about their travels, or do not understand fully what their experience has been.
Suggestions on how to support:
  • Encourage family and friends to ask specific questions like, “What was your favorite meal?” “Was there someone from the country that you met that really made an impact on you?” If I was to go to XXXX place on vacation, what do you think I shouldn’t miss?” 
  • Understand, and be open, to the idea that your student has had experiences that have fundamentally changed their personal story, and how they define their life.  Celebrate the ways they have grown versus having sadness over the ways they are different.

Image Source: IES Abroad Re-Entry Resources