Living in an increasingly globalized world, international exposure is now an important component of higher education. Northwood University recognizes how essential such exposure is in developing our students and preparing them for their future endeavors. Studying abroad enables a student to increase their knowledge of the world, mature, and develop their cultural sensitivity and independence. Living abroad enables the student to obtain new life skills and sharpen the ones they have. Not only are these trips greatly beneficial on a personal level but they also help prepare students for graduate school or the job market.
Northwood has sought to build a large selection of Study Abroad offerings and the University strongly encourages students to participate in such programs. At present we offer 12 different exchange programs and a number of faculty led programs. Students earn credit during their time abroad and can therefore still graduate on time.
We assure you that the political and social climate in which we offer our programs are closely monitored. The International Programs department follows the advice of the U.S. Department of State regarding safety and security in a region and we audit all our programs regularly making sure they are of proper standard.
Support your Student
Studying abroad is an exciting and defining period in your student’s educational experience. It will help him/her grow as he/she engages a different culture, perspective and people. Studying abroad will also distinguish your student from their peers helping him /her stand out in the eyes of prospective employer or school interviewers. We understand that despite all the excitement, there can also be some uneasiness about being separated by thousands of miles. We encourage you to be supportive of your student while also maximizing their learning experience. In fact, your support is very important and the means by which you handle their time abroad will greatly dictate your student’s ability to grown and learn from their overseas experience. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind in supporting your student.
Encourage students to be in charge of pre-departure preparation
Usually students will be attending regular class while also preparing for a study abroad program. There are many tasks involved in planning a study abroad trip and they will have to find the right balance between their school work and their preparations. It might be tempting to relieve your student of some of the responsibilities but he/she will be better off if he/she attends to the pre-departure preparations personally. Firstly, it will be great learning experience in international travel and study. Secondly, it will prepare your student for the upcoming challenges. During the upcoming time abroad, there won’t be a reliable support network of family and friends readily available and the student must be prepared to fend for himself/herself. Pre-departure preparation will provide opportunities for the student to understand the system and handle the challengers in a contained environment thus equipping them with the necessary tools to face challenges during their time abroad. Without such preparation at home the task of facing challenges in a new environment and in new culture can prove a daunting. The best time for a student to start standing on their own is while they are still in their home environment so sit back and let your student handle this responsibility.
Maintaining a healthy distance with your student while still keeping in touch
Staying in regular touch with your student is an effective way of reducing homesickness. There is a close correlation between morale overseas and messages from home. Staying in touch with current events in the country and region is another way to feel more in touch with the experiences of your student.
Nevertheless, please keep in mind that while you are eager to keep in touch with your student and know of his/her experiences, it is not beneficial for the student to call or email home constantly. If the student is regularly on the phone or internet communicating with friends and family back home, there is less opportunity and incentive for him/her to integrate into the local community. The more time your student spends communicating with people back home, the less time he/she is exploring his/her new surroundings, culture, and making friends with the locals. In fact, homesickness can be exacerbated by too much communication from home and the best remedy for homesickness is understanding and enjoying the new environment. If your student is interested in learning the local language, immersion in that language rather than communicating extensively in English is important. You can encourage your student’s international learning experience by reassuring him/her that you do not expect frequent long emails or daily calls.
There is also a phenomenon referred to as “destructive dialing”. This is a situation in which a student gets upset about something and calls home; the parent gets upset and calls back making the student even more upset and so on until the situation reaches a crisis point. Having your student plan his/her pre-departure and overcoming problems along the way is one way of already exposing him to dealing and overcoming situations by himself/herself. Limiting calling can also help this. Make it clear that while you fully support your student, you expect him/her to be resilient and resourceful enough to overcome minor road bumps along the way.
Time your visits to your student
If you are planning on visiting your student, try not to do so when the term is getting started. During these early stages, the student is getting accustomed to his/her surrounding and building a new network of friends and resources. Give him/her time to adjust and master his/her surrounding so that he/she might be able to show off all his/her learning when you come. By visiting later in the semester you are giving your student a chance to transition to life in his/her host city and relish the opportunity of showing you around. Additionally, you will have a knowledgeable guide showing you the city or country. You will be introduced to your student’s friends and local hangouts, given informative tours and have someone experienced in the region help plan your itinerary.
When visiting your student it is also best if you do not undermine his/her academic commitment. It is especially not recommended that you pull out your student from class for vacation. Instead, get a copy of the student’s semester schedule and plan your trip accordingly.
One thing we strongly discourage parents from doing is accompanying their student to the program’s location. This can disrupt the program staff, as they accommodate their programs for you, and also can prevent your student from getting off to a good start. It can give your student a false sense of security but leave them with less confidence once you leave. It may also prevent them from a smooth integration among their peers. Believe in your students’ abilities to get along fine without you and encourage them to start of their new overseas adventures on their own.
Culture chock can and most of the times will happen. During the first few weeks, your student will encounter many new challenges. He/she will have to adjust to a new academic system, university process, accommodation, food, etc. Most of the situations that cause students to feel anxious are simple situations to which they will eventually adapt. Resist the temptation to intervene and resolve the problems for your student, intercede with host university or International Programs dept. on behalf of your student, or take extreme measures such as fly your student home.
The process of overcoming culture shock is a learning experience that is unique to each individual. Some students experience very little culture shock while other might take a little time to settle into their new surroundings. Understand that there is little you or the International Programs Dept. can do from here. Instead, provide a sympathetic ear but encourage your student. Remind him/her to show patience, learn to go with the flow of things, have a sense of humor and engage with the people in his/her new surroundings. Urge your student to be more independent, to seek out the help of local students and request the assistance of the program or university staff. Express confidence in your student’s ability to handle problems by himself/herself.
However, if you feel your student is in an unsafe position, please contact Northwood’s International Programs office.
Your Returning Student
Prepare for your returning student to be changed by his/her study abroad experience. He/she might like new foods, express new perspectives, speak or even dress differently. This is not unusual. Your students will have been exposed to a plethora of new ideas, practices and philosophies. Expect some change and be patient as it will take time for your student to sort through his/ her experiences to determine which traits and lessons learned abroad are worth keeping.
Be prepared also from some reverse culture shock. After coming home and sharing their experiences, many students feeling sad because they miss the excitement of being abroad. Coming back to his/her old routine, your student might express boredom due to the ordinary nature of life and suggest another study abroad experience. Once again your understanding and support will be crucial. Discuss these feelings and changes and encourage him/her to stay in touch with his/her overseas friends but to also find local avenues in which the knowledge and skills gained from his/her time abroad could be useful.