Skip to content

How Family Members Can Help

Preparing to go abroad is a crucial time for students. There are a variety of ways in which you—as parents, guardians, or family members—can help your student be successful.


While it is important that your student be in control and understand the entire process, it is also helpful if you as the parent, guardian, or family member talk about the process with your student. Discussing the following topics will prepare both you and your student for a successful time abroad: 
  • The differences between the United States and the host country, which could include time, currency, seasonal differences, etc. You will be able to better relate to your student while they are abroad if you are aware of these things.
  • A plan for the best way to send money if an emergency arises. It is also a good idea to be informed about who and how to contact someone in the host country if you need to get in touch with your student in the case of an urgent situation.
  • A plan for how you are going to keep in contact with your student. Set a time after arrival when communication should be made. Keep in mind that students may not have access to internet or a cell phone for several days upon arrival, while they are getting settled in the new country. Be sure you know the country prefix to dial if you plan to call your student.
  • The expected cultural adjustment your student will be experiencing while abroad and when they return. More information on this topic is provided below.


Before your student leaves, it is a good idea to obtain copies of important documents and keep the copies at home: signed passport, plane tickets, bank information, credit card information, identification, host school's acceptance letter, prescriptions, etc.  If these items are lost or stolen, it will be much easier to replace them if there is proof of each one. It is also advisable to ensure all words and numbers are legible in the copies.


Also known as culture shock, cultural adjustment can be one of the most educational aspects of a study abroad program; however, it can also be a very emotional time for the student if he/she is not prepared to deal with the changes. The following section explains some of the stages that many students experience during the adjustment period.
The first feelings students may experience are categorized as the honeymoon stage. During this time, they are exhilarated and fascinated by everything that is new around them. Everything seems great, and they are unable to see, taste, and feel the new culture fast enough. Expectations are high, and the outlook is always positive.
After some time, students enter the second stage of cultural adaptation, which is referred to as the anxiety or hostility stage. Everything has been different now for some time, and students need to build a new social structure to replace the one they have left behind in order to adapt to a new world. These changes can often manifest in frustration, anger, anxiety, and even depression. Weariness catches up with students, and it may no longer be fun to try to keep up with the abundance of changes happening. Family members often receive a phone call or two during this time.
Once students begin to relax in the new environment, they often find humor in the mistakes and misunderstandings of daily life, which is why the third stage is called the humor stage. Generally, by this time, students have made some friends with whom they are comfortable and can confide, and they have adjusted to the new structures of the foreign world.
The final stage students may experience while living abroad is considered the adjustment stage. During this time, they feel at home in the new country and are familiar with the way this new community functions. They experience a form of biculturalism, which allows them to accept the differences between the two cultures. This task is difficult to achieve, and students should be commended for their efforts to grow this much.
Students often think that, when they return home, everything will snap back to normal without much effort; however, in some cases, reverse culture shock is much more difficult to deal with than when they left for the new country in the first place. It is important to remember that students have drastically changed throughout their time abroad. Now, coming back to the same place and the same people, does not necessarily feel the same because of the changes within themselves. They may now find faults with American ways of life or view their "normal" life as boring. Students needed time to adjust to life abroad, just as they also need time to adjust to life at home again.
These stages vary in strength for each person. Many students may not even realize they are going through these stages until they start to look back at the experience.


A guide to study abroad for family members is helpful to read.

Check back regularly with the Office of International Education's COVID-19 Updates page for information related to our office's response to COVID-19, and our continuing efforts related to study abroad and the epidemic.


Be there for your student. Your student may be going through a tough transition, so help them along without being critical, especially when they are.

Be patient. Adjusting can be particularly hard in the first few days. Your student may just need a less busy schedule and time to reacquaint. When these feelings pass, help your student refocus their energy to identify new goals or become more active in their newfound interests.

Be perceptive. Be open to listening on your student’s terms. Be there when they need to talk but also give them space. Accept that memories and stories may only come out at a much later time when the student feels ready to talk about them or recalls them. Talking about your own life experiences to the student helps to open a line of communication. Giving a small gift like a blank photo album can be beneficial.

Be parental. Support and guide them as they readjust. Your student may be vastly more independent than before. If your student’s goals have changed, discuss them. If your student is worried about losing language or cultural skills, ask them about mapping out a plan of action to keep their skills fresh. Talk about strategies for managing reentry.

Be vigilant. If you notice any drastic changes that need to be brought to a professional’s attention, you may recommend that your student contact UW-Stout’s Student Health Services.