Undergraduate Study Abroad

For Families

Resources for Supporting a Study Abroad Student.

Your Role

We recognize the crucial role that you play in supporting your student as they plan for study abroad. This experience for students can be daunting and as a family member, it’s likely similarly daunting for you. We’re here to help you support your student as they navigate this journey. We encourage you to be a part of your student’s decision-making throughout the study abroad process.

Study abroad is an experience that will challenge your student as they step out of their comfort zone. It’s in this space, outside of their comfort zone, that they will learn new skills, gain new perspectives, and make new connections in another part of the world. One of the core skills students will sharpen through study abroad is independence. Many of the steps in the study abroad process will require students to be in the driver’s seat so we ask that you support students from the back seat, allowing them to lead the way with your guidance. 

Below you’ll find a host of topical guides that will help answer questions you may have about study abroad. We hope these resources help you feel prepared for your student’s upcoming adventure.

Before Your Student Departs

Before your student departs for their host country, it’s important to discuss expectations around communication. Oftentimes, students and their families have different expectations when it comes to frequency of communication. Take some time to establish common ground with your student around communication so you know what to expect when they’re abroad.

Staying in regular communication with your student while they’re abroad can be challenging, especially given time differences and cost associated with certain communication methods. We recommend the following strategies to stay in touch with your student:

  • Choose a communication method that is affordable. There are a host of smartphone apps that facilitate free calls and messaging. A few common free methods of communication are iMessage, FaceTime, WhatsApp, WeChat, GroupMe, Zoom, etc. The best option for you and your student may depend on the country to which they are traveling. 
  • Some U.S. cell phone carriers have reasonably priced international plans. It may be beneficial to give your cell phone carrier a call to learn about your options. 

It's natural to want your student to call you immediately when they arrive in their host country. Depending on the country, immediate access to wifi or a phone may not be possible. Before your student leaves, you should confirm how they plan to communicate when they’ve arrived. When students arrive abroad, they are often quite busy getting acclimated to their new environment and sometimes a message home slips their mind. You should expect a bit of a delay in communication. Giving your student about 24 hours to settle in is helpful.

Using Money Abroad

Before your student leaves the U.S., they should exchange $100-$150 into the local currency to cover minor expenses between the time of arrival and the opportunity to change larger sums at a bank.

Other than this small amount of local currency, it's usually best for students to carry multiple means of accessing money (whether that’s several credit cards, debit cards, or local currency).  The best method of accessing and using money abroad varies greatly by country. Your student should do research to learn if they should be prepared to withdraw from an ATM regularly and use cash or if they’ll be able to use credit/debit cards at most places. 

Most developed countries now have the same ATM networks (Cirrus, Plus) available in the U.S. A student's expenses vary according to their personal habits. Be aware that the buying power is directly related to the strength of the dollar.

Transfer of Funds

It's possible that your student may need more money from you during their time abroad. Your student’s time abroad may be one of the first times in a while where their income is fixed as they generally don’t have the opportunity to earn additional money while abroad. In most developed countries, it is now possible to obtain local currency with a Visa or Mastercard, or with the card issued by your bank for ATM networks such as Cirrus, Plus, and NYCE.

Service charges are usually minimal with bank cards, but considerably higher with credit cards. Holders of American Express cards may receive emergency cash drawn on their account, if necessary. It is  important to know what the international card usage fees are for any cards your student plans to use while abroad.

Students who need special prescription drugs should take along an adequate supply, along with written instructions from a physician in case of emergency. We suggest that your student contact the nearest international health clinic to obtain information on any inoculations that may be required for the host country. For comprehensive information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control webpage.

Adequate health and accident insurance must be carried by each student. Brown University Student Health insurance is considered appropriate coverage for study abroad(but it should be noted that there is not always a Student Health Clinic available overseas).

Students may be fully covered under a parent's or guardian's policy, or they may wish to contract for insurance directly related to living abroad. Students and their families must decide what is adequate for them. Only a few policies arrange to pay the bill directly; most reimburse the user upon presentation of bills.

Students traveling abroad tend to overpack. You can help your student with the following ideas:

  • Students will often have to transport their luggage themselves. They should therefore pack lightly, and their luggage should be lightweight and sturdy. Check with the airlines to make sure that the luggage conforms to international size regulations.
  • Focus on comfort and necessities, being sure to pack comfortable walking shoes in particular.
  • In most countries, people have far fewer clothes than the typical American student. There is no stigma attached to being seen repeatedly in the same outfit. Versatile clothing items and layering pieces help change an outfit, and make it flexible for varying weather.
  • Students will be able to find toiletries abroad; they should pack only as much as they need to get started. One exception to this rule concerns contact lenses. It may be advisable to take an adequate supply of lens solution and disposable lenses.
  • Pack power cords for electronics and power adapters/converters if your student’s host country uses different outlets/voltage.
  • Remind your student to pack any personal care items that are important to them, especially if your student uses any special products. This can include special shampoo and conditioner that is for your student’s type of hair or a special non-fragrant deodorant.

While Abroad

Cultural Shock

All students experience some degree of culture shock when they arrive in their host country. This is true regardless of the student's previous experience, maturity, disposition, or knowledge of the country in which they will be living. A period of mild disappointment, homesickness, or depression is a normal part of the study abroad experience -- and one that passes quickly for most students.

You can help by listening and by helping them identify specific actions that can connect them with support services on the ground. Encourage your student to engage in self care activities that they do back home as a pick-me-up. For example, if your student typically goes on walks to clear their head, encourage them to embrace that habit while abroad to help them cope with the transition.  

If you are concerned about your student’s welfare or state of mind, contact the Study Abroad Advising Team. We can contact on-site program representatives to determine if any action should be taken, or more likely, supply you with information to relieve your concern.

When Your Student Returns

Adjusting to life at home after studying abroad can be a challenge. Life in the U.S. can seem drab after the independence and new experiences students have while abroad. Students may also feel that their friends and family cannot easily share in the enthusiasm for their host country, or don't fully appreciate how the study abroad experience has changed their perspective on the world.

You can help your student by listening carefully to them and acknowledging their growth. Encourage them to seek out ways of integrating their abroad experiences with life in the U.S. Continued language study or other relevant coursework can build on their abroad learning.  There are a host of student organizations and events on and around campus that will allow students to continue to engage in learning that compliments their time abroad. Such activities could include joining a cultural organization on campus, participating in a language exchange to continue to practice language skills, or volunteering locally with a community group that has ties to your student’s host country. 

As your student returns to campus, you may have other questions regarding the rest of their time at Brown. You can find Parent & Family resources on this website.