Whether you are a seasoned international traveller, have never been outside of your home country, or fall somewhere in between, you may well be feeling both excited and anxious that your student is looking at learning abroad.
We recognise you may not know what this really means, how best to support your student, or even if study abroad is worth it. We hope we can help you help your student by considering the following topics.
Queen’s students can take part in six main kinds of programs and the following overview highlights some of the key points of each type.
Queen’s sends its students to partner universities across the world, and they send students to Queen’s, either for the Fall or Winter semester or full-year depending on the agreement we have and availability (which can change from year to year). Students take a full course load for credit and Queen’s students pay relevant Queen’s tuition. Exchange is relatively structured but also allows for a great deal of independence. Credit transfer is required, and Faculties/Schools assist students with this process.
- Example: Bilateral exchange program
Typically for-credit, these are short-term programs (e.g., a few weeks) led by a Queen’s faculty member in a variety of locations, with tuition payable to Queen’s (typically 1 or 2 courses). These programs are typically highly structured, and students study together as a cohort. As these are Queen’s courses, no credit transfer is required.
- Example: International Study Program: Cuba
Queen’s campus in the UK. Students take Queen’s courses and pay tuition to Queen’s. Programs are structured but also allow for a great deal of independence, and take place in Fall, Winter, and Summer. As these are Queen’s courses, no credit transfer is required. There is a flat program fee for all students regardless of program or domestic/international student status.
- Example: Bader International Study Centre
Can be for credit or not (research programs typically are not for credit). Students study together in typically structured programs in one of a variety of locations, with options in the summer and the Winter reading week. For Queen’s programs, students pay tuition to Queen’s. For non-Queen’s programs students pay tuition to the program provider. Transfer credit is clearly noted if required.
Typically for credit, students typically take part in Summer programs (although can also take part in Fall and Winter) and pay tuition and other fees directly to the host university. This is normally an unstructured experience, with students personally responsible for registering at the host university and paying fees etc. Students must have courses approved prior to applying via an International Letter of Permission.
- Example: PKU Summer School International
Typically for credit, students study together in one of a variety of locations typically in the Summer; courses may or may not be offered by an accredited university (to which tuition is payable, or to the program provider, but not to Queen’s). These programs are typically highly structured, and students study together as a cohort. The quality of these programs can vary, so we recommend researching options and finding legitimate reviews. Students must have courses approved prior to applying via an International Letter of Permission.
Benefits of studying abroad
You may be wondering if studying abroad is worth it. We believe it is!
A 2017 report (.PDF, 6MB) by the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa, and Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, indicated that study abroad:
- Equips young people with the skills they need for the new economy
- Can create economic opportunity – and academic outcomes and employment after graduation are strongest for students from less-advantaged backgrounds
Employers want workers who excel at problem solving, communication and teamwork… International study creates global-mindedness and these in-demand skills.” — Frank McKenna, deputy chair, TD Bank, former ambassador to the United States and former premier of New Brunswick.
In addition, the study abroad experience can help students to*:
- Develop the global mindset needed to balance local and international challenges.
- Understand different cultures and solve problems while operating in a different environment.
- Open their eyes to other perspectives and ways of thinking about the world.
- Enhance their proficiency in and practical application of another language.
- Strengthen their adaptability, communication, and resilience.
- Increase their confidence, personal responsibility, and independence.
- Enhance their career opportunities.
*adapted from “A Parent Guide to Study Abroad” IIE/AIFS (2015)
We invite you to see our “Why Study Abroad” page for more details.
Video credit - Uwe Brandeburg - Internationalisation in 60 seconds 4 Why you should study abroad
Uwe Brandeburg has over 20 years of experience in internationalization and has held numerous positions including with the European Association for International Educators, and as a core expert for the International Association of Universities.
Encourage open communication
As with any major life event, one of the best things you can do is talk with your student. This is a great opportunity to help your student develop problem-solving skills. For example, it may be tempting to try and solve issues for them, but this is not always the most effective thing to do in terms of their personal development. In many cases, your student will have the same questions you do about the study abroad process. It is best to have your student act as a family representative and come to us with any questions you may have. When your student asks questions, this means they are properly informed about the program and processes. The more your student owns the process now, the better prepared they will be upon their arrival in the host country.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggested topics of conversation. The order of questions is advisory only.
At the pre-application stage
- what their goals are
- how long they want to study abroad
- what are the costs, and whether/what financial aid is available
- how the program fits into their academic plan
- how the program might impact participation in other opportunities such as sports teams, or work (see “When to Go” on our Choosing the Right Program page)
- their concerns and what they are excited about
- what they have to do for pre-departure (orientations, pay fees, academics)
- how to navigate their identity in a different country (if your student is in an equity-deserving group you may wish to use these resources as a starting point)
- how you can help
- how often you will stay in touch, and how (recognising that this may change once your student has arrived in their host country)
- it can also be useful to revisit any concerns
While they are on the program
- how they are doing (even if your student appears to be doing well, they may be putting on a brave face). See the “culture shock cycle”
- how you can help
When they return
- how to prepare to leave the host country/culture (see our “Returning Home” resource)
- reverse culture shock
- listen to their experience
- lessons learned and skills developed
We encourage you to familiarise yourself with your student’s choice of program, or if they are looking for guidance about which to choose, what options are available. Programs can be shorter or longer, and some are more structured than others.
If your student is looking at what type of program to go on, our “Choosing the Right Program” page outlines some useful topics for consideration.
If your student has decided on a program and a country, you may wish to read any program literature and research the destination country, including its history, culture, customs, laws, social/moral codes, dress and language.
Queen’s has a robust Off-Campus Activity Safety Policy (OCASP) that requires all students to complete mandatory training before departing on their program. We invite you to familiarise yourself with the safety resources Queen’s offers and to look at the Canadian government travel advisories relating to the destination to which your student is travelling.
You may wish to ask your student to leave a copy of their itinerary with you (including flight and accommodation details), as well as photocopies of important documents (e.g., passport). You may also wish to talk with them about what their plan is in an emergency (e.g., do they know the emergency services number(s) in the destination(s) to which they are travelling?).
Studying in another country may seem expensive, but that isn’t necessarily the case, as different countries have different costs of living. In addition, domestic students can avoid paying international student tuition fees by taking part in Queen’s programs that charge Queen’s tuition. And international students at Queen’s can potentially save money by taking courses on an International Letter of Permission in their country of citizenship, where they would typically pay domestic tuition.
We encourage you to see what funding is available for what program. If in doubt encourage your student to contact their Faculty International Office and ask! This can include checking to see if government loans (e.g., OSAP) can be used – typically (e.g., for exchange) these will be unless your student is taking part in independent study abroad.
Encourage your student to build a budget – we have some great resources to help them do this. If there is a program fee, understand what is covered and what is not covered.
It's also important to understand the various deadlines by which any fees are due, as well as cancellation and refund policies, including flights etc. Please be aware that students are required to assume all anticipated and unanticipated travel-related costs associated with their international program. This includes but is not limited to any vaccination, quarantine, or testing costs incurred prior to travel, on arrival in the host country, and/or upon return to Canada/their home country; flight changes; early termination of rental leases; or financial costs associated with the issuance of any travel notices by the Canadian government or others.
"Culture Shock" is the term used to describe the process of adjustment for a person moving to a new culture and facing a sudden change of environment, language, academic/social setting, food, and climate. Culture shock is a normal process that almost everyone who travels experiences. It is part of the process of learning a new culture that is called "cultural adaptation."
Your student might feel lonely, but probably not at first. Students usually are busy and excited at the beginning of the semester. They are having new experiences, meeting new people and getting comfortable in their new environment. Most students will not get homesick right away because they have too much to do.
After a few weeks, though, you may notice that your student calls home more often or seems more withdrawn. When you do talk to your child, encourage your student to get involved and make friends on campus. There are often many clubs, organizations, and/or events that can help students feel more connected to their campus community/program.
Family members/caregivers can play an important role in helping their student move through the different phases of culture shock if they know what symptom to look for. The University of the Pacific provides a website called, "What’s Up with Culture?" which is an excellent (US-based) resource that we hope will help you better understand culture shock: http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/.
Although staying in contact is easier than ever these days with cellphones, WhatsApp, FaceTime and email, time that is spent checking in on your student is time that they are not participating in the program. Typically, the less your student checks in with you, the more independent they become.
Of course, it is important to see that they are ok and have arrived safely. You may wish to speak to your student once or twice upon arrival. But then set up a regular form of contact that gives you both peace of mind but is not too much – the mode of communication and frequency will vary from student to student, and you will probably know yourself if you are contacting them a lot. Remember, less frequent communication does not mean lower quality communication.
Do however look out for any warning signs. Students can sometimes feel pressure to say they are having a great time when in fact they are struggling. If you think this is the case encourage your student to connect with wellness services in the host destination and with the advisor at Queen’s. Study abroad is not for everyone, and it may be that the best thing for your student to do for their physical/mental health is to leave the program: I Had To Leave My Study Abroad Program Early
When a student applies to a program, all correspondence is sent directly to the student. Student academic and financial information is protected by Ontario government law (FIPPA) and University Senate policy. Your student can authorise access for you to certain aspects of their student account – but please note this does not cover many aspects of study abroad programs. If your student wishes to authorise access to additional information held about them and their study abroad program, they should contact their Faculty International Office indicating the specific information they wish to authorise access to, who can access this information, and when this access ends.
You may find "A Parent Guide to Study Abroad" IIE/AIFS (2015) useful. Please note that this is US-centric and some terminology may be considered outdated or problematic (e.g., using "child" or "son/daughter" and the guide does not speak to the lived experiences of diverse groups. https://www.brandeis.edu/abroad/docs/families/parent-guide.pdf