First Generation Students
When you're the first person in your family to study abroad, you may spend a lot of time explaining what you are doing and why. You might hear stories of so-and-so going on a cruise and getting norovirus, or your family members will talk for ages about your great uncle who was in the war. Your grandma might spend a lot of time warning you about "the ISIS," or everyone at home might assume you are a missionary. Alternatively, you might find that no one understands or wants to talk about your experience at all, or your family might not support your decision to go abroad. It will be your responsibility to educate your family on what study abroad is and why this experience is important for your personal growth. Do research on your host country and your program, and make a list of how this experience will benefit you academically, professionally, and personally. Then you can be prepared to answer questions!
You’ve already taken an important step in your study abroad journey by educating yourself on the programs and possibilities that await you, but you may face additional hurdles in figuring out what to do next—applying for a program, buying plane tickets, applying for a student visa, getting a passport, understanding grade conversions, etc. Please know that the Study Abroad & Global Engagement office is here to help. Many of our staff members were also the first in their families to go abroad, and we remember how terrifying it was to get on that plane and navigate an international airport.
How to Prepare
- If you are confused by all the paperwork required to study abroad, ask your program coordinator to help you fill out required documents and explain them to you.
- Before you depart, work with your family to establish a communication plan and a regular method of communication. Figure out what works best—text messaging, Skype, email—and then figure out the best times to communicate once you are in different time zones.
- Set realistic expectations for communication. You might not be able to talk everyday, so establish a goal now. It will help you maintain balance abroad and keep your family from worrying.
- Encourage a family member to get a passport in case of an emergency. Although rare, if you did have an international emergency, it's good to know someone would have the ability to fly to you if needed.
- If you haven't flown internationally before, ask questions! See Logan's Declassified International Flight Survival Guide for thoughts and tips. Your program coordinator can make recommendations on flights and help explain what the flight and layovers will be like. Research the airports you'll be in, the airlines, and what it will be like to go through immigration, customs, and different time zones.
- Consider keeping a blog. Be honest and narrate your experience for your family. This can help keep them engaged with you while you are abroad, and when you return home they'll be able to ask you about your specific experiences. It's also a great way to remember what you did and how you were feeling.
- Keep your program coordinator's contact information handy. If you have a problem abroad, don't hesitate to ask questions and seek advice.
Questions to Consider
- What mentors, advisors, family, and friends do I rely on while I'm in school, and how can I maintain my support system abroad?
- What services do I use on campus (advising, tutoring, student organizations, libraries, computer labs), and will I have access to similar services when I am abroad?
- What new experiences and situations am I most nervous about? How can I prepare now to lessen my fears?
One of the hardest parts of studying abroad can be returning home. In addition to managing the effects of "reverse culture shock," you might find that no one at home wants to talk about your experience, or that no one understands. Seek out friends that also went abroad, stay in touch with the friends you made on your program, and if you ever just want to share stories, drop by the Study Abroad Info Center! We’re always up for reminiscing, and we also seek out students to be returnee panelists.