As a parent or family member of a student preparing to study away, there are a few key things you can do to contribute to the success of the experience. In this video, the Duke Global Education Office will share their top five recommendations for parents and families.
# 1 – Prompt your student to set intentions for the experience.
Encourage your student to talk about the outcomes they want to experience by the end of the program. Find out what’s important to them. Maybe they want to get better at a foreign language or study a particular topic in depth, or maybe they are looking for more confidence in their ability to handle new things on their own.
If they start to feel down, or if they begin to talk about what they are missing back at Duke, redirect their focus back to the things they said they wanted to get out of the program.
Every now and then, ask them to reflect on their experience and compare them to the outcomes they’d hoped for. If you see a disconnect, steer them towards activities that match their original intentions, or open up a discussion about how their intentions have changed and why. Sometimes a shift in perspective becomes their most valuable takeaway.
#2 – Prepare responses to your student's emotions.
As your student goes through the different emotions of studying away, they might express being homesick, lonely, restless, or overwhelmed. Here are some things you might try in response:
- Encourage them to get involved at the host university through sports or a club, or even just checking out the calendar of upcoming guest speakers and special events.
- Suggest they continue pursuing a hobby or interest from back home as a way to connect their study away experience with something familiar.
- Encourage them to set aside enough time to get through the coursework. Many academic systems outside the U.S. will feel hands-off compared to Duke because there are fewer quizzes and assignments to turn in. This doesn’t mean the class is easier – it means the student needs to guide their own studies.
- Look at whether they are achieving a healthy balance between traveling in their free time and forming a sense of place in their program location. Remind them that exploring local parks, coffee shops, and museums will go a long way towards making them feel at home on their program. Local activities are also a great way to make new friends.
#3 – Know when to engage, when to wait it out.
As your student reaches out for your help throughout their program, keep in mind that uncertainty is a natural part of the process of intercultural learning. Very often, the greatest discovery students make on study away is their own inner strength, their ability to think their way past their own fears, and find creative solutions to unfamiliar problems.
Unless there is reason to believe your student’s health and safety are threatened, the greatest learning experience you can provide is encouraging them to work out their own solutions.
#4 – Guide your student to use the support systems.
If your student finds they need support, they will not be left to fend for themselves. A large network of people at Duke and beyond work very hard to make sure students have support for their personal needs related to emotional and physical health, safety, or security on study away.
GEO staff members are here to help your student at every stage. Our experienced advisors and our dedicated Health, Safety, and Security Officer invite students to contact our office at any point before or during their program. Programs have different models for on-site staff, but there is always someone local who can assist your student. If your student needs help understanding the support model for their program, have them contact GEO.
When your student needs help on the program, especially help of an urgent nature, encourage them to consult someone local like their program staff or their host family. These people will be very familiar with the community and can give your student prompt attention, while the rest of us do our part from afar to resolve issues, answer questions, and comfort your student. Homestay families are an intentional component of a student’s support system, and students should not hesitate to reach out to their host family for advice or assistance.
Your student will receive a general study away handbook (and a program-specific handbook in many cases), and they will be invited to attend a pre-departure orientation on campus. There is a wealth of information in these resources, please make sure they know about them.
Download summer and semester handbooks at: https://globaled.duke.edu/about/forms-policies
#5 – Challenge your student to make the most of it.
Learning a new culture from an insider’s perspective is one of the major benefits of study away. Encourage your student to connect with the things that they wouldn’t have the chance to experience otherwise: their homestay family, local members of the community, students at the host university, professors, and mentors.
They might even want to conduct pre-professional research by initiating informational interviews with professionals in the area, attending networking events, or reaching out to Duke alumni living in the host location.
The simplest thing to remember is that study away is what you make of it. Challenge them to make the most of their time studying and living like a local in a new part of the world!
Video produced in partnership with the Duke Office of Parent & Family Programs