You may be asking yourself this question. After all, study abroad was never as popular a choice nor as accessible an opportunity as it is now. Still, it's a complicated decision for students and their parents, involving a myriad of considerations including (among many others) finances, academic and career plans, and the timing of a semester abroad. Though we try to make it as affordable as we can, we understand that going on a global education program represents an enormous investment in time and effort for the family.
One of the Center for Global Education's (CGE) prime missions is to help students make the most of the opportunities afforded by study abroad. We want them to go abroad fully aware of the enormous opportunity they have, and the potential this experience has for their personal and professional growth. We work to send them abroad with all the necessary tools to reap these benefits.
Our short answer to the question above is that we believe that students need to be engaged with the world. This is reflected in our Mission Statement:
The mission of the Center for Global Education is to provide students with academically challenging study abroad experiences that foster an in-depth understanding of another culture, with the aim of encouraging them to embrace the concept of global citizenship. Being a responsible, effective citizen of the world involves assuming an active role in one's own community and in the larger world; it requires an understanding of the relationship between actions made locally and globally and a commitment to the betterment of people's lives everywhere. Through our study abroad programs, the Center for Global Education strives to provide students with a transformative learning experience that inspires them to live lives of consequence.
When we talk to students, we present three specific reasons why all students should think about global education:
Parents, as well as students, should understand the process of finding out about, applying for, and participating in a global education program. This section breaks this process down into four parts: recruitment and application, before students go, while they are away, and when they return.
In the first week of each semester, the Center for Global Education begins to publicize its programs to students. Students will need to apply one year in advance of the semester they wish to go abroad. Please note that all programs do not necessarily run every semester. We send emails to all First Years, Sophomores and Juniors inviting them to the General Information Session (see below). We put up posters around campus, post an announcement on the HWS Daily Update web page, and send out emails to students who have previously expressed interest in a global education program. We also table in Scandling (the student center) so students can pick up program information and ask any questions they may have "face to face."
The General Information Session is usually held in the third or fourth week of each semester. At this meeting, students learn about the application process and the programs we are recruiting for. After this portion of the meeting, faculty directors and other program representatives meet with small groups interested in particular programs. Students receive a copy of the CGE Programs Passport, application forms and informational brochures about each of the available programs.
The next step after attending the General Info Session is for students to sign up in our office for a “Which Program for Me?” meeting. In this session students meet with a member of CGE staff in groups of 10 or less who helps them identify programs that would be a good fit for them. Students must apply for their programs before the application deadline, which falls in October for the Fall and March for the Spring. More information about the application process can be found in the CGE Programs Passport. Applications received after the published deadline will only be considered on a space-available basis.
Decisions are announced within 4 weeks of the application deadline. The office strives to have decisions done in time for registration for the following semester so that students can sign up for pre-req courses if required. Please see the CGE Programs Passport for more details outlining the criteria on which admission decisions are based. Students will either be accepted, waitlisted or denied for a program. Students who are accepted to a program must submit a non-refundable deposit to the Business Office to secure their place in the program. (If students do not confirm their participation by the date specified in their acceptance letter and there is a wait list, the student will forfeit his or her place.) If a student is waitlisted, there is a reasonable possibility that s/he will receive an offer in time to participate in a particular program, but, of course, this cannot be guaranteed.
The time between acceptance into a program and actually boarding the plane is filled with physical, intellectual, emotional and financial preparation. The Center for Global Education will conduct a mandatory Program Logistics Meeting for each individual program, which is an orientation to give students an introduction to the program and the country, to go over important health and safety information and to let them know what they can expect while abroad. Paperwork for the institution abroad and/or visa* paperwork will be handed out at this meeting and students will be given a comprehensive To Do list, letting them know what they need to do before going abroad and letting them know about upcoming meetings and workshops. Students will also learn about some of the challenges they will face that are particular to the culture of the country they are visiting. *Some programs with particularly complicated visa processes will have a separate meeting dedicated to visas.
Students will also attend a Goal-Setting Workshops that will help them figure out what they would like to accomplish while abroad. At this workshop they will also be able to speak to students who have been on their program in a previous semester. It is very important that students attend all of these mandatory meetings.
We also offer optional workshops such as a travel writing workshop and a travel photography workshop. Students may attend one of each if they would like to.
Before their departure, students and parents will receive a handbook covering these and other topics in more detail. The handbooks are program-specific and provide detailed information for the country they are visiting such as finances, flights, housing arrangements, courses, packing, etc. Copies of previous handbooks are available to download on our webpage. Handbooks for your student's program will be available towards the end of the semester before they depart, when we have all the details finalized. If you student has provided us with your email address, we will also email a copy of the handbook to you. We encourage all parents to read the handbook, as it explains many aspects of the experience your student will have abroad. For our program in India we don't prepare our own handbook but refer students directly to the detailed handbook provided by the Consortium that administrates the program.
Students have all received paperwork to fill out for their program (behavior agreement, liability waiver, flight form and medical form), including a comprehensive to-do list with due dates. Students on most programs are also given applications required by the institutions abroad. They are also told to apply for a passport if they do not have a valid one. We arrange group flight for a few programs but most students will need to find their own flights. Though the particulars vary from program to program, in general each student will need to do the following things:
Safety is an issue at the forefront of many parents' minds when they think of their student studying abroad. The Center for Global Education has developed a comprehensive safety and emergency response plan and monitors State Department safety bulletins daily. In addition, all HWS programs have local staff, or our own Faculty Directors, on site with the students. In a true emergency, the CGE and HWS reserve the right to cancel or bring back a program in progress. In the unlikely event this should happen, HWS will make all reasonable accommodations to ensure that students will receive academic credit.
For the first time, you may feel like your son or daughter is a little further away than a phone call, email or text can reach. Although almost all students will have email access abroad, in some countries it is much more limited than they are used to. In homestays, use of the phone may be limited by host families to pre-arranged calls or phone cards that they purchase and use at local payphones. You should expect to be able to reach your son or daughter, but you should also expect that this will not be as easy as it is now. While some students abroad are either issued with or choose to purchase cell phones, this is by no means the rule.
Tip: Make sure you have a calendar of your student's program at hand. These are published in the handbook they are given for their program before they leave campus. One of the reasons there might be a lapse in normal communications is that s/he is on a scheduled field excursion or is traveling on break.
On insurance, your son or daughter may be covered abroad by your health policy - this is something that you will need to check with your insurance company. Some programs will have insurance included as part of the abroad program and we will let students know if this is the case. Students are required to have insurance that is valid worldwide as a condition of participating in a program abroad. They also need to ensure that they have medical evacuation and repatriation coverage. It is easy to buy that separately and cheaply (your son or daughter can purchase an ISIC card at www.myisic.com if they are covered by your insurance and only need the evacuation and repatriation.)
For those not covered by a parent's policy who would like to purchase a comprehensive medical policy that includes evacuation and repatriation coverage, here are some providers we have worked with: HTH World Wide - (click on the "quote" button on the GeoBlue Voyager plan). If this policy is not offered in your state, you can type in the Geneva, NY zipcode (14456), since all HWS students are also considered New York residents. The other provider is Trawick International. Click on "Safe travels international" and enter the info requested to get an online quote. Be sure to choose the level of coverage and deductible you would like from the dropdown menus.
Students also have the option of purchasing the year-long Gallagher Student Health policy through HWS, but while the year-long policy is fine if a student will be in the U.S., we strongly recommend that you purchase a specific study abroad policy for a student who will be abroad. The reason for this is that the year-long policy only covers 70% of any medical costs abroad and you would be responsible for the remaining 30%. If your son or daughter needed any kind of extended hospital care abroad, the cost could be prohibitive.
You may instead choose to purchase a policy elsewhere, but if you do, you need to make sure that the coverage is comprehensive and that it includes evacuation and repatriation coverage. If you do not purchase the year-long HWS policy through Gallagher Student Health (and instead purchase a policy elsewhere), then your son or daughter needs to waive this coverage on the Gallagher Student Health website by clicking on "student waive/enroll." If they do not waive the coverage, then the year-long policy will be purchased for them automatically and will appear on their tuition bill.
Your student will be experiencing things completely new to them and many students report back to us that their study abroad experience is the most significant and powerful of their undergraduate education. So it is natural that your student may want you to visit, and vice versa. This can be a great opportunity for you to get an idea of what they are experiencing first hand - something that will help later on when your student returns from abroad.
Tip: Please do not plan to visit your son or daughter when class is in session; they will not be excused from their classes to be with you. Some programs also have required fieldtrips, so you need to plan your visit around these. A good time to visit is during a semester break if they have one (not all programs do), or when the program finishes.
The best way for you to think about what your student will experience abroad is to consider the analogous situation of when they first went away to college. Many of the emotions, fears, rewards and challenges are similar. When they came to HWS, they needed to learn how to navigate an entirely new culture. They had to learn a language (what is "Saga"?, what is a "registration pin number"?, etc), obtain new skills (how to do their laundry, how to access their meal plans) and meet new people. Your student will have to go through all of this again abroad, but with the additional challenge of different social norms and customs (and sometimes a foreign language on top of it.) The process is exciting but also challenging. It can be difficult at times. To best understand what your student will experience, you might like to read the Getting Ready section of our website.
Sometime in the first couple of weeks, you may get a disturbing communication from your student. They may say that they hate it. They may complain about their host family or their living space. They may feel homesick and alienated. Again, you may have received a similar phone call early in your student's first semester at HWS. Often what is needed from you is support and reinforcement. Many students go through periods like this early on in what they later will call the best experience of their college years, if not their lives.
One of the reasons why study abroad can be so challenging is that many students, despite our best efforts to prepare them for the reality of their experience, still go abroad with too many preconceived notions or unrealistic expectations. We try to address the most significant of these at our orientation session. The two areas where students experience the most frustration are email access and housing. As we noted above, people in many countries do not enjoy the level of internet access that HWS students do. That's a reality that we cannot change, though we do our best to make sure that some access is available either at their local host institution or in internet cafes.
In regard to housing, it is difficult to prepare students for the significant changes they will experience in terms of living space, privacy and location. The CGE strives to provide clean and safe housing that is appropriate to the local context. In London or Rome, this means a lot less space than many students enjoy here at HWS. In host family situations especially, students may experience a loss of privacy and creature comforts that they did not expect. They may be sharing a room with a host sister or brother, their access to the phone may be restricted, and they may be asked to take much shorter showers than they are used to. All of these differences are based on economic realities and differences in culture. In general, even in other highly-developed countries, phones, hot water and electricity are much more expensive than they are here. Housing is also more expensive and scarcer, and many families live their entire lives in apartments. Our student housing abroad is safe, clean and comfortable, but students should not expect that it will be as spacious or as centrally-located as it is at HWS. If there is a genuine safety issue with housing, the Center for Global Education will address the issue. Short of this, however, we tell all students going abroad "Don't expect, accept." Part of the experience of study abroad is understanding the differences in local realities.
Tip: Life goes on while your student is abroad, and they may feel an urge to "catch up" when they return, and may feel guilty that they missed important family events. Keep a record of what happens in your family during the time that your son or daughter is abroad. Though they may be gone the same amount of time that they are normally absent while at HWS, the mental/emotional distance can feel much greater, especially given the potentially fewer opportunities to communicate.
Students often return to the U.S., their home campus and their families excited to be back and bursting with stories, photos and experiences to talk about. But they may also quickly run into difficulties readjusting to their daily routines, to U.S. culture and even possibly to their families. Though they may not be aware of it, a lot of this "reverse culture shock" has to do with the fact that, while away, they have matured and changed a great deal. Not only do students abroad develop a greater sense of self-reliance, independence and more refined educational, career or life goals, they also return with new ideas and perspectives. They may have developed new values or priorities while abroad, and are not yet sure how to integrate these new modes into their "old lives". The "reentry" process has its rewards; not only do students often tell us that their study abroad experience was the most profound of their lives, they also claim that these experiences have significantly changed the way they live, giving them new direction and purpose. This period of transition takes time and patience from both students and parents, and there are things you can do to help your student along the process.
The first thing you can do is learn about reentry and reverse culture shock in greater depth. Read the student resource section on our webpage entitled Back from Abroad. In general, you should encourage your son or daughter to:
We hope this has been a useful guide and has given you greater insight into the study abroad experience.
If you have any questions or would like to talk to a staff member at the Center for Global Education, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
Center for Global Education
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
300 Pulteney Street
Geneva, NY 14456
Tel: (315) 781-3307
Fax: (315) 781-3023
To print a copy of this document, download Information for Parents (PDF).