Photo courtesy LSU Academic Programs Abroad.

Leaving on a jet plane: Advice for parents of study-abroad students

Studying abroad can be exciting, fulfilling and academically challenging. A great resumé booster and an even better way to put yourself out there, traveling to a new place for a summer, semester or year offers a whole new outlook on life. However, whether it’s England, France, Italy, Australia or anywhere else across the globe, the work that goes into making the experience happen, and the nerves that accompany it, can be overwhelming, especially for the parents who won’t be joining their children on the extended trip.

Letting your child travel across the world alone requires a good amount of letting go. To add some ease to the process, we sat down the LSU’s Academic Programs Abroad staff for some go-to tips and great information.

1. My child wants to study abroad but I’m hesitant. Is it safe?

The safety of our students is our top priority, and our programs are as safe as we can make them.

For our faculty-led programs, our program directors take every possible precaution to ensure that their programs are as safe as possible. They look into several locations for housing to make sure they are in neighborhoods that are close to transportation, grocery stores, medical facilities, etc. Additionally, all of our faculty members are required to complete risk management training annually.

With exchanges, we match students with universities that are either partner institutions with whom LSU has a direct relationship, or partnerships we have access to through trusted organizations that we’ve joined such as ISEP (International Student Exchange Program), Global E3 (Global Engineering Education Exchange) and NSE (National Student Exchange). Some of these partnerships have existed for decades–LSU has been a member of ISEP for more than 30 years, for example. Our students not only have LSU looking out for them, they have the safety personnel of the host universities working for them as well.

Every student is insured during the duration of the program by an LSU-affiliated insurance company and covered by International SOS, a 24/7 emergency response company. This gives our students access to trained emergency responders who are there to help them any hour of the day, from anywhere in the world. Parents are also welcome to contact International SOS with location-specific questions! They even have an app students and parents can download to receive security and safety updates.


Photo courtesy Grace Bienvenu.

2. What are the benefits?

Completing a study-abroad program puts students in an elite group of college graduates. Nationwide, fewer than 2% of students in the U.S. study abroad. Completing a program sets students apart when it comes to graduate programs and/or job applications, especially in an increasingly globalized world.

Because we offer both domestic and international programs, students can “test run” a region or university where they want to live after graduation, whether for graduate school or as a place of employment.  Students from Louisiana can also pay in-state rates, while having an out-of-state (or country) experience.

Study abroad also offers students the opportunity to study subjects that aren’t available at LSU. Are you a future geologist who wants to study volcanoes in Hawaii? A potential anthropologist interested in understanding Aboriginal culture in Australia? A music major who wants to experience opera in Vienna? All of these are possible through study abroad.

3. How can I help them decide on a location that fits them best?

Deciding where to study abroad is a very personal decision. This is a step students need to either do on their own, or take the lead in making the decision. Traveling abroad, especially by yourself for the first time, is something you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s one of those life-changing decisions that students can/should make for themselves.

Most students already have an idea of where they want to go before they come to the study-abroad office. However, if they don’t, we encourage students to stop by as soon as they start thinking about study abroad. Our peer advisors are eager and happy to help students research the possibilities that exist for their majors and language skills–two factors that will often cut down the list of possibilities from seemingly infinite to a more manageable list. Our peer advisors are all alums of our programs, so they understand the decision-making process and are there to help students as much as they need. Our peer advisors are available in our advising office (123 Hatcher Hall) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Our full-time staff is also available for one-on-one advising as needed.

Photo courtesy LSU Academic Programs Abroad.

4. What goes into the application process? Is it difficult to get into schools abroad?

All of our applications are online. The specific requirements vary by program.

Students studying in a language other than English should expect to need a language proficiency assessment, which is usually done by a professor in the foreign languages. Most universities that teach in languages other than English require the equivalent of four semesters in that language before the student goes on exchange (some specific universities may have different requirements).  Students can see the language requirements for the programs they’re interested in on our website.

For our faculty-led programs, students are admitted on a first come, first served basis from those who meet the eligibility requirements.

For exchanges, some schools are more competitive than others. When students come in to meet with a study-abroad advisor, they will be advised on how competitive their top choice school is and the likelihood that they will be placed. We place as many students as possible at their first choice schools, and try to place them in the same country if we’re not able to place them at their top choice university. Students are kept informed throughout the application process on the likelihood that they will need to choose another school.

5. How do class credits transfer over? Will they be losing a semester/year? What about summer programs?

For exchange programs, students get credit for all courses they take at one of our partner universities. There’s an online LSU database called the Tiger Transfer Tables where students can see what credits have previously come back from that university. Students are not limited to only the courses in the Tiger Transfer Tables, though! For any course that’s not already in the tables, students will go through an orientation called “concurrent enrollment” after they’ve been accepted but before they leave LSU which will walk them through the process of getting the LSU equivalents established for the courses they take abroad.

Photo courtesy Grace Bienvenu.

Our goal is for study abroad to fit into a student’s degree audit without causing them to lose time or have to stay an extra semester. That’s easier to accomplish the earlier in their academic careers that students start looking into study abroad, especially if they’re going for a semester or year. As part of the application process, students are required to meet with their academic advisors and share with them the list of courses they plan to take at the host university, so that the academic advisor can advise them on where and how the courses fit into their degree audits.

For our faculty-led programs, the courses are already registered LSU courses. Students can look at their degree audits and determine where these LSU courses will fit in, just as they do with courses they take on the Baton Rouge campus.

6. What are some things I can do to ensure the experience goes smoothly? How hands-on should I be?

Before your student leaves for study abroad, talk with them about their interest in the program. Look at the program’s website and any/all pre-departure orientation materials, so that you both understand what has been provided and what is expected. Encourage your student to be proactive in pre-departure preparations. Some students leave preparations to the last minute, which often causes stress and hassle. Encourage your student to take responsibility for pre-departure planning and paperwork.

While they’re abroad, be supportive of your student’s feelings and reactions, but try to keep an open mind about complaints, especially during the jet lag of the first few days. Students going through the early adjustment phase of travel may be more emotional than usual and may overreact to situations that are simply unfamiliar. While the effects of culture shock can be difficult for parents to hear over the phone, it is a normal part of the travel process. As your student settles in and adapts to the host culture, the effects of culture shock will begin to wear off.

Try not to check in daily. Daily calls, texts, or emails from home can prolong a student’s sense of homesickness and culture shock. Allow your student time and space to develop a support network onsite, rather than relying on the one they have back home. Research the places your student visits so that you can ask questions and show interest in the things your student sees and experiences.

We have orientations and Facebook groups set up just for parents, so you can get to know the staff in our office and ask questions as they come up.

Click here to learn more about the study abroad program at LSU. And comment below with all of your own college and study abroad questions.