Remember that study abroad is taking two completely different educational systems and having them work together. There are cultural differences, particularly with regard to time. Students from the United States want and expect everything right now, but the rest of the world doesn't function the same way. You will get information, paperwork, and updates when you need them, not necessarily when you want them. The following are important components of your study abroad process that you need to understand and follow through with in order to successfully continue and complete your application.
Your Personal Study Abroad Webpage
When you log in to your personal study abroad web page, you will be able to view most of the materials that you will need to have in before being able to depart for your program. Each form will have instructions about how to correctly complete the form and where to submit it. When our office receives the forms that you send in, they will be recorded and "checked off" on your web page. You are also responsible for reading your learning content and e-signing signature documents. Learning content is important information on specific relevant topics pertaining to studying abroad that all students should be aware of as they prepare to travel.
Passport and Student Visa
Speaking to the Right People On and Off Campus
Although you are the central actor in your own study abroad process, there are other people that support you on and off campus as well. Each student who participates on a SUNY New Paltz program will have an experienced Study Abroad Advisor who will provide information, guidance, and to work with students on individual issues related to their study abroad preparation. Additionally, all students will be required to attend a pre-departure orientation training given by staff at the Center for International Programs. Visit our staff pages to learn more about the Center for International Programs Study Abroad Advisors.
All students must meet with his or her academic advisor to get pre-approval for courses abroad, visit a physician for a pre-departure physical exam, and consult with their financial aid office about financial aid issues. Non- New Paltz students must ensure that their study abroad office at their home institution is aware of their plans to participate on a SUNY New Paltz study abroad program.
Last but not least, your own community of parent(s), mentors, friends, and professors can be a very important support to you physically, mentally, emotionally (and sometimes financially!). Please communicate with them about your pre-departure plans as you feel it is appropriate.
Knowing what you might expect when you first arrive in your host country can ease your transition to living abroad and help you make the most of the experience from the start. While what follows provides information and advice on how to avoid potential problems that could occur overseas, it is not meant to suggest that the experience before you - living and learning on foreign soil, in a culture not your own - is something you should fear. Indeed, it should be one of the most enriching, fulfilling, interesting, and educational experiences of your entire life. This is what it has been, in any case, for nearly all students who have undertaken it.
The internet has become a valuable resource for learning about all aspects of other countries. Talk with faculty and study abroad returnees who have lived in your host country as well as international students from there. Get a personal perspective from them. Visit libraries and bookstores and contact the embassy, consulate or tourist office to get materials. Don't forget student - intended travel guides such as Let's Go and Lonely Planet Guide series. Read the international news section of your local newspaper or in internationally - oriented papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. Watch newscasts and public television shows that talk about how the people live.
Another important aspect to learn about is the educational system you will be part of when you are overseas, especially if you will be studying at a foreign university. How do the faculty teach? How do the host country students learn? Will you be expected to be in class every day? What will be expected of you academically? Knowing the answers to these questions early on will allow you to set your own academic goals.
As you deepen your learning about your new culture, you should also be aware that in a foreign environment you will occasionally be put in the position of being a spokesperson about the United States and American culture. News accounts of happenings in the US or foreign policy that moves around the world will cause some of your foreign friends and contacts to ask you searching questions. Are you sure you know enough about your own country? Returned study abroad students often remark on how they sometimes had a difficult time explaining the history, politics, and culture of the United States when pressed by their friends, much less in an academic classroom. They say they wish they had done some boning up on American history and looked at their own cultural values more critically before they went abroad. What are the American values? Will you be able to describe the characteristics of the American people to someone overseas - our social structures, our political system? Be prepared with some answers!
In some countries more than others, there is an unflattering stereotype of American tourists and visitors; one who throws money around, drinks too much, is loud and rude, expects all foreigners to speak English, thinks the United States is better than any other country, and is always in a hurry. There are other countries in which all Americans are seen as happy, cheerful, carefree, and above all rich. Locals in your host country may assume parts or all of this to be true about you, simply because you are from the United States. Remember that their images of what 'Americans' are like are based on the other Americans they have seen, if not in person, then indirectly through our movies and media. Such is the nature of stereotyping. The challenge is to go beyond misleading images and false impressions, so that you and they can be yourselves, and mutual understanding can deepen over time. If you encounter these attitudes, rather than becoming defensive, ask why that person feels the way that they do and then you may then also have the opportunity to show them and their culture respect through your own attitude, lifestyle, and demeanor.
When your plane lands in your host country, immigration officials will ask you the purpose of your visit and how long you propose to stay in their country. They will examine your passport, as well as visa and immunization certificates if they are required. They may or may not then stamp your passport, and you are free to enter the country. Depending on local practice, as well sometimes as the season and time of your arrival, this procedure can range from being quick and cursory to laborious and time-consuming. Even though you will be eager to exit the airport and start your study abroad adventure, it is important to be patient and respond very politely to any questions.
After Immigration, comes Customs. You will be asked to declare (perhaps in writing) if you are carrying certain items in your luggage. Be sure to declare any restricted items, as luggage may be opened and checked. Always be respectful and polite. Never make jokes about bombs or illegal drugs. This kind of behavior can get you detained by the police.
Student travelers are sometimes viewed suspiciously by Immigration and Customs officials. It helps to dress neatly and be well-groomed.
In the first few days after your arrival, you are likely to experience physical changes as a result of taking a long flight and traveling through a number of time zones. You will probably be sleeping and waking at the 'wrong' times, feel tired, and have less patience than usual. This will pass within a few days, once your internal clock has adjusted to the time change. Another tip: upon arrival, get some exercise and do your best to wait to go to sleep until it is bedtime in the new time zone. This disorientation can be minimized some by avoiding alcohol and caffeinated products prior to and during your flight, and drinking plenty of other fluids. You may also want to set your watch to the time zone to which you are flying as soon as you get on the plane. Still, for most persons, some degree of short-term jet lag is inevitable.
Many study abroad programs arrange for a representative to meet arriving students at the airport and transport them to the program site. Others will give directions, but ask you to find your way. If you are directly enrolling into a foreign university, there may or may not be someone to greet you and provide campus and local orientation. If your program does not offer on-site orientation, or if you will be directly enrolled in a foreign school, you will need to orient yourself to your new environment. Use the topics listed below as an overview of what you need to know:
The purpose of on-site orientation is to review what you learned from your pre-departure preparations
and to provide you with current site-specific information and perspectives about your surroundings which may not be possible at a distance and beforehand. It is likely to cover the following areas:
- Introduction to the program - Your registration for course work will be confirmed. You'll learn about the program rules and academic requirements, and you will be given information on social and cultural events and opportunities.
- Health information - You'll be told about any special health precautions to take in the local environment.
- Safety information - How to lessen the chance of becoming the victim of a crime or an accident while you are abroad and how to behave so as to maximize your personal safety vis-a-vis crime and violence.
- Personal conduct - How to behave in ways appropriate to your status as a guest in your new environment. You cannot use the excuse of being "foreign" if you disobey the civil and criminal laws of the country.
- Notifying local authorities - Your program representative should help you register with the local authorities, if this is required, and with the US embassy or consulate so that you can be located in case of an emergency.
- Housing - You may be taken to your dorm or apartment or introduced to your host family.
- Language Training - Some programs offer basic training in the host language as part of orientation. Introduction to the local culture: lectures, tours, meetings, etc. on the local culture.
- Communications - You'll be told about the options for keeping in touch with your family and friends at home.
- Independent travel - Your program representative may be able to provide information on methods of travel, how to arrange it, and any safety factors involved.
- Training - Most of what you need to be aware of will be provided, but the settling-in process must be lived through on an individual basis.
Getting your planned course work approved by your academic advisor(s) before you go abroad is the best way to ensure that you get full academic credit for it. But this is not always possible, and even when classes are pre-approved, things may not work out as planned. Often, students will decide to change some of their courses after they arrive on-site. If you decide to change your course selection at any time, you should contact your home academic advisor(s) at your home university immediately to ask for approval of substitution courses.
Visit our FAQs page and view commonly asked questions about credits, course approval, and the course selection process.
Access the online cultural training resource entitled 'What's Up with Culture?'
Living and learning overseas successfully usually means adjusting to a different lifestyle, food, climate, time zone, and often accompanied by the necessity of learning to communicate in a foreign language. This process is never easy and can include mood swings alternating between heady exhilaration and mild depression. In the early weeks, you will probably feel excited about your new experiences and environment. Soon, you may find the excitement of new surroundings and sensations increasingly replaced by frustration with how different things are from home.
This frustration and confusion is sometimes referred to as 'culture shock.' Variations of culture shock can affect even experienced travelers and is considered a natural (and perhaps even essential) part of adjusting to a foreign culture. Symptoms can include depression, sleeping difficulties, homesickness, trouble concentrating, an urge to isolate yourself, and irritation with your host culture.
In sum, EVERYONE goes through a time where they have difficulties adjusting to their host culture. Keep in mind that students returning from study abroad often describe working their way through culture shock as a necessary maturing experience, something that provided insight into their own cultural assumptions.
The following are strategies for you to be able to integrate into your host culture:
- Learn as much as possible from local residents about their culture.
- Try to keep your long-range goals in mind. Experiencing a new culture will inevitably involve some frustration and feelings of loneliness as you leave the familiar and incorporate the new, but they don't last forever.
- Meet other visiting students. It can sometimes be helpful to meet with them and share experiences. Avoid letting these become gripe sessions, however. See next point!
- Avoid making hasty judgments and perpetual negativity.
- Keep yourself busy doing things you enjoy. When you have free time, visit museums, go to movies, and tour local sites of interest.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends at home. Letters, phone calls, or e-mail contact will make you feel less isolated.
- You can ease your transition by recognizing the factors that cause culture shock and taking steps to minimize them.
Your study abroad experience will be heightened if you try as much as possible to become part of the local social environment. In the beginning, it is perhaps wise to behave like a guest, as indeed you are. For a while you may even be accorded a special status, that of a well-meaning (but not-quite-with-it!) outsider. But as time goes on, you will want to be able to behave in ways similar to that of the local students and citizens - and others will begin to expect such behavior of you. This means learning what behavior is and isn't appropriate in this new setting, and acting accordingly. Observe local students in your dormitory, on campus, on the street. If you live with a host family, see how family members dress and interact with one other and others. It's fine to ask questions about local customs and ways of behaving. In fact, people will appreciate that you are trying to learn about their culture and lifestyle, and are likely to help you adjust.
'When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do' is not legal counsel, but rather seasoned advice to newcomers. Certain ways of acting in a country not your own affront local custom and show ignorance or disrespect, or both to local citizens. In many countries, for example, women traditionally cover certain parts of the body, such as the head, arms, and legs. In others, it is frowned on for couples to hold hands or display other types of physical affection in public. Most countries have customs associated with religion and sacred places. In certain Islamic societies, non-Muslims may not enter sacred sites. In Thailand, Buddhist monks must carry out an elaborate purification ritual if a woman touches them, including sitting next to them on a bus!
Understanding local customs will help you feel a part of the new culture and avoid potentially embarrassing situations. Especially if you are not fluent in the local language, your body language is often what expresses you. Saying hello or goodbye via a simple hand gesture is, for example, done quite differently from place to place, even within Europe. When to shake hands or kiss is signaled between people in different ways from country to country. How close to sit or stand when talking also varies greatly. These are just a few of the many simple habits for you to learn and then follow in order not to give unintended offense.
Appropriate behavior for women varies from country to country, and even within countries. Some countries have well-defined gender roles for men and women. Others restrict certain activities for women, such as driving and meeting with men who are not relatives. However, the opposite may also be true and you may find that women are accorded more respect and given more of an equal and valued place in society than you are accustomed to in the United States.
Observe how local women your age act and dress and try to do likewise. In spite of your efforts, however, you may find that you are harassed. In some countries, women are routinely whistled at, pinched, and even grabbed. This may be because, in some countries, the cultural stereotype of western women is that they are promiscuous. You can minimize unwanted attention by dressing modestly and in the same style as the local women. Avoid making eye contact with men in the street. What may seem to you like simple friendliness might be interpreted as flirtation to a man from a country where women keep their eyes down. Watch the local women; see how they avoid and turn away unwanted attention, and mimic their behavior. Take a friend with you when you go out at night or to an unfamiliar area. In some countries, young unmarried women never go out alone. Arrange a public meeting place when you get together with people you don't know well.
It is advisable to do some reading before departure regarding culture-specific norms of friendship and dating for relationships between people of any sexual orientation in the country where you are headed. Knowing about the culture-specific norms of friendship and dating for relationships between people of any sexual orientation in the country where you are headed is especially essential. Laws regarding same-sex relationships differ from country to country so you should inform yourself about those before your program begins.
Issues regarding sexual orientation are often included in materials prepared by study abroad offices and program providers. Check to see what information is available regarding GLBT issues from the programs in which you are interested. Travel guides, web resources, and your institutional GLBT office can provide additional valuable information.
For a bibliography regarding sexual orientation issues in countries outside the U.S., visit The Rainbow Special Interest Group, maintained by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.