Develop a Communication Plan
Connecting across continents and time zones can be tricky, and you may be used to frequent or even daily contact with your student here in the U.S. Before your student goes abroad, it’s a good idea to talk about how you will communicate as well as how often. It’s important to stay in touch, but not to the extent that it interferes with the experience abroad. Students may need to separate themselves a bit from their home support networks as they build a local one. Be prepared for less frequent communication. Your student is experiencing, exploring, and seeking an opportunity for cultural immersion. Encourage an appropriate balance of communication so that your student can stay in touch with home, but be in touch with the host culture as well.
There are a lot of resources (many of them free) to help you stay connected to your student during the course of their study abroad program. The best method will depend on you and your student and the country where they will be studying.
Communication should be easy if you and your student have access to email. At the same time, understand that access to email overseas is not always as readily available as it is in the U.S.
If your student will have a phone overseas and you think you will be using the phone to communicate, then contact your phone provider. Many offer special services that allow you to identify one country as a frequently called one, and for a small monthly fee, you can cut the cost of your calls and texts considerably. Another option is to purchase a calling card with reduced rates for the country in which your student is studying.
Skype is a free, downloadable software application that allows users to make live video and voice calls over the internet. Skype users can also add money to their account and can then use the service to call land lines and cell phones internationally at very low rates. If two users both have web-enabled video cameras for their computers, they will be able to chat face-to-face. For users without a web cam, a microphone is all that’s required for calls to another computer. Other similar messenger software to explore is Google Hangouts and WhatsApp.
Even if you are regularly in contact via phone or internet, consider sending mail. Students often appreciate receiving letters or postcards from loved ones while they study abroad because it assures them that they have not been forgotten. Care packages from home are also fantastic; however, international shipping costs can be very steep and all international mail (even postcards) might take several weeks to arrive. This information is important to keep in mind if you are on a budget or if your student is participating in a short-term program. Sending mail can go both ways, too! Considering asking your student to send a postcard to you! Never underestimate the power of the handwritten note. If your student is able to receive mail at their location, a handwritten note is a small reminder of home that they can read and reread in quiet moments.