FAQs for Family & Friends
Gaining international experience is an essential and valuable component of educational and professional development in today's globalized world. An education abroad experience provides great opportunities for students to learn about the world, gain new personal and academic perspectives, and obtain skills applicable for the global workforce. As a result, studying abroad is often one of the most rewarding experiences in a person's life because of the amount of personal growth that results.
As a parent or guardian of a student studying abroad, you can help to maximize the overall study abroad experience for your son/daughter. We invite you to review all of the information provided on our website in order to better understand the selection and preparation experience. We offer below some answers to frequently asked questions that will assist you in engaging in your son/daughter's study abroad experience.
How does the process of choosing the right study abroad program begin?
The first step is understanding that the most rewarding study abroad experiences start with a self-managed research process that will take many factors into consideration. Your son/daughter has a wide variety of UNC-approved program offerings to choose from, and s/he must determine what type of program best suits his/her academic program and personality. Encourage your student to seek the answers to questions on his/her own. If you do too much of the legwork up front, your son/daughter will not be able to take full ownership of the final program choice. If you have questions, ask them first of your student, so that s/he may benefit from seeking out the answers for both of you.
My son/daughter has a disability, can they study abroad?
The Study Abroad Office at CIE makes every effort to assure that students with disabilities can participate successfully in study abroad programs. Please be aware that we cannot guarantee that facilities and/or support services will be available at each location abroad in the same range and quality as on the UNC campus. We cannot alter architecture, transportation, or laws in other countries. We can, however, encourage students with disabilities to meet with our staff to discuss accommodation needs and identify appropriate sites overseas. Our office can work with each student in order to identify support system needs and discuss the availability of accommodations abroad. Students are encouraged to consider an affiliated study abroad program over an exchange program as affiliated programs are typically able to accomodate needs more easily. For additional resources, please see our Students with Disabilities information sheet.
What can I do before my child goes abroad to prepare?
Take time to sit down and discuss the plans you and your son/daughter have for his/her time abroad. Discuss the program dates and any traveling they plan to do before, during, or after. If you are handling UNC affairs while your son/daughter is away, make sure to determine important dates and procedures. The same holds for any banking, taxes, or other financial matters you may be taking care of while s/he is away.
All students going on an exchange program will owe something to UNC. For important dates/deadlines, look through the Registrar’s calendar.
Arrange how you will send money in case of an emergency. We recommend that you keep a copy of your son/daughter’s flight itinerary, passport, credit cards, and insurance card. In general, once your student has been admitted to a study abroad program, the real work begins. Your child should be preparing to leave, which may include:
- Passport and Visa applications, often a lengthy and occasionally frustrating process (there is a passport office in the CIE office at UNC)
- Housing arrangements
- Purchasing international transportation
- Academic arrangement
- Arranging personal effects/packing
- Working out a weekly/monthly budget
How much does study abroad cost?
UNC offers many study abroad options to meet the diverse needs of our students. Individual interests and academic needs mean that the right choice of a study abroad program will be different for each student. Different program fees and payment methods apply for various programs at UNC. In general, four payment plans exist:
- UNC Exchange Program, student pays normal tuition and fees to UNC while paying for room and board upon arrival to the host institution.
- ISEP Exchange Program, student pays all tuition, fees, and room and board charges to UNC.
- ISEP Direct Program, student will receive an invoice from the UNC Study Abroad Director and then pay fees directly to ISEP. Some programs include tuition and room and board, thus they will be included on the invoice and paid directly to ISEP. Other ISEP programs only include tuition and room (to be paid to ISEP), and meal expenses will be paid in country. Student should know what the program includes at time of application.
- Affiliated Study Abroad Program, student will pay all charges to the program provider. Most program providers require all charges be paid in advance, but payment plans can be established to work around financial aid issues.
To determine costs of affiliated programs and ISEP programs, please take a look at the individual program websites that can be accessed here. In some cases, studying abroad can be cheaper than the cost to attend UNC. Cost of living will play a large factor in the cost of programs.
For most programs, federal financial aid can be applied to any UNC-approved study abroad program. Most scholarships can also be applied to a education abroad experience as well. More detailed information can be found in our Study Abroad Student Handbook.
Does this include spending money? If not, how much money should be allocated for miscellaneous things not detailed in the cost?
The cost of all programs excludes spending money, just as college tuition and fees in the U.S. do not include spending money. The amount of spending money your student needs will vary greatly depending in which country/city they will be studying, as well as their individual spending habits. Some students plan on traveling extensively on weekends and during breaks; this requires much more money. Also, depending on how frequently s/he eats out and how many souvenirs they purchase will determine the amount of spending money necessary for their time overseas.
While working with your student to determine this amount, take into consideration exchange rates.
If your student would like some advice on the subject, encourage him/her to post a question on our Facebook group so students who have studied in the same cities can offer their personal recommendations. Our Facebook group is a good resource for your student to ask any other logistical questions s/he may have about living abroad, especially in a particular city/country.
Are there scholarships available?
Though CIE does not offer specific study abroad scholarships, there are several available for site-specific UNC exchanges through some academic departments, affiliated programs directly, governments, and private donors. Click here for a list of several scholarship opportunities. Additionally, your son/daughter should do some Google searches to learn of other possible funding opportunities not listed on our website.
There are additional resources available to specific student populations available on our website to help diversify and promote equity in study abroad.
We also hold several information sessions throughout the year in which we specifically cover information on funding study abroad. For more information on these events, visit here.
What are the most recent conversion rates for currency? Where can I obtain this currency?
For the most recent international exchange rates, visit OANDA. ATMs are readily accessible in nearly all countries, in which local currency can be withdrawn. Some US banks will charge an international withdrawal fee on top of charging a percentage of the total withdrawn. Some banks don’t charge anything extra for international use. We encourage you to work with your son/daughter to help him/her understand these fees. Using a debit card abroad will provide the most competitive exchange rate, but be sure that the bank is aware of any planned international usage, otherwise they will freeze the account.
It is a good idea for your son/daughter to obtain some of the foreign currency s/he leaves, although this requires planning and sometimes is not even possible. This will help avoid inflated exchange rates at airports and tourist money changers. Local currency will be needed upon arrival for taxis, busses, or perhaps a night in a hotel. International currency can be ordered at your bank. Call ahead to see if they already have it in stock or if they need to order it. Typically, there is a relatively low service fee. Make sure you order at least 3-4 weeks in advance to allow enough time for the bank to order the currency.
However, we recommend that your son/daughter withdraws money immediately upon arrival, or just converts a minimal amount of money at the airport for immediate use. International ATMs work just like ATMs in the US, and always have an option for English. Your student should know local money rates before departure so an appropriate amount is withdrawn. Students should arrive with $50-200 in American currency for immediate expenses, or in case of an emergency.
How long is a study abroad program?
Again, because students have diverse needs and obligations, UNC offers programs in varying lengths. There are some faculty-led summer and interim session programs that are as short as two or three weeks. There are month-long intensive courses during school breaks. There are semester and year-long options as well. We can identify an appropriate program with your son/daughter based on academic, financial, and personal needs.
How much should my child pack? What should they pack?
First, check with the airlines for the number and weight allowances of luggage, as well as any security restrictions for both carry-on and checked baggage. This will help determine how much your student can pack without paying extra baggage fees. Be sure to check these restrictions for every airline that you will be traveling with for the duration of your trip, as the restrictions may vary between airlines.
- PACK LIGHT! Even if your son/daughter is studying for a semester or one full year, encourage him/her to pack light! It is difficult to carry a lot of luggage through airports, train stations, metros and buses. Pack only the essentials.
- Students can buy most things such as clothes and toiletries in other countries. However, it may be a good idea to bring some specific items with you, as in other countries they may not be available or the brands may be limited. These things can remind the student of home when they’re missing it.
- Your son/daughter may want to bring a few unique items with him/her home university, state or country as ways to better share your culture or as possible gifts for new friends/host family.
- It’s recommended to not pack each suitcase as full as possible. Leave room for souvenirs and other things acquired while abroad.
- A good rule of thumb is to lay out everything s/he would like to take and then cut it in half!
What are the best ways to keep in touch with my child while abroad?
The most affordable way to keep in touch is to use free online services such as Yahoo Messenger with Voice, Facebook, Skype or other free online services to stay in touch with your child. Skype and some other online services offer online U.S. based phone numbers that connect to your computer. This is a convenient option for family and friends to call overseas but without the expense of international fees. In most cases, it is a local phone number that you choose. Furthermore, students call land lines and cell phone back in the United States as part of the calling plan. Currently, Skype offers this service for a per-minute or per-text charge that is deducted from the Skype account as it is used.
You can also buy international phone cards online and save money. Some companies will not send you an actual card, but email you a code or pin number to use. It is not recommended that you use your U.S. cell phone calling plan abroad. Even though your cell phone will work for international calls, calling rates can and do exceed $3.00 per minute. Additionally, text messages are typically charged at $1.00 per message. Your standard calling plan does not include international calling or texting, however you can add this service. It may be something to look into.
Will my child be able to obtain a cellphone abroad? What does this process entail?
Yes. If your son/daughter’s U.S. cell phone uses SIM cards, it is possible to use the current mobile phone with a local SIM card. This is generally a cheaper option, as you don’t have the cost of buying another phone. If you choose this option make sure you “unlock” your U.S. phone through your provider before you leave the U.S. or the new SIM card will not work in the phone. The new iPhone 5 comes unlocked for international service, so you may be able to add international service to your plan.
Otherwise it is very easy to purchase a cell phone abroad. Most cell phone providers abroad offer a pay-as-you-go option, which is common use overseas; no contract is required. Cell phone prices range from very cheap to quite expensive, just as they do in the U.S. (approx. $40-$500).
How can I be assured that my child will receive full credit for the classes they are taking abroad?
First, your student must select a UNC-approved study abroad program. As part of the study abroad application process, your son/daughter should have completed a “UNC Transfer Credit Pre-Approval Form”. In order to determine what UNC course numbers the Registrar/CIE will use to post study abroad/exchange credits, this from must be completed before departure in consultation with the student’s academic advisor. An equivalent UNC course number is required for every course that will appear on the host institution transcript, whether the course contains a grade or not, before any credit can be posted for the student’s study abroad/exchange experience.
Please note that a student’s failure to obtain equivalencies will result in the delay of posting credits and/or grades, which can interfere with expected graduation dates. Courses not pre-approved will be issued credit for a university elective only until proper approval is granted.
In all instances, the credit received for UNC abroad/exchange experiences will appear on UNC transcripts as transfer credits. However, students participating in most faculty-led programs will not receive transfer credit, but normal UNC course credit. Regular UNC credits are based on official grades, and are not pass/fail as are transfer credits. Thus, transfer credits will not impact GPA. However, students will need to earn an equivalent of a C or better in order to receive transfer credit.
Whenever possible, equivalencies should be obtained PRIOR to the student’s departure for his/her study abroad/exchange. It is important to review the Credit and Grade Conversion in order to understand the interpretation of credit and grade translation scale for a particular program.
Credit values are not determined by this equivalency form. Credit values originate with the transcript provided by the host institution, according to the formula provided in the Academic Policies Document for you host institution.
If your student chooses a non-approved UNC study abroad program or does not complete a CIE Study Abroad application, he/she may not be able to use financial aid and/or transfer the credits taken abroad back to UNC. Thus, it is very important that any student completing coursework at an international institution come through the Study Abroad & Exchange office.
Why does my child need a separate insurance?
The health and well-being of UNC students while abroad is of utmost concern to UNC. Planning and preparing for health care is essential, and is health care is somewhat different than here in the US. Many personal insurance carriers will only cover a portion of costs “out of network” and may NOT cover international medical costs at all. Therefore, UNC requires students who are enrolled in 9 or more credit hours to have health insurance, and everyone studying abroad to have study abroad health insurance. If your student is studying abroad during Summer 2014 on a faculty-led program thy are required to purchase Academic Health Plan (AHP) insurance at a rate of $34/month, which will be billed directly to their student account. Beginning Fall 2014, students studying abroad through a UNC exchange (not including ISEP) or a faculty-led program will be required to purchase international health insurance at a rate of $1.70/day through HTH Worldwide. ISEP charges their own fee and international health insurance is included in the price of the program fee.
Please note that when receiving medical treatment abroad, it is likely that your son or daughter will be expected to pay in-full at the time of service, often in cash. While seeking reimbursement from your insurance carrier for this treatment, it is important that your child secures translated, itemized receipts and/or descriptions of the treatment you received.
Some countries, such as Australia, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, Israel, Italy, and New Zealand among others, have universal health care and may charge you a health care fee. UNC has no control over individual country policies. However, UNC requires you to purchase additional coverage even if you are studying in these countries as national policies rarely include all the coverage required by UNC.
What about language barriers? Are there language immersion programs?
Many countries are ahead of the US as far as bi- and multi-lingualism is concerned, and luckily for UNC students, English happens to be one of those global languages. Your son/daughter will find that in most places, people, particularly the younger generation, will have at least a basic knowledge of English, which will allow him/her to get around easily.
Many classes abroad are taught in English, unless it is a language-focused program, in which case the language of instruction will be in the host country language. A combination of English and host country language courses can be chosen in many programs. Look on individual program web pages for these options and to determine primary language of instruction.
However, part of the learning experience is navigating oneself in a new culture—including through language barriers. It’s amazing how much can be communicated without a common language. This challenge will develop student flexibility, patience, problem-solving skills, and cross-cultural competencies, which are all desirable attributes that can be highlighted on a future resume or cover letter.
Additionally, one of the benefits of living within a new culture is learning a new language or practicing a language already studied. In any case, language immersion programs can be taken before, during, or after a program. Please consult individual web pages for these options, or have your son/daughter come into the CIE office to speak with a study abroad advisor.
Is it easier to study abroad in an English-speaking country?
Students and parents frequently assume that because the official language of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada is English, that there will be little or no adjustment phase to studying abroad in these countries. This is not the case. These are distinctive cultures, each with its own educational tradition, and are different from American culture in ways both subtle and substantial. If students make the faulty assumption that there will be no adjustment period, s/he can end up experiencing it more acutely than those who enter into their study abroad experience with the appropriate expectations.
In case of an emergency, how/when and by whom will I be notified?
You will also want to work with your student on how to manage emergency communication. Each student is requested to provide their emergency contact information to CIE. You and your son/daughter need to be mutually aware of what has been presented to us on this form. In the event of an emergency, a CIE staff member is available 24/7 and you should contact our office at our main number or via Campus Police.
In addition, every study abroad program has a person or office on site that is responsible for your student's welfare. Ask your son or daughter to provide you with this contact information.
Finally, all students are requested to register with the US Department of State, in order that communication can be appropriately established in the event of a cataclysmic event or natural disaster. Please encourage your son/daughter to do so when international travel arrangements are set
In many cases, your child will be the first person to contact you if there is an emergency. However, in the case this does not occur, such as in life-threatening emergencies, the individual identified as the emergency contact by the student will be notified by the CIE Study Abroad Director or the Director as soon as UNC or CIE learns of an emergency. UNC has an Emergency Response Plan for such situations. Additionally, each UNC exchange program has their Emergency Action Plan that is site-specific, and keeps the Study Abroad and Exchange Director up-to-date regarding overseas emergency situations regarding natural disasters, political unrest, or anything of that nature. UNC affiliated programs have protocol for such situations and can be found on their websites. To review affiliated program Health and Security Pages, see below.
What if my student has a problem while they are abroad?
Once your student has departed for his/her long sought after destination, you enter into a new phase of the process. Remember that your student is not on a long vacation for which s/he will receive credit, but is on a longer work assignment overseas. Studying abroad and adjusting to another culture will require a great deal of patience and tenacity from your student, especially in the beginning, when every detail requires adjustment.
It is a common experience for parents to receive communication from a student who is frustrated and upset, and even a bit depressed. This often happens after the initial excitement of arrival wears off and management of daily living begins. It is vital to understand that such negative moments are a natural part of the experience and working through them fosters the growth that is significant to your son/daughter's personal development. With the right kind of communication, you can facilitate your student's management of his/her experience by inquiring and encouraging problem solving on site.
Ask your son/daughter if they have been in contact with the office responsible for study abroad on-site and what results were achieved. Only if this does not yield a satisfactory solution, should you then encourage your son/daughter to get in touch with their Study Abroad Advisor. Generally, most problems can be solved in relatively short order with the staff on-site with the result that your son/daughter can feel pride in the accomplishment.
What if my student says s/he wants to come home?
Although we understand it is a normal impulse of parenting to want to alleviate your son/daughter's distress by encouraging him/her to come home, this has several negative implications. Literally it can be quite costly, as study abroad tuition and fees are almost never refundable after a student has been on site. Additionally, students may lose credit or receive withdrawals and/or failures for their courses as a result. This may impact the advancement necessary for most scholarship/financial aid requirements.
The greatest loss, however, will be the loss of confidence your son/daughter will suffer as a result of not accomplishing his/her goals. Please contact the UNC Study Abroad Director if you are concerned for your student's welfare at the level you think s/he might come home.
What is culture shock?
Almost all students experience some degree of culture shock while abroad. The new cultures, food, music, language, etc can will be exciting, scary, and overwhelming for your child. All the new things and lack of the familiar can cause anxiety, which is called culture shock.
Culture shock can be put into four stages, which your child will experience to varying degrees. Becoming familiar with these stages will help you understand what your child is dealing with.
Culture Shock: The four stages of adjustment
1. The Honeymoon Stage
2. The Frustration Stage
3. The Adjustment Stage
4. The Bi-culturality Stage
For more information on culture shock and how to help your child deal with it, click here.
Who is responsible for making travel arrangements?
Students are 100% responsible for making their individual travel arrangements to and from their destination, as well as while abroad. Below are some good websites to begin a search, but there are of course many more options.
Hipmunk (search by “agony”, price, duration, departure, arrival)
What are the common means of transportation while abroad?
Unlike in the US, most large international cities have a strong infrastructure of public transportation. This includes metros, trams, trolley cars, buses, and taxis. These are usually affordable and highly reliable with set timetables. Most likely your son/daughter will walk a great deal more to get from place to place than they do in the US. Additionally, getting around within most countries or international travel while abroad can be done easily by train, bus, or cheap airfares. We highly discourage students from renting or driving cars while abroad.
What documents are needed to travel abroad?
The actual documents your student will need vary on the location of the program. Below is a sample list of documents that may be required for international travel. In all cases, your student should complete any applications and make all necessary appointments for each document will in advance as it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete the process.
PASSPORT: Almost all foreign countries require visitors to have a passport. There is a passport office at CIE.
VISA: A visa is a permit from an international country that allows visitors to enter and leave their borders and may be required for the chosen program or by any countries that the student plans to visit while traveling abroad independently. Visas often list planned travel days and do expire, so be sure to have these dates available when applying. For more information on student visas for each country, please visit the individual country’s Consulate’s office website.
Please note: In most cases, a visa must be obtained prior to departure, but after you have your passport.
INTERNATIONAL CERTIFICATE OF VACCINATIONS: Your student may be required to obtain a number of different vaccinations prior to entering a foreign country. This list of required and suggested vaccinations varies from program to program. Check out the CDC website for suggested vaccinations.
What should I expect when my student returns home?
When your student returns you may find yourself experiencing him/her as a somewhat different person than the one who left a few short months before. Most study abroad students have many stories that they wish to share and to convey what their experiences mean to them. It will help you to reconnect by encouraging your son/daughter to talk about the study abroad experience and help him/her to process it. Some students will experience return as a homecoming, while others will view home as newly strange to them, because they are experiencing the familiar through newly adjusted eyes. Facilitating the re-entry process will help your son/daughter integrate the cross-cultural experience into their overall life.
Surviving Re-entry: A Readjustment Manual for Parents (Courtesy of SIT Study Abroad)
If you have any other concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
What do I do if I want to withdraw from my study abroad program?
In the event that a student elects to withdraw from his/her study abroad program, he/she must notify the study abroad office immediately in writing. The request to withdraw from their study abroad program will be effective on the date that written notification is received by CIE. However, the student will be responsible for any expenses incurred on his/her behalf prior to the date of withdrawal from the program; these expenses are non-refundable. Tuition reimbursements follow the Registrar's calendar. Please note that most affiliated programs will not offer a refund after the start of courses.