Supporting Your Student While Abroad
One of the best things you can do to support your student is to let them handle the program details. In many cases, AYF works directly with your student and by standing back you allow them a valuable chance to learn and grow. Ask your student to share the information they receive with you – if you have a question, chances are that your student will have the answer.
If you’d like to stay informed about current events in Germany or Europe, consider subscribing to a major newspaper (such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or the Chicago Sun) or a news magazine (such as The Economist or U.S. News and World Report).
You might also consider browsing the BBC Europe News section (a British publication) or Spiegel Online International (a German investigative news organization) to get a European perspective on current events in Germany, Europe or around the world. Sadly, there is not currently an English website of Freiburg’s Badische Zeitung, but if you have a working knowledge of German, reading the Badische Zeitung is a great way to stay informed about local events in Freiburg.
Additionally, if you’d like some basic information on Germany or Freiburg, consider visiting the Department of State’s page on U.S. Relations with Germany or the Wikipedia pages on Germany or Freiburg im Breisgau.
Communicating with your Student in Freiburg
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 United States. 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. 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.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of methods to stay in contact with your student while in Freiburg:
As long as both you and your student have access to the internet (available in AYF dorm rooms, at the program center and on campus in Freiburg), email is a great way to stay in touch without needing to deal with time differences.
Many smart phone and computer software applications allow users to make live video and voice calls and send text messages over the internet. Some programs also allow users to call landline or cell phones in the United States and abroad, although there might be costs associated with this function. Some of the most popular internet calling and texting apps include Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Google Voice and Google Hangouts.
If you and your student have set up an international calling plan, calling one another may be an option, but please note: students generally have pay-as-you-go phone plans in Freiburg meaning international calling can get very expensive. You may want to consider using a different method for communication based on cost.
Don’t underestimate the power of the handwritten note or care package! For more information about sending letters or packages, see Mail to Germany on the Incoming Students page.
Helping your Student through Cultural Adjustment
Adapting to a different culture can be exciting, frustrating, and challenging. No two students adapt at the same pace or in the same manner; however, there are several phases of cultural adaptation that many people living in another culture for an extended period of time experience.
Honeymoon Phase: Your student is in a new country, and everything is exhilarating and exciting.
Listen to the student’s exciting stories and appreciate the unique experiences he or she has the opportunity to enjoy. Remember these good experiences to use when times become more challenging. Some aspects of German culture are so different from the United States’ that it may be difficult for the student to put it into words. Ask your student specific questions about the country, culture and people in order to better understand their experience.
Irritability and Hostility: After the first couple of weeks, the initial excitement passes and your student may begin to confront the deeper differences in their new location.
During the first few weeks, it is not uncommon for students to contact home upset about some aspect of the new culture, people, and program. It is important for parents to remember that students may initially focus on what is going wrong in the program, rather than right. Find out exactly what is frustrating your student, but avoid judging the cultural differences. Be supportive of your student and encourage him or her to discuss these issues with the Resident Director or Associate Director. The on-site staff has worked with many students in these situations and is well prepared to help your student during the initial adjustment period.
Gradual adjustment: The initial struggles disappear with time and the student experiences a stage of gradual adjustment.
Listen to your student’s stories with interest. Congratulate him or her for understanding the social norms, making local friends and other successes. Your student is slowly adapting to their new surroundings.
Reverse Culture Shock: When returning from studying abroad, students often need to ‘relearn’ how life works at home.
As home might feel foreign, or no longer feel familiar and natural for your student, continue to listen to their experiences and comfort them with warm memories and realistic expectations. Remind them to hold on to the important experiences they had abroad but to also be open to exploring new aspects of their life at home.
Visiting Your Student Abroad
If you want to travel or meet up with your student in Freiburg, consider arranging your visit to coincide with academic breaks (Vorlesungsfreie Zeiten are from mid-February to mid-April and from late-July until the end of the program). In this way, your student does not have to make the difficult choice between academic work and spending time with you.
Many families find visiting or learning about the study abroad location a valuable way to feel more in touch with the experience of their student. Additionally, a year might be the longest time your student has not seen their family so a break from the norm is often gladly taken.