Information for Families of Study Away Students

Your student is thinking of studying away – you may have concerns, questions, and would like to know more about what to expect. It’s normal for there to be excitement, anticipation and some stress or anxiety about the unknown. Study away is a unique opportunity for students, and if you haven’t experienced something similar or lived in a different cultural environment before yourself, it’s completely understandable if it feels challenging not knowing what exactly to expect. Study away is very different from a vacation or trip; it is an academically focused intercultural experience.

At PLU, global engagement is a high priority, and many students choose to deepen their understanding of our globalized, interconnected world through short-term, semester, or yearlong study away. In fact, over the last 15 years, approximately 50% of PLU students have studied away in over 80 countries. Studying away requires planning and preparation, and the Wang Center is here to support your student though the process before, during and after their program(s).

Why study away?

Study away is an opportunity for students to pursue their academic interests in a different cultural context. As a result, students gain experiences and develop skills and competencies that could help launch their career post-graduation and give them an advantage in the job market.

Trust your student – this is a chance for them to grow, navigate a new and unfamiliar environment, and become a more independent, capable, effective problem solver. It can be a good learning opportunity for your student to figure out how to go through the study away process independently. As they determine which program is the right fit for them, develop their own study away budget, research scholarships, apply, complete paperwork and prepare to depart, they are likely building skills that will be useful to them in the future.

Spending time in a different cultural setting is undoubtedly challenging, which is what makes it a highly impactful learning experience and growth opportunity. Individuals who have studied away are more likely to demonstrate maturity, flexibility and adaptability – qualities sought by employers and graduate school admissions! 

A large-scale survey of study abroad alums, conducted by IES Abroad, an organization that PLU partners with, found:

Academic Attainment

  • 87% claimed that studying abroad influenced subsequent educational experiences
  • 86% said that it reinforced commitment to foreign language study
  • 80% reported an enhanced interest in academic study
  • 52% attained graduate degrees; of those, 15% received a Ph.D, Ed.D, JD, or medical degree

Cultural Development

  • 98% reported the study abroad experience helped them to better understand their own cultural values and biases
  • 94% stated that the experience continues to influence their interactions with people from different cultures
  • 90% said studying abroad influenced them to seek out a greater diversity of friends

Career Impact

  • 76% reported they acquired skill sets while studying abroad that influenced their career path
  • 62% said studying abroad ignited an interest in a career direction pursued after the experience
  • 48% Stated that they have worked internationally or participated in volunteer activities since studying abroad

Personal Growth

  • 97% Reported that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity
  • 96% Indicated that it increased self confidence
  • 95% Stated that it has had a lasting impact on their world view
  • 89% Said studying abroad enabled them to better tolerate ambiguity

The study confirms that studying abroad makes a difference — a long-lasting difference — in the lives of its participants, and results demonstrate the far reaching affects the experience has on participants, not only academically but professionally and personally as well. Findings show that students who study away find a job faster, get paid more, and find a job more aligned with their interests.

Study Away Program Types, Cost & Scholarships

PLU study away opportunities are closely aligned with PLU values, academic standards and curriculum. Programs are academically rigorous and have been carefully selected and approved by PLU faculty, or designed by PLU faculty. Your student will earn PLU credit and could fulfill General Education (GenEds)/International Honors (IHON) or major/minor requirements while away, keeping them on track to graduate on time.

Depending on the study away program, students could have the opportunity to….

  • Take classes at an international university alongside local students
  • Gain direct professional experience through an academic internship
  • Conduct independent research and prepare for their senior capstone
  • Engage with the community through service learning

Program Types & Cost

Gateway Programs – Semester-long. Developed by PLU faculty, and managed by the Wang Center. Some programs have an onsite PLU faculty Site Director who supports students throughout their time abroad. Students pay PLU tuition and room & board and financial aid remains uninterrupted.

Short-term, Faculty-led Courses – Between 3-6 weeks on average. Typically during January Term (J-Term).  Designed and led by a PLU faculty member (or two). Students are registered  for one class which could fulfill an elective or GenEd requirement or fulfill major or minor credit. The cost is a set program fee (average is roughly $4,500). The J-Term study away program fee is in addition to any other tuition/room/board fees for the academic year. 

Featured Programs – Semester-long. Aligned with PLU’s mission and faculty approved. Managed by one of PLU’s trusted program provider organizations or universities. Students pay PLU tuition and room & board and scholarships and financial aid go unchanged.

ApprovedSemester or Summer. Approved programs are offered by third party providers and are recommended for students that are unable to find an academically suitable program among PLU Gateway, Featured and J-Term options. Students pay the program fee determined by the provider and an administrative fee ($1,500 semester / $200 summer). A proportion of financial aid & scholarships may be used to cover the program fee.

What is included and not included in the program fee varies by program. Refer to individual program pages to learn more about this.

Scholarships

If your student is applying for a Gateway semester or J-Term program, PLU offers the Global Scholar Award for students with financial need. For many Featured or Approved programs, the partner organization that manages the program offers their own scholarships. If your student receives a Pell Grant and is applying for either a short term or semester program, they could be eligible for the Gilman Scholarship funded by the US Department of State. If your student is the child/dependent of an active duty military service member, they could be eligible for the Gilman-McCain scholarship. Your student can look into additional scholarships for study away here.

The health, safety and well-being of PLU students, staff and faculty participating in Wang Center programs is our primary concern. PLU and the Wang Center are committed to maximizing safety at each program site, making every effort to ensure that participants have the resources and information they need for a safe and successful global education experience.

As part of PLU’s commitment to student safety and security, PLU requires that all students have a working cell phone capable of making and receiving both local and international calls throughout the duration of the program. International emergency insurance is included in the cost of studying away – you can learn more here. While preparing to study away, your student is required to meet with a healthcare provider (either at the PLU Health Center or elsewhere) to discuss their needs and make a plan for their health and well-being while away. If your student needs to see a medical provider while away, there is support from onsite staff, a PLU faculty member, and/or staff at partner universities/organizations, depending on their program.

In the case of a crisis or natural disaster, PLU has established emergency response protocols and risk assessment plans for each study away program. Students receive instructions and are expected to register any independent travel they choose to do during their free time, so that, in an emergency, Wang Center staff know where students are located at all times and can offer support as needed.

Common Questions

What should my student consider when selecting a study away program?

Students should consider their academic, personal and professional goals and what they hope to gain from a study away experience. It is important to not put too much importance on program location, and also focus on the learning opportunities and academic offerings of each program in order to determine the best fit. The Wang Center Advisor is here to support your student in this process and connect them with study away opportunities that match their goals. Students should also consider  the level of independence or structure/support that would be the best fit. For students that would thrive in a higher-support environment, J-Term courses could be a good option as students will have the support of a PLU faculty member who leads the program and teaches. With semester programs, there are programs that are more structured with a higher level of support from onsite staff and faculty, including a PLU faculty Site Director for some programs, as well as programs that are more independent and less structured.

Does my student have to apply to study away? How does the admissions process work? How likely is it that my student will be accepted into the study away program they applied for?

You will find information on how and where to apply, selection criteria, and more here. Programs may have limited capacities for how many students are able to participate, and others may not. How selective a program may be varies by program and by year. Students will need to apply to study away through PLU. If students are applying for a program managed by one of PLU’s partner provider organizations or universities (a Featured or Approved program) the student will need to apply through PLU as well as applying through the program provider. There is a PLU $50 non-refundable application fee required as part of the application process.

Can my student study away more than once?

Yes, it is possible for students to study away more than once. For example, a student might want to participate in a J-Term study away course, and then apply for a semester study away program later on. Students may participate in multiple Gateway semester programs and multiple short-term faculty-led (often in J-Term) programs. Students can only participate in one Featured or Approved semester program throughout their undergraduate career.

Are there study away scholarships my student could apply for?

We encourage students to look into study away scholarships and see if there are any they would be eligible to apply for. We have information about study away scholarships here, and your student can do their own research to see if there are others that are not listed on our website they could apply for. Students that receive Pell Grants may be eligible to apply for the Gilman Scholarship (for semester or short-term study away). Students with a financial need applying for a Gateway semester or J-Term program may be eligible to apply for PLU’s Global Scholar Award. Students applying for a Featured or Approved program should check to see which scholarships might be available through the program provider.

Will my student be able to stay on track to graduate if they study away?

Yes, with the proper planning, study away typically wouldn’t delay students’ graduation. Students should plan ahead as early as possible, map out potential degree completion options to determine how study away fits into this, and discuss with their academic advisor(s).

What should my student be doing to prepare for studying away?

A great place to start is our Prepare page, which outlines logistics to consider, goal setting, how to prepare for cultural and community engagement.

  • There are many tasks to complete before departure. The Wang Center uses Terra Dotta Software to send and receive pre-departure requirements. If you’re curious about their pre-departure requirements, ask them to show you their portal. If the student is participating in a Featured or Approved program, they likely have other requirements specific to their program. Applying to and preparing for study away is a chance for your student to navigate new situations and processes, and figure out tasks on their own. When your student needs to fill out paperwork and/or online forms, empower them to take initiative and accomplish tasks independently. This is all part of the learning and growth they do throughout the study away process, and these skills will serve them well in the future!
  • Learn about the place they are heading to! Some country-specific information related to social identities can be found here
  • Your student needs to apply for a passport if they don’t already have one, as soon as they are able to. 
  • Many semester-long programs require a visa or residence permit. Students access this information during the pre-departure process, and must follow any deadlines and instructions given to them. 
  • Find out how to request an absentee ballot if they are eligible to vote during their time away. 
  • Make a plan for accessing money while away
  • Encourage them to consider how they will continue self-care practices while away

My student commutes to campus and has been living at home while studying at PLU. What should we expect?

This may be the first time you’ve been away from your student for an extended period of time, and their first time living independently. Study away is a fantastic opportunity for students to grow academically as well as personally, and the challenge of getting used to a new setting is part of that learning experience. Some students experience homesickness, which is a normal part of studying away, and is also a chance for students to build and strengthen self care and well being strategies. Frequent communication with family and friends back home can lead to less cultural engagement and language learning. One of the main differences for commuter students is that the cost of semester study away includes room and board like if they were living on campus at PLU that semester.

Does my student need vaccinations?

This varies – the CDC website is the best place to go to learn what is recommended or required. Your student can research host country recommendations/requirements and discuss with a medical provider while preparing to go abroad.

Does my student need to meet with a healthcare provider before studying away?

In order to participate in a study away program, all students are required to receive the appropriate signatures on an Off-Campus Medical Statement, from the PLU Health Center or an off-campus personal healthcare provider. The student’s medical provider will determine if an appointment is necessary, prior to signing the  Off-Campus Medical Statement. More information can be found here.

Does my student need a visa? How do they apply for one?

For short term study away, such as a J-Term program, visas are often not required for US passport holders. If a visa is required for US passport holders, the cost of this is included in the J-Term study away program fee and the Wang Center will facilitate the visa application process. Non-US passport holders who require a visa for their participation in a J-Term study away program are responsible for the cost and acquiring their visa. The Wang Center can provide supporting documentation such as proof of travel or proof of insurance upon request. 

A visa is an “an endorsement on a passport (such as a stamp or sticker) indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.” (definition from Oxford Languages) Students may need to submit paperwork to be sent in the mail, or they might need to travel to a consulate office or visa processing center in the US (such as San Francisco, CA, for example) to apply for their visa in-person. Depending on the country, your student may not need to apply for a visa beforehand. Be aware that when a student applies for a visa, they will typically need to give their passport to the consulate along with the application paperwork. Depending on the country and the consulate, students might receive their passport back in the mail, or they might need to go back to the consulate to pick up their passport. This process can sometimes take a while, so depending on the program, students may not be able to travel abroad in the months leading up to their program, or arrive early.  For Gateway semester programs, PLU Wang Center staff will help students with this process and provide guidance on whether students need a visa and how to apply; visa fees are included in the cost of the program. For Featured or Approved semester programs, staff from the partner organization or university that operates the program (not PLU Wang Center staff) will support your student through this process and give instructions on if they need a visa and how to apply. The Wang Center cannot guarantee that students will receive a visa/residence permit for their chosen program.

What if my student is not a US passport holder?

We strongly recommend non-U.S. passport holders – this may include those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Green Card (permanent residents), and International Student visa status, etc. – to seek counsel with an immigration attorney before considering study abroad as an option. For Gateway, Featured, or Short-Term faculty-led programs where no visa is required for U.S. passport holders, non-U.S. passport holders will be responsible for obtaining and paying the cost of any visas required. For Gateway, Featured, or Short-Term faculty-led programs where visa costs for non-U.S. passport holders exceed the visa costs for U.S. passport holders, the student is responsible for paying the difference in cost.

When and how should flights be booked?

For Gateway semester programs, there is a flight credit included in the cost of the program to offset the expense of airfare. Wang Center staff will give your student instructions on how to book their flight with our partner travel agency, so they can access this flight credit. 

For Featured or Approved semester programs, the cost of airfare is not included in the cost of the program and is an additional expense. Students should work with the partner organization/university that manages the program to find out when and how to book their flight. 

For PLU short-term faculty-led programs, students often travel together (departing from and returning to SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport)), and the cost of roundtrip airfare is included in the program fee. Students will receive more information regarding their flight options after getting an admissions decision.

Will there be someone available at the airport to welcome my student upon arrival?

This depends on the program. For most PLU short-term faculty-led programs, group transportation upon arrival will be pre-arranged. In some cases, including for many semester programs, it is up to the student to navigate local public transportation or taxis once they arrive. However, most programs provide detailed instructions for students explaining how to navigate the arrival process. Especially for students who haven’t traveled internationally before, this is a great opportunity to learn how to approach an unfamiliar situation and new environment. Your student can prepare by doing some research online, reaching out to another student who participated in the program previously, or using resources like Google Maps, which could have public transportation information and schedules, depending on the city. 

My student hasn’t traveled on their own before. Can I travel with them at the beginning of their program to help them get settled?

While in some cases it could be possible, we don’t recommend that families travel with students to get them settled in their new host community. Navigating an unfamiliar environment is part of the learning process for your student. If your student hasn’t traveled by themselves before, it’s understandable for you or your student to be nervous. Traveling can be a great opportunity to become comfortable in unfamiliar situations! To help your student prepare for their arrival, review the Travel section of our Prepare page. On this page, you will find information about creating a backup plan, what documents (originals and copies) to bring, etc.

What is housing like?

Housing varies widely by program. For PLU short-term faculty-led programs, students typically stay in local hotels/hostels, shared apartments, or with host families. Semester study away students may be living in a residence hall or other type of student housing somewhat similar to living on campus at PLU, or they could be living with a host family, depending on the program. Onsite staff typically match students with host families based on students’ needs, habits and lifestyles. Host families are thoroughly vetted by onsite staff and in many cases have been hosting students from U.S. universities for multiple years, or even decades! 

What are meals like?

Meals vary by program. For many semester study away programs, students would be cooking their own meals, receiving a meal stipend from PLU to go towards the cost of groceries. Students living with host families may have most meals provided by their family. To find out more about meals, your student can review the specific program page. 

For PLU short-term faculty-led programs, some or most meals are included in the program fee. See ‘Program Fee’ tab of each program brochure webpage for details. 

What should I expect while my student is away?

It is to be expected for students to experience ups and downs and experience challenges and hard days sometimes while away. This is normal, and is part of the learning experience of study away. Through fun and exciting moments, as well as frustrating or challenging moments, students strengthen skills and gain new perspectives. There are mental health resources and support available to your student, and preparations built into pre-departure orientation(s). Your student can find more information about various aspects of preparing for study away and what to expect in the Prepare and Sojourn pages on our website.

How do students typically keep in touch with family and friends back home while away?

It could be helpful to discuss with your student how you plan to communicate while they’re away, such as a video call on on the weekends, for example. Common tools and platforms include WhatsApp, Zoom, FaceTime and iMessage. Something to note is that frequent communication with friends and family back home could potentially impact students’ ability to fully engage with the host culture, and may enhance homesickness. In programs that entail an immersive language learning environment, it is recommended that students speak, read and listen to the language they’re studying as much as possible.

Can I travel to visit my student while they’re on the program?

Sometimes it is not possible for families or friends to visit students while they’re studying away, and sometimes it is – in some cases, visits may need to happen before the program officially begins or after it ends. For some countries, visa regulations may require students to depart the country right after their program ends. Different programs may have different rules and expectations surrounding this. Parents and families should not expect to be able to stay with their student in their student housing – visitors should expect to book their own accommodations.

Can my student travel independently during free time while studying away?

For short-term faculty-led programs, there is not typically enough time. There may be designated days or times for students to explore independently, or maybe travel to nearby places. For semester study away, students usually can, but they will need to follow guidance from onsite staff and/or faculty. Some programs are very independent and students don’t have frequent excursions/study tours and cultural activities included in the program. Other programs are more structured and students have cultural activities and immersive learning opportunities built into the program, which could include required academic excursions/study tours traveling with program faculty or staff. In either case, students may have long weekends or breaks during which time they could travel independently. Again, this varies by program and depends. For students interested in traveling before their program officially begins, in some cases it is not possible or not recommended due to the visa process timeline. (Applying for a visa can entail the student submitting their passport to a consulate and it can take a while to get their passport back.)

Can I send mail to my student while they’re away?

Typically yes, if your student is participating in a semester program. However, if you want to send packages, be aware that in some countries there can be high import taxes to pay in customs before a student can receive their package. Sending packages isn’t always advisable depending on local regulations. Sometimes it is best to send mail to the address of where your student is living, and other times it’s best to send things to the address of the program “center” building (if applicable). Students may be given instructions on sending/receiving mail during orientation when they arrive onsite. Your student can ask an onsite staff or faculty member while they’re abroad about this if they’re unsure.

How can my student access money while abroad? Do they need to do anything to prepare? Will they need to open an international bank account?

Your student will need to notify their bank if they will be out of the country. This can usually be done by phone call or on an app depending on the bank. Your student should see if there are international fees associated with their bank and credit or debit cards, and make a plan for how they will access money. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted internationally however American Express and Discover are not. Some communities abroad may use cash more frequently than in the US, so your student might be withdrawing money from an ATM regularly and using cash instead of cards. This depends on the city and country and what is commonplace there. Students typically do not need to open an international bank account. More tips can be found in the Money & Finances section of our Prepare webpage. 

How much should students budget for personal expenses and other things?

This depends on their spending habits and the cost of living in the place they will be studying in. Your student will need to do their own research into how much they might anticipate needing to budget. For semester programs, the Wang Center provides a rough estimate at orientation of how much students might want to budget. 

How much should students budget for personal expenses and other things?

This depends on their spending habits and the cost of living in the place they will be studying in. Your student will need to do their own research into how much they might anticipate needing to budget. For semester programs, the Wang Center provides a rough estimate at orientation of how much students might want to budget. 

Upon Return

An important part of a student’s learning process is transitioning back home after studying away. Your student may find that they have changed, grown and matured while away, and that things feel different now that they’re back. They will have lots of stories to tell, and it’s beneficial for students to find outlets to reflect on their time away, and process their experiences. Students may find themselves missing their host community.

 

Additional Resources

Study Away Policies – You can find PLU study away policies here.

 

FERPA (Paragraph below adapted from the University of Minnesota)

While we are pleased to meet with parents and family members to answer questions, in many cases, we cannot share information out of respect for FERPA student privacy regulations. Funnel your questions through your student, having them serve as the family representative. When sharing your questions with your student, discuss why you have questions about a particular topic and what implications different answers could have. This process helps your student reach the next stage of maturity and become more independent.

 

Resource: Download the Institute of International Education’s Parent Guide to Study Abroad

If your student is applying for a program operated by one of our partner provider organizations, you can find more information below: