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Not all classrooms have four walls. The best often have no walls. Nowhere is this more evident than with the growing number of students that study abroad. This is one of the programs you WILL hear about from your student — I heard about it from my younger Gator before she even started her first semester — and many students start their college years planning for such an experience. In (once again) another sign of generational change, I did not have all that many friends that went abroad when I was in college. My older daughter, who has already graduated from UF, chose not to study abroad because she did not want to miss a full Gainesville semester. Looking back, she has said it is one of her regrets now that she has seen her younger sister’s Study Abroad experience in Madrid.
I first learned about study abroad through UF at orientation. My daughter and I attended a breakout session that spoke of the benefits of studying abroad. You can read more about that and other frequently asked questions here. I was impressed by the vast amount of information shared in that session and — I am forced to admit — envious of the many opportunities available to current students. Sure, I knew that since we live in a global economy it is important to increase our global awareness. But I was not as knowledgeable about the impact for students both on the breadth of their education as well as upon opportunities after graduation.
My daughter made it clear at that session that this was an experience she wanted to have. I thought I would have a few years to plan, but that planning starts sooner than you think. There are so many programs, options, and curricular considerations that it’s a really good idea for both of you to start doing your Study Abroad homework right away. I knew that I would be most comfortable if she went on a UF Sponsored program for many reasons, but primarily because of the support. We live in uncertain and sometimes frightening times, so the decision to send your student abroad is very personal and weighted by your family’s world views and experiences. The support UF students receive from UFIC (University of Florida International Center) as it applies to travel warnings and monitoring the global situation was of paramount importance to my allowing her to go. The cost was the second factor: studying abroad can be expensive depending on the duration and nature of the program.
To secure themselves a space, students are required to complete the Study Abroad application and pay the deposit or service fee, which can range from $125 all the way up to $750 depending on the type of program. Click here to see the fees. These fees are non-refundable, so make sure you have worked out the complete financial aspect for your student before paying the deposit. Over 2,000 UF students participate in study abroad programs to destinations from Australia to Argentina, Belize to Belgium, the Netherlands to New Zealand, and many countries in between. Top destinations were China, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The program length that was the most popular was two to eight weeks in the summer, followed by less than two weeks during the academic year (mini session), and, after that, one full semester.
I would recommend having your students attend one of the information sessions to learn about the different study abroad programs. Once they attend a session, they can meet with a Study Abroad Peer Advisor who can help them determine which program options might work best for them. The Study Abroad office can be found in The Hub.
My daughter did end up traveling with a UF sponsored program. As an advertising major, she could have chosen the College of Journalism & Communications summer program. The students take UF courses taught by UF faculty and they receive UF GPA credit. She ultimately decided that she wanted a longer study abroad experience and opted for a semester-long Warrington College of Business program in Madrid. She took one online UF business course along with two courses focusing on Spanish business, language, and culture which met both her Gen Ed and Business Minor credit requirements. She handled all of the applications and planning for the program, occasionally calling me for support and the usual “Mom” questions. You know — those questions that only YOU get asked: “Mom, what’s my passport number?”
And HaveUHeard that your student can also fill out the Deferment Request for UF Study Abroad Program Fee (for UF Sponsored Programs ONLY) so that the due date for total payment can be extended to allow time for disbursement of funds? In addition, my daughter’s study abroad trip included health insurance. She did go through UF, so if you are working with another program, make sure you check about health insurance in the event your student becomes sick or is injured while away.
Florida Prepaid & Bright Futures
It’s important to remember that while Florida Prepaid may be used for study abroad, you will want to weigh your options about whether you want to apply these funds. The reason for this is the consideration over whether the total prepaid credit hours you purchased will cover your student’s four years. If they are taking more than the 152 credit hours (many do), upper-level courses will cost more per credit hour than the lower-level credits. It may make sense to save the prepaid for the more costly classes than to apply it to the cost of studying abroad. You do have the option not to use the Prepaid funds for Summer Abroad. At the same time, you should assess if the (often yearly) change in the Bright Futures funding can be used for your student at their award level (Academic or Medallion) for the semester abroad (possibly including summer) that your student is considering.
There are specific recommendations that UF makes to the Parents & Guardians of students studying abroad, some of which you can read about here. I chose not to follow all of the recommendations; in this instance, as in many others, I believe that you need to do as a parent what works for you and your student.
Here is what I would recommend:
Make sure your student’s passport has a minimum of six months before expiration (and yours, should emergency travel be necessary on your part). Your student will not be allowed to leave the U.S. if their passport expires in three months’ time or less. Students may renew their passports at The University of Florida Mail & Document Services which acts as a Passport Acceptance Facility for the U.S. Department of State. Passport Books and Passport Cards are available; be aware of the document(s) required of your student. The processing time for both the Book and Card averages about 6-8 weeks, with expedited services in about 3-4 weeks, but the processing time is always subject to change. The Passport Services office is located at 3030 Radio Road on the Southwest portion of the campus between Elmore Hall and the Physical Plant Division (Lakeside Residential Complex is directly across the road). Visitor Parking is available in front of the building. In the event that you need to expedite a passport or visa renewal, another passport renewal resource you could try is Fastport Passport. They are registered with the U.S. Department of State.
Register and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It is free to U.S. citizens and will give you and your student important safety information from the appropriate Embassy as well as help them to contact you in the event of an emergency.
If your student is traveling to a country that is more metropolitan, with access to shops and general stores, have them purchase most of their toiletries at their destination. I asked my daughter to pitch in with her roommates for items such as toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, etc. (and cleaning supplies if they are living in an apartment).
Some programs have and assign phones to the students for communications among their group while abroad. You may also consider purchasing an unlocked phone that works on international networks. By purchasing in advance, your students can add their contacts and download their apps ahead of time. Or you can set up your student’s phone and plan to accommodate their travel, both with your cell service provider and apps such as WhatsApp.
Speaking of phones, it is one of the more commonly stolen items in many cities (at home and abroad, in all honesty) so make sure they are diligent with their phones. That means not putting them in their back pockets or on tables where anyone can walk by and grab them.
Before her departure, I made my daughter an authorized user on my credit card since it does not have any foreign transaction fees. Have them write down the international phone number for the credit card and put it in a safe place (along with a copy of their passport). If their credit card is stolen, at least they can report it immediately.
While they can pay extra for additional luggage, my daughter limited herself to one large rolling suitcase, a rolling carry-on for the weekends the students traveled away from home base, and a backpack as her personal bag. The primary luggage concern is that your student must be able to move and manage their own luggage comfortably. As for enough of a wardrobe, the hope is that they will primarily mix and match outfits, wash clothing as able and needed, and learn to live with less. If you research students backpacking through Europe, they not only do just fine reusing clothes, but advocate it. (Here’s a chance to throw in your Green/Sustainable Fashion two-cents as well, to perhaps save both headaches and money!) And if there is an unexpected clothing need, there will likely be inexpensive retail stores where a purchase can be made. For ease of packing, my daughter used packing cubes which were great for organizing her clothes. We went with the ultralight packing cubes from eBags.
When booking your student’s travel, keep in mind that the internet keeps track of all of your searches. You may want to open an incognito window so you can avoid increasing prices (the travel site is then unaware that you already searched for a low price on their website). The best time window for booking an international flight is typically 2-4 months before your travel date. Another tip is to check one-way tickets each way as sometimes you may actually get a better fare than the roundtrip price. That one-way pricing can even accommodate different arrival and departure cities, and facilitate pre- or post-study travel for your student.
While UF does offer to house students through its international program, other options include Airbnbs and hostels. If someone wants to immerse themselves even more so in the local culture, consider staying with a host family. Depending upon the study abroad program, that may even be a pre-arranged option.
Consider purchasing student travel insurance for emergencies, which we pray they don’t need. HaveUHeard recommends Allianz Travel Insurance.
If your student will be traveling around and staying at hotels, HaveUHeard that students can find access to special rates through StudentUniverse? Click here for more information. Or, they can consider staying at a hostel. Hostels are not all so shabby anymore. Check out HostelWorld to see how nice (while still inexpensive) some of them are.
You may also want to consider having your student get Global Entry. The cost of Global Entry is approximately $100 for five years, but it makes getting through security so much easier. Or, have them download the Mobile Passport app (officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection), which is free and helps to speed you through U.S. Customs. Travelers still need their passport but it does save time.
Here is where I did the opposite of what UF recommends:
I did not go overseas with my student to help her settle in. When my daughter chose Madrid, our decision had us jointly visiting other cities in Spain with her two weeks prior to the start of her program. Her experiences that summer were vastly different when she was with her friends compared to when she was with family. (Here’s a good example of the hotels vs hostels usage!) We did not go there to “settle” her in, but it was very reassuring to see the cities she would be traveling to and get a lay of the land. I think she also felt the same way about arriving in advance.
Try not to call your student every day to check-in, and do not worry if your student has not spoken with you in a few days. My daughter sent me a text once a day, many simply a “Hi, I’m fine.” She was in a time zone that was six hours earlier than my Florida location, so it was obviously challenging to find a time that we were both available to talk. We texted when she had WiFi available and she called me occasionally through Facebook, also using WiFi. (Many use WhatsApp, but you can also call through Facebook messenger or Facetime when in a WiFi area and the reception is just as good.) With everything going on in the world today, I felt comfortably in touch but not overly involved with our brief texting check-ins. I did insist that if she was going to be traveling to another country, she needed to let me know in advance.
Non-UF students can travel on a UF Sponsored Study Abroad program and UF students can also go to other university’s study abroad programs. This often comes up when they want to attend a program with a friend who goes to a different school. Just make certain your student gets approval beforehand to ensure that the credits will transfer.
Even with all that facilitates these Study Abroad programs, the experience can still be very pricey. In addition to the cost of the program (which included room and certain meals, a prepaid but limited metro card, health insurance, and some excursions for my daughter), most programs do not include airfare, additional meals, additional travel, or any personal purchases the student needs (or chooses) to make for themselves. Many students, understandably, do love to travel to different destinations while abroad, but that’s a cost you need to be aware of and negotiate with your student ahead of time. Honestly, much of this tangential travel can really enhance the value of the study abroad experience for only a modest increase in cost. GetYourGuide gives your student guides to unique and unmissable things to do in or near their destination, and can give you a bit of budgeting heads-up as well.
Looking for items students heading abroad need or want? Check out our list here.