Skip to content

While Abroad

Cultural Adjustment 

Students should expect that their study abroad journey will be full of both new and exciting experiences as well as challenges and adjustments. Ups and downs are normal and should be expected. These fluctuations are often referred to as culture shock. For some students the initial adjustment period of the first few weeks can be the most difficult; others may find that moods can change throughout the semester, as what was once new and exciting becomes routine. Students should expect to make mistakes and should learn to not be hard on themselves when mistakes happen. Living in a new culture and speaking a new language can also be exhausting at times. It’s important to learn to take care of oneself (e.g., get enough sleep, eat well, etc.). 

While engaging fully in the new environment, it is helpful to think about what kinds of activities you enjoy and how you can pursue them in your new environment. For instance, if you have a regular exercise routine, what athletic facilities will be available on the new campus or in your neighborhood? What clubs or organizations that you participate in on your home campus may be available to you in the new context? Finally, one can also begin to integrate into a culture by trying new things. For example, what dishes can a member of the host culture teach you to cook and what foods from your home context can you share? What dances and or music can you share and learn?

Should you find that you are having trouble adjusting over a long period of time, you should seek out professional assistance. Generally, the host program can make recommendations (although keep in mind that counselors may not be available in all locations) and if you are already known to one of the counselors, the Counseling Office at Swarthmore can also be contacted for advice. Finally, the Off-Campus Study Office is always available to try to assist you.

During the registration period abroad, if students change any of their pre-estimated courses, they must send an email to the appropriate department(s), with a copy to the Off-Campus Study Office, as soon as possible indicating the change of course and asking for pre-estimation of the new course. Students must keep in mind that some departments will not give credit for courses that were not pre-estimated and many departments have pre-requisites that if not met, will result in non-receipt of credit.

Students are subject at all times to the policies of the host institution. Under no circumstance are students allowed to negotiate a different end date to their program. Students are required to take final examinations according to the scheduled program timetable. Conflicting start dates of summer jobs and internships are not considered valid reasons to request an early dismissal from the program.

Students should register from abroad for classes for the following semester at Swarthmore during the pre-enrollment period. Details are available on the Registrar’s Office website.

Students should reflect on their academic and career interests and while abroad take advantage of opportunities to network with professors, career centers, host families, friends, program coordinators, Swarthmore alums, and others. The online alumni directory and LinkedIn are good resources to connect with Swarthmore alums. Students should consider taking advantage of school breaks to set up job shadowing externships.

If planning an internship prior to or following an abroad semester, students must be aware that start and end dates might not be flexible and may be in conflict with the dates of the study abroad program. Students are not allowed to negotiate with study abroad programs to change the end dates of their programs. Students can sign up for e-recruiting and UCAN to access online databases. If a placement requires an interview, consider asking the employer if the interview can be done by phone or SKYPE. The Career Services website provides information on how to arrange an externship in the US. 

Arrangements can be made to Skype with career counselors while abroad (8:30-4:30 EST). Email to set up an appointment.

The online alumni directory is a great resource for study abroad participants. Students should access the directory to determine if there are alumni in the vicinity of their study abroad programs who would like to connect with Swarthmore students. Many students have reported that connecting with Swarthmore alumni was a great aspect of the abroad experience. If students need assistance with their password/log-on information they should contact the Alumni Office at

Here are some reminders of important matters to consider prior to the end of the study abroad program. Students must be sure to resolve any financial matters. These could include library fines, etc. Swarthmore College will not receive a final transcript for students with outstanding debts. In the case of security deposits, discuss with the abroad program how the deposit will be returned (i.e., the amount, currency, where it will be returned and when). If students are refunded any monies from the abroad program, they must contact the Off-Campus Study Office for clarification.

Students should not leave the abroad site with unfinished work unless this is specifically a policy of the abroad program, not a personal request by the student. Even in such cases, students must notify the Off-Campus Study Office if they have unfinished work, and what the deadline is for completion.  Note: a major cause of academic failure by students who’ve studied abroad is non-compliance with program policies such as deadlines for receipt of academic work, and non-compliance with other program policies such as attendance.

Students should remember to thank their hosts (e.g., faculty, staff, host families) or anyone else who has assisted them with their experience.