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Parents / Guardians

Information and frequently asked questions for parents/guardians of students studying abroad.

Swarthmore education is different for each student. For many students, international study plays a key role in their education, however, for each of these students, it can offer something slightly different and take a different form. For this reason, the Off-Campus Study Office works with a high degree of flexibility and supports a wide range of study abroad programs. The office also works closely with students at every phase of the process. Prior to departure, it holds mandatory information sessions and requires several one-on-one meetings with students, preparing them first for selecting and applying to a program and then for living abroad.    

The office also has online resources for students during their time abroad and is available to communicate via email and offer any additional support needed. Then, when students return, the office holds meetings to debrief, gather feedback, welcome students back and give students the opportunity to share stories. In addition, both before and after the student goes abroad, the office is also always open for more one-on-one meetings with students as needed.

1. What is Off-Campus Study? Is it required?

Off-Campus study for credit is an opportunity for students to have academic experiences abroad. There is a range of available programs to fit every student’s interests. Study abroad is not required, though it is highly recommended.

2. How many students participate in off-campus study?

Approximately 40% of all Swarthmore students participate in an off-campus study program.

study abroad scenery

1. Are there additional costs for off-campus study? Will financial aid be applied?

All students who study abroad through the semester/year abroad program will pay exactly the same tuition, room and board as they would on campus. The Off-Campus Study Office provides funds if a particular program does not offer its own housing and/or meals, as well as a round-trip airfare, with the cost of a round-trip from Philadelphia as the cap on the amount. Swarthmore also provides health and travel insurance, the cost of an application fee to the program that the student selects; as well as any immigration costs such as a visa or local registration.  In addition, students may be eligible for a travel stipend if they must take public transportation to their classes. Students should budget the costs of refundable deposits, and immunizations which are not covered by Swarthmore, as well as discretionary funds for sightseeing, souvenir purchases, etc. For a more detailed explanation of financial aid procedures and advice on managing funds while abroad, please see the Practical Matters Handbook which can be found on the "Off-Campus Study Handbooks" section of this website.

1. Are there any vaccines or screenings that my student will need to have before traveling abroad?

All students are required to go to The Worth Student Health and Wellness Center for a travel health consultation before going abroad; any special immunizations (and their cost) and travel medicine needs will be reviewed during this consultation. You should review whether your health insurance plan will cover the cost of any of these immunizations. Students should be aware of vaccines that must be administered over a period of weeks and make sure to make these appointments in time for the student’s departure date. If a vaccine is not available at The Worth Student Health and Wellness Center, the student will be directed to a facility that does offer that immunization. Information about vaccines for travel to specific countries is available on the CDC’s website.

2. What type of medical care will be available to my student during their study abroad program?

Swarthmore has an insurance plan through CISI (Cultural Insurance International) that covers students on semester/year abroad program. A copy is available on the OCS website.  Students are covered by this policy or by a policy provided by their study abroad program.

3. Are students with medical conditions able to participate in off-campus study?

Yes. However, students should always contact their program in order to ensure they will have access to the kinds of medications and/or medical care that they will need while they are abroad. Hosting programs and universities will do all they can to provide for medical needs, but there is always a possibility they may not be able to provide what is required. Students with medical conditions should bring with them copies of pertinent medical records, and all prescription medications should be in the original containers with a copy of the prescription (Note that some medications that are legal in the US may be illegal in other countries).

4. What happens in the case of an emergency at home or abroad? How will I be able to contact my student?

The first number to call at Swarthmore in the event of an emergency is Public Safety (610-328-8333). They will then contact the appropriate staff at the College.

You may be able to contact your student directly depending on the circumstances abroad (i.e. internet, phone service), however, you can also get in touch with your student through the study abroad program. Before your student leaves, you should compile a list of phone numbers and email addresses for important contacts.

We strongly recommend that at least one parent or guardian have a valid passport so that in the case of an emergency you would be prepared to travel to the abroad site.

5. Are there additional safety concerns for students while abroad?

Safety concerns vary depending on the student’s location. The Off-Campus Study Office covers general safety issues with all students in its mandatory pre-departure gathering. We are also always available to offer additional safety advice and to brief students on what to expect and be aware of while abroad. Students should read all the materials provided to them by the Off-Campus Study Office about the safety conditions of their host country. In addition, individual study abroad programs will generally include further safety information specific to the particular program, which students should also read carefully. General safety considerations can be found in the Practical Matters Handbook which can be found on the "Off-Campus Study Handbooks" section of this website.

Off-Campus Study expects all students to review the U.S. State Department Consular Information for their destinations, and U.S. citizens are required to register their travel with the State Department STEP program.

1. Where do students stay while abroad?

Depending on the program, students have a variety of options for housing. These options may include homestays, dorms and/or apartments, as well as individually arranged housing.

2. What is a homestay? How is it arranged?

In a homestay, students live with a local host family. It provides them with the opportunity to more fully immerse themselves in the culture and language of their host country. It is often a very positive experience where students create lifelong bonds. The individual study abroad program arranges these with families who have signed up to provide homestays.

3. Are meals provided?

Individual programs will have different policies for student meals. In the case that there is not an established meal plan run by a student’s program, the Off-Campus Study Office provides stipends for food based on the cost of living for students in that particular country.

1. Will my student be able to obtain credit for coursework completed while abroad?

Students are required to take a course load that corresponds to at least 4 credits per semester at Swarthmore. (If your student’s program counts credit hours, note that 1 Swarthmore credit usually corresponds to 4 credit hours at other universities or programs.) Before going abroad, each student must obtain pre-estimation of credit from the appropriate academic department. The final awarding of credit does not occur until the student returns to Swarthmore, at which point they must submit all syllabi and assignments to the relevant departments in order to get final credit approval unless otherwise advised.  Students may also opt to receive Off-Campus Study Credit which is awarded by the Faculty Advisor for Off-Campus Study.

2. Are there restrictions on what students are able to study?

Some Swarthmore departments require prerequisites in order to obtain credit abroad, and some also restrict the number of off-campus credits one may receive in that department. Students should become aware of these limits, which are usually on departments’ web pages, when choosing their courses. Students are required to meet with their academic advisers, to ensure that their course selection will keep them on track for their major and for graduation.

1. Can student athletes go abroad?

With proper planning many Swarthmore athletes are able to participate in study abroad. Athletes thinking of going abroad should work with their coaches to determine the best time frame in which to study abroad, and how to network with athletic programs while abroad.

1. What is the timeframe for applications? Is there a due date?

Applications for study abroad in the spring are typically due in early October. The deadlines for fall or full-year programs are around mid-February. Please note that these are internal Off-Campus Study deadlines and that study abroad programs have individual deadlines that the students must meet, which may be earlier.  Also, programs with rolling admissions may fill well before their deadlines.

1. What kinds of expenses should I expect my student to have while studying abroad?

Expenses vary dramatically from one program to another, and each program will likely offer advice according to the specifics of the host country and the structure of the program. Some common expenses include immigration and visa fees, vaccinations and other medicine, small gifts for host families and new friends, toiletries (the students should bring enough from home to get them started but plan to buy more once they get to their host country), local cell phone, adapters and other technology, and souvenirs. It is also important to understand any additional financial obligations that your student may have during break periods.

Parents should talk with their students about the budgets they receive from the Off-Campus Study Office, any additional costs, how these expenses will be met, and how much pocket money the students will have to spend on discretionary expenses (e.g. toiletries, shopping, vacation travel, activities not covered by the program).

More information and advice regarding expenses and budgeting can be found in the Practical Matters Handbook which can be found on the "Off-Campus Study Handbooks" section of our website and a blank budget worksheet is included in an appendix to the same handbook to give a sense of the possible expenses for your student.

2. What forms of payment can my student use while abroad? Will my student need to bring $US?

Students should bring several hundred $US from home for initial expenses and to save some for emergencies as well as expenses on the return home.

Then, upon arrival in the host country’s airport, students should get some local currency from an ATM or at a currency exchange counter if possible. Just in case, it can also be helpful to obtain some local currency prior to departure.

In some countries, credit cards can be convenient option in many stores and restaurants. The most commonly accepted cards abroad are Visa and Master Card. Keep in mind that there can be steep fees for using both credit cards and ATMs abroad. Students should find out about fees for their particular bank and look into options for reducing them, which can include switching to a bank with lower fees or a partnership in the host country or setting up an account with a local bank abroad. If your student is planning to use credit or debit cards abroad, it is important to inform the banks of all travel plans in advance. In addition, your student should also get more financial advice from the study abroad program that is more tailored to the particular host country.

1. What will it be like for my student to adjust to a new environment? Will my student have a hard time adjusting to a new environment? Can I help my student at all with this adjustment?

We suggest that you encourage your student to learn as much as possible about where they are going and to engage them in conversation. Everyone adjusts differently to immersion in a new environment and culture (and some adjustment periods are longer than others), but it is not uncommon for students to experience some discomfort as well as ups and downs in their moods, especially in the first few weeks. If your student seems to be having a difficult time during this initial adjustment period, it is important to remember – and to remind your student – to be patient. If it seems that your student is having a very hard time for an extended period of time, however, particularly if it is getting in the way of their studies and/or involvement in the surrounding community, you should encourage them to talk to a program director or counselor. You can read our advice to students about cultural adjustment on the Off-Campus Study website .

Keep in mind that after study abroad, transitioning back to life at home can also be challenging, and it is again important to be patient. Our advice to students about readjustment is available in the Return to Campus section of this website.