Understanding your student's experience

Learn about the host country

We encourage you to learn about your student's host country before his or her departure. Gaining more knowledge about the destination will help to answer questions and address your concerns. In addition to our program pages, we provide a list of web resources for travel and study abroad. You can also consult guidebooks for information about countries, regions, culture. Many countries now have a variety of information online, ranging from official government statements and statistics to unofficial web guides and online newspapers. In addition, many English-language newspapers publish in-depth articles about events in international areas. Good sources are major newspaper (such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal), a news magazine (such as The Economist, Time, or U.S. News and World Report).

Preparing for another culture


Study abroad is available to all UW-Madison students. If your student will need special accommodations due to a physical or learning disability while studying abroad, please encourage him or her to make an appointment with IESP. The McBurney Disability Resource Center at UW-Madison can also serve as a resource.


Both men and women entering another culture may become aware of different expectations based on gender in various parts of the world. Norms for some behaviors, like dress, may seem much stricter, while those for other behaviors, like physical touch between men, may seem much more relaxed, or vice-versa. In some countries, U.S. women may find themselves uncomfortable with the looks and comments from men, while U.S. men may find it very difficult to meet women of the host country. Sometimes, U.S. students have found that people have made assumptions about them and their attitudes simply because they are from the U.S. This, of course, happens in reverse as well.

You or your student may not like all the gender-based customs found in the host country but reading about the customs will help you gain respect for the differences, or at least be able to accommodate them. It will help you as a parent to better understand reasons behind behaviors toward your son or daughter. See also the Health and Safety section of this website for more information on safety for women travelers. Students can feel free to discuss these issues with IESP staff.

Sexual identity

Time spent living in another culture tends to be a time of self-exploration, and this experience sometimes results in the possibility that your student may question his or her sexual identity for the first time. Other students who have already identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual may find differences in negotiating their sexuality in a new culture, with a different social climate, laws, and ways of meeting others. In either case, keep in mind that many of the ideas held in the U.S. about sexuality and sexual orientation are culture based and may not translate easily into the culture your student is entering.

In some cultures, Western understandings or levels of tolerance of 'gay' and 'lesbian' simply do not exist; people who engage in same-sex relationships may not see this as an identity around which to organize. In other places, there are active communities and visible social movements for civil rights. If your student has questions or concerns about these issues, he or she can contact a staff member in our office, and we will try to help. Again, our list of web resources might provide a starting point for learning about the general climate, laws, and meeting places, which exist in your student's host country.

Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnic relations differ across the world. Travelers may be treated differently than at home because of their race or ethnicity. When traveling to a country where your student looks physically like the majority of the people, the cultural expectations for majority people may be applied to him or her. Students who are in the minority during the time abroad may be treated differently than at home. There are many countries that have seen a resurgence of racism or where ethnic strife is a continuing experience. We encourage you to consult relevant materials to help prepare you and your student for the situation found in the host country. Parents or students with concerns about these issues can contact a staff member in our office. While studying abroad, if your student expresses feelings of discrimination, please encourage him or her to talk to staff at the host university or in Madison.

How to help students help themselves

One of the best things you can do as a parent to support your student in her or his international academic program, is to let him or her handle the program details. In most cases, we need to deal with the student directly because of existing laws about sharing information.

Prior to departing for their programs, students receive information pertaining to their time abroad. If you have a question, chances are that your student will have the answer.