Q: It’s two months before my study abroad program starts and parts of the program still don’t seem finalized. Should I be afraid of participating in my program?
In answer to a student who wished to remain anonymous,
The short answer is no. I am not suggesting that you not be vigilant in making sure that aspects of your program are comfortable for you, but I would say that certain things are outside of our comfort zone not bother us, but simply because that’s just the way things are.
Study abroad programs are a perfect example of this. If your program involves academic credit like mine where the teaching portion abroad is assumed by an institution external to your home one, then you must consider the steps involved and the length of time and planning needed for each interaction.
For instance, my program is hosted by the Instituto Franklin at the University of Alcalá in Spain. That University already has its own insurance, identification, and enrollment procedures set up. So, unlike other programs where everything is determined by your home institution, these ones require an almost doubling of the tasks involved. What are these tasks you ask? Well, they include things like identification for accounting, and governmental purposes, proper documentation of travel arrangements with schedules and unique record identifiers. This means passport copies, flight itineraries, ticket numbers, emergency contact forms, and the like need to be collected by not only your home, but your host institution as well as the entity providing your lodging.
Why are these important?
A few things come to mind such as:
- Well, if you get lost or stolen the civil authorities need to know where you had expected to be and where they can hope to find you. This would be where the schedules come in.
- If you lose your passport, having a copy on you, or safe at one of the institutions gives you more safety than having nothing at all. (Many hostels in Europe, for example, require you to leave your passport with them as a form of collateral or for identification purposes for locked away items).
- Your ticket also shows that you actually intend to travel and that your study abroad coordinators are not investing money into students that end up not participating in the program.
Accommodation Verification Lag-time
In reference to accommodations, if you’re staying with a family like I will, they will want to have a full and proper description of who they will be exposing themselves and their personal space too. So your home institution will usually provide a questionnaire for you to fill out detailing your eating, social, religious, and other habits along with your physical description (yes, including picture) to your host family selection pool. It may seem a bit odd, but yes, for this instant you are a commodity to be compared against and selected for things like risk (social values, property, etc) and impact (affect you have on their everyday activities).
With these things in mind, it’s no wonder that your program may not have announced who you will be living with 4 or 5 weeks in advance of your travel. But rest assure, everything has to finalized before you leave, and the people you are being shipped off to have been vetted (especially study abroad families) for dealing with you and the benefits and problems you bring. So, keep this in mind, stay patient, and know that when you’re there, everything’s been thoroughly checked for your safety.
– Question from May 2012 UCF program participant