Communicating with your student
Before your student leaves the US
Discuss and decide on a plan for when you will communicate. When stories are in the news of something happening in the country where your student is living, you may not have any idea if your student is safe in bed or traveling in the midst of the excitement. Set up a plan with your student when something happens in their country, where your student will immediately contact you by text, email, telephone, or app. Think about what method will not require telephone or internet connection if there is a disruption. Make sure that all of you have the app installed and working before departure. This is not the time to find out that you don't know your student's Facebook identity.
E-mail accessibility varies by program. Generally, students have some access to e-mail, but rarely to the degree that they are accustomed to at their home (U.S.) college or university. However, most overseas cities have internet cafes (particularly in student areas) that provide web access. As in the US, public libraries are another good place to check for web access. E-mail access is an important way for students to keep in touch with family, friends, and their home school, but too much time on e-mail could interfere with students' cultural integration. Limited use of e-mail is often more productive for achieving intercultural competency.
Apps such as Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple FaceTime, or WeChat work with different operating systems. http://www.tomsguide.com/us/pictures-story/654-best-messaging-apps.html offers an overview. In the event of a natural disaster, Facebook Safety Check will trigger a message if you have updated your location in settings.
With the liberalization of telecommunications markets worldwide, good values abound and are worth shopping for. In the past, calling cards were the cheapest and most reliable way for students to call the U.S. while abroad. Students interested in using a calling card while overseas must request this before they leave the U.S. Students also find prepaid calling cards (particularly rechargeable ones) to be a convenient way to make international calls. Besides AT&T, Sprint, and MCI, other vendors also sell global calling products. Check www.idt.net for other deals. An Internet search should yield many more options. In addition, prepaid cards are often available once overseas, particularly in ethnic neighborhoods. Keep in mind that users of these cards often must pay a surcharge when using payphones or a toll-free number.
Telephone service abroad can be much more expensive than in the U.S. Students will realize tremendous savings if family and friends in the U.S. call them instead of the other way around. When making calls to a student abroad, please keep time differences in mind .The following is the usual dialing procedure for international calls from the U.S.:
011 (int'l access code) + country code (usually 2 or 3 digits) + city code (usually 1 to 5 digits) + local number. Usually, the "0" that must be dialed at the beginning of a city code from within a country is dropped when dialing from outside the country.
Students also may have limited access to phones in homestays or apartments because of the expenses involved and lack of itemized phone bills abroad. Even local calls can run up very high bills and specific fees cannot be determined. Thus, students often have to use a nearby phone box to call parents, instructing them to call back at their home phone number in a few minutes. This method saves money and avoids hassles for all involved.
Many students now employ Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP) such as Skype where you can call your child over the internet using your computer and a microphone. This service is free if you call computer to computer but if you need to call a cell phone or landline you need to prepay a small amount that is valid for 180 days from the last call or until the amount is used up. Visit http://www.skype.com/ for more information.
Mail and ShippingThe most convenient and easiest way to send these items to most countries is to ship them in a sturdy cardboard box through the post office. Parents should not mail prescription drugs or any other type of medication; students should therefore pack enough medication for their entire stay abroad. When declaring an item's value, keep in mind that it is not an insurance declaration and a percentage of the value (ranging from 5% to 200%) may be assessed at the other end.
In addition, please note that packages from the U.S. often attract attention and can incur a customs duty on their value. You should check with the post office regarding duties on new items and restrictions, although you shouldn't be surprised when U.S. postal officials cannot say what the duties will be in France, etc. If a student has easy access to an airport, it is sometimes cheaper to send bigger packages via commercial airlines. Please contact individual carriers for details.
Keep in mind that what goes over probably has to come back. Because postage rates abroad are considerably higher than in the U.S., it will be more expensive to ship things back. Taking older possessions that students won't mind leaving behind (old towels, pajamas, shoes, etc.) is one way students can save space for gifts and mementos from their travels.