A Guide for Families

The Office of Off-Campus Study (OCS) works with students and faculty to identify and promote programs that support the educational goals of Grinnell College.

Transfer of Academic Credit from OCS programs

Academic credit for most liberal arts courses from a program approved for a student by Grinnell transfers as general credit toward graduation as long as the student earns a C or above. Grinnell encourages students to take a blend of coursework that complements and extends their academic interests while making the most of what a student can learn about local culture, history, and language. Courses that do not transfer are generally those that are inconsistent with the liberal arts education that Grinnell offers, such as many courses in marketing, journalism, tourism, fashion or design, basic photography, and food tasting. Individual academic departments determine their own policies for accepting off-campus program credits toward a major or concentration.

Discuss Financial Matters

Costs related to the program vary depending on the location and what is being offered. Be sure to carefully read what is included such as tuition, airfare, housing, meal plan, additional travel, etc. It is also important to consider personal and pre-departure expenses. This may include fees for a visa and passport, inoculations and vaccinations, airfare, and insurance. We recommend talking with your student about daily, miscellaneous costs and creating a budget. Some programs provide typical cost estimates to assist students in creating a budget.

Off-Campus Tuition

Grinnell tuition is charged in place of the program tuition when it is equal to or less than Grinnell tuition. When program tuition exceeds Grinnell tuition, the program’s charge will replace Grinnell tuition. Some total program costs vary due to fluctuations in exchange rates and are subject to change without notice. Non-tuition costs, such as room and board charged by the program, will appear on the student account in addition to the tuition charge. Program costs are published on program sites typically found online. As indicated in OCS billing policies, students are responsible for paying the program deposit which confirms a student’s place once they are accepted. This deposit is generally posted as a credit to the Grinnell student account after the invoice is received from the program indicating the amount paid.

Financial Aid

Grinnell allows students to apply their financial aid and merit aid packages to off-campus study. However, students who are currently participating in work-study will not be eligible to participate in this program while studying off-campus. To discuss details of their personal financial aid package, and how it applies to specific OCS programs, students are encouraged to contact the Financial Aid team.

Credit and ATM Cards

Credit cards are convenient and are usually a good way to make a purchase, but there may be restrictions such as minimum purchases at some businesses. Call your credit card company to inquire about foreign transaction fees, chips, and PINs. Remember to inform them of the duration of the time abroad and locations of travel so the card company does not suspect fraudulent activity and cancel or freeze the card. 

ATM debit cards also offer a convenient way to purchase things. Banks tend to offer favorable exchange rates. Check to see if your bank has reciprocal agreements with banks in other countries and inquire about special rules governing PINs, maximum withdrawal amounts, and fees.

Passports and Visas

Students should obtain a passport if they do not have one to travel out of the country. Students with passports should check the expiration date. Passports typically need to be valid at least six months after the program’s end date. Parents or guardians may also wish to have a valid up-to-date passport, in the unlikely event of an emergency requiring their presence.

Students need to inform themselves about visa requirements. The first place to inquire about the need for a visa and procedures for obtaining one is with the program provider (there may even be information on the provider’s website). Some countries require visas for students to study or do internships. Be aware that consulates may require students to make appointments for interviews to obtain a visa. Apply as soon as possible to allow for long visa processing times. Strict timelines may prohibit students from traveling abroad before the semester of study begins, sometimes in order to apply from the country of citizenship. Keep this in mind if you intend to make travel plans, particularly during the summer.

Health and Travel Insurance

Students may be able to use their U.S.-based personal medical coverage for routine or non-emergency medical expenses while abroad. It is important to contact the insurance provider to find out about coverage and reimbursement procedures.

Many program providers will include medical insurance in their program fees. Families should review the coverage to see if it meets their student’s specific health needs.

Students on programs with limited or no medical coverage internationally can pay by credit card and self-enroll in the College's GeoBlue insurance coverage. GeoBlue is a leader in comprehensive international health insurance; offering pre-departure advice, full-service health care access, and emergency evacuation. For additional information and a summary of benefits please email the Office of Off-Campus Study.

We advise students to not cancel their U.S.-based insurance policy. The U.S. health care system is incredibly expensive for people who need medical attention but find themselves with a “gap” in coverage (a period of dates when not covered by any policy). Furthermore, in the event that the student returns to the U.S. for any reason, U.S.-based insurance will become the primary insurance. 

Discuss Health and Safety Matters

Talk ahead of time with your student about being responsible and making mature decisions. Some topics may include traveling with friends rather than alone, avoiding dangerous areas or situations, following the laws of the country, and being respectful of the culture and customs of the host nation. Each program provides its own orientation to health and safety matters specific to that country.

If an emergency does arise while they are on a program, immediately contact the program administrators directly. Ask your student for the emergency contact information prior to departure. If you have questions or concerns about the student’s program provider before, during, or after your student’s study-abroad experience, please email the Office of Off-Campus Study or call 641-269-4790.

Create a Communication Plan

Exchange all contact information and discuss your plan for how and when you will communicate so you have the same expectations. Keep in touch once a week or even every two. Give your student time and space to adapt to their new environment. In addition to email, prepaid international calling cards or Skype, Google Hangout, or Facebook may be good low-cost options. Keep in mind time differences.

If you plan to visit your student, it is best to schedule it after the program ends. This is important because your student will need time to adjust and establish a support system on their own at the beginning of their off-campus experience. Depending on the structure of a program, visits are sometimes only possible after the program ends. The provider can provide more information.

Important Documents

Please encourage your student to make copies of insurance cards, passports, credit cards, and ATM information in case they are lost or get stolen. One copy should travel with your student and be kept in a safe place and the other should be left at home.

Anticipate Culture Shock

Nearly everyone experiences culture shock — a sense of disorientation in a cultural environment different from one’s own. Some common symptoms are:

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Feelings of helplessness/dependency
  • Disorientation and isolation
  • Depression and sadness
  • Hyper-irritability, which may include inappropriate anger and hostility
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
  • Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
  • Hypochondria
  • Excessive drinking
  • Recreational drug dependency
  • Extreme concerns over sanitation, safety (even paranoia), and being taken advantage of
  • Loss of focus and ability to complete tasks

How to help?

  • Expect ups and downs. Support your student by listening.
  • Let your student know everyone goes through culture shock.
  • Remind your student of the initial reasons they chose to study abroad. 
  • Encourage your student to work through culture shock in healthy ways. For example, embrace the immersion and make new friends, speak the local language as much as possible (whether required or not), and refrain from seeking too much refuge among other Americans.
  • Encourage independent problem-solving.
  • Avoid the temptation to immediately resolve your student’s problem(s).
  • If your student is struggling, encourage them to reach out to program support staff for help.

Returning Home

For many, returning home is as challenging as adjusting to life in a different culture. It is not uncommon for people to feel like strangers in their own community. This is referred to as reverse culture shock. Re-adjustment is a normal part of the return experience.

  • Common symptoms:
  • Frustration
  • Boredom
  • Restlessness
  • Change in values, goals, priorities, and attitudes
  • Feelings of isolation or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reverse Homesickness (missing people and places from abroad)
  • Negativity towards your native culture

How to help?

Expect change and allow time to adjust. Let them know it may be difficult to readjust back to the U.S., home, and college life.

Listen and observe. Show an interest in your student’s experience and give them time and space to re-acclimate.

Encourage communication and involvement. Encourage your student to stay in touch with friends made overseas and to get involved in internationally related activities at home, on campus, and in the community.

If your student seems to need help, please encourage them to make an appointment with SHAW staff.


United States Department of State Students Abroad

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