While Abroad

After you Arrive

  • Send the Center for Global Education your abroad mailing address, your cell number and, if you wish, your Skype username once you know your on-site address. This information may be circulated to other offices on campus in case of an emergency.
  • Send the Registrar your complete list of courses for verification of credit. If you have ANY questions concerning the appropriate coursework or number of credits, contact the Center for Global Education.  CMC study abroad academic guidelines are frequently stricter than your host institution or program provider.
  • Pre-registration information will be sent to you via e-mail from the Registrar.  Check with your program provider concerning e-mail and internet access on site.  If you don’t think you will have easy access to the internet during pre-registration, notify the Registrar’s Office.


One of first things you will encounter when you go abroad is something you can’t really see, but which, if you don’t understand what it is and how it works, can seriously affect how you adjust to and enjoy your time overseas. That "thing" is CULTURE. The kind of culture we will address here is not at all the kind of thing one refers to when talking about being a "cultured person" or possessing a taste for modern art, champagne, and opera.  Nor is culture the exclusive province of an educated elite.

Culture is a neutral term, neither good nor bad, and refers to the broadest conception about the learned knowledge that humans use to fulfill their needs and wants. It refers to the collective historical patterns, values, societal arrangements, manners, ideas, and ways of living that people have used to order their society. It is comprised of all those things we learn as part of growing up including language, religion, beliefs about economic and social relations, political organization and legitimacy, and the thousands of "Dos and Don'ts" society deems important that we know to become a functioning member of that group.

Making a major transition in your life requires some period of time for adjustment to the new circumstances. Even moving to a new city, changing schools or jobs—anything that alters your accustomed patterns of thought and behavior—can cause some "transition shock," which can be mild or severe depending on the circumstances.

You have probably heard of “culture shock.” The term "culture shock" was coined to describe a specific type of reaction that can occur when people travel abroad or confront ways of life substantially different from their own. Culture shock is caused by the stress of entering and adjusting to an unfamiliar culture. It has been called an "occupational hazard" of travelers and is a well-documented side effect of encountering cultural difference. To some extent, the degree of culture shock experienced varies depending on how different the country is in contrast to your own. Of course, personal factors and your goals for traveling abroad will influence how quickly and appropriately you can "fit in" and, therefore, the level of culture shock you will feel.

  • Culture "Surprise": Usually occurs early in your stay in the new culture when you begin to be aware of superficial, novel, and startling differences. Often characterizes the "honeymoon" phase of adjustment.
  • Culture "Stress": A mild response to "stimulus overload." Culture stress is often seen in travelers abroad. One becomes tired and withdrawn. Annoyance builds as daily reality becomes more difficult.
  • Culture "Irritation": Often manifests itself in terms of “item irritation” and is usually traceable to a few observable behaviors that are common in the culture, and to which an individual reacts particularly strongly (a personal “hot button”). These may include spitting, hygiene, verbal harassment, public displays (affection, drunkenness, etc.), or other overt behaviors to which an individual has a strong negative response.
  • Culture "Fatigue": A fairly short-term response to "stimulus overload." This occurs when you begin to respond to the behavior of the "new" culture and are stressed by trying to deal with lots of new cultural information all at once. Stress and irritation intensify as you attempt to study or work in a foreign environment. There is a cumulatively greater impact due to the "need to operate" in unfamiliar and difficult contexts. Symptoms intensify. Ability to function declines. It can occur soon after arrival or within a few weeks. It can hit you quickly and is often accompanied by "Language Fatigue." Language fatigue occurs when, trying to use a second language constantly, you become physically and psychologically drained by speaking, listening, and finding meaning in what was, until now, a little-used "new" language.
  • Culture "Shock": Culture shock comes from the natural contradiction between our accustomed patterns of behavior and the psychological conflict of attempting to maintain them in the new cultural environment. While the time of onset is variable, it usually occurs within a few months of entering a new culture and is a normal, healthy psychological reaction. While culture shock is common, relief is available. There are ways to minimize its effects—the first of which is to accept that it is a real phenomenon—and to learn to recognize its sometimes vague, if persistent, signs in yourself as well as others.

If negative attitudes towards minor annoyances do not change, a low level of persistent frustration is likely to build up. This can quickly lead to volatile anger when accumulated stress inappropriately and unexpectedly erupts and you vent your feelings, but you are unable to trace the outburst to a single source. People around you might comment, "What was that all about?" or "Where did that come from?"

Just remember that unlike temporary annoyance when you are in the presence of a particular cultural practice (e.g., mistreatment of animals or public displays of affection), culture shock is neither caused by a single act nor easily traceable to a particular event. It is cumulative, attributable to many small things that happen over time, and it has the potential to be more deeply felt and take longer to alleviate.

Many students never experience culture shock to any appreciable extent and perform their overseas tasks and manage their relationships just fine. For those who do experience a degree of discomfort in the process of living abroad, it can be an opportunity to grow and learn.

Moving beyond culture shock and continuing to live and learn overseas puts you on the path to becoming interculturally fluent. Becoming more deeply engaged with the local culture increases your level of intercultural adaptation and your ability to reach your goals. It also makes cultural learning more enjoyable, if not always easier.

This learning process is complex and almost inevitably results in reports from returning students that, “I learned more about myself and my culture than about the culture I was living in.” The learning process can be a bit painful, take longer than expected, and can lead to the onset of symptoms associated with culture shock. The good news is that this indicates that learning is occurring and that you are getting better and better at understanding the culture.

Being aware of this cycle of cultural adjustment will allow you to better understand your reactions during your time abroad. In addition, this cycle of cultural adjustment can be linked with levels of Cultural Awareness.

Students frequently turn to their family and friends at home when they are at the lowest points in their cultural adjustment process. In most cases, after airing some concerns and complaints, the student hangs up the phone feeling relieved, with a renewed eagerness. Unfortunately, family and friends do not get to see that since they are so far away. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of the people in supporting roles who are not on-site with you. It is a good idea to follow up after an emotional phone call or letter to let folks at home know when you’re feeling better as well as to share your joys and successes along the way.


Become immersed in your host city and country.  Spend quality time in local restaurants, shops and hangouts.  Get to know local students and try to make friends from your host country.  This will require stepping out of your comfort zone.  If you immediately rush to other cities or destinations, you will not meet new people or get to fully embrace the local culture.

Get involved – join clubs on campus, attend local shows and events, participate in intramural sports. (Reminder: you can receive PE credit if the intramural sport is on your transcript).  This will help you feel part of the culture and enhance your study abroad experience.

Local Host Guidelines

Living with a local host can be a rewarding experience if you are open to getting to know them and understanding their customs.  Remember, a local host is opening their home to you so be respectful of their rules. 

  • Bring a “housewarming” gift.  CMC souvenirs, Disneyland memorabilia, photos from home, etc. are good host gifts.  It can also be a great ice-breaker.
  • Clarify and follow the rules governing the home i.e. use of the kitchen/refrigerator, internet, telephone, curfew, etc.
  • Do not invite anyone over without your host family’s permission.
  • Let your host family know in advance if you are going to miss a meal.  Mealtimes are often set, so it is courteous to advise when you will not be present. 
  • If you are planning on a weekend getaway, leave an itinerary with you host family.  Include details of where you will stay, contact numbers, and when you will return.

There are many benefits of living with a local host.You will have the opportunity for daily interaction with local residents and experience first-hand customs that are unique to your host country.Your host can give you the insider’s guide to the best local hotspots, including restaurants, shops, and various events.You will have daily foreign language practice with native speakers.There will be no need to worry about meals, and you will be able to sample home-cooked cuisine.As you spend time with your host family, you will be building life-long relationships that may extend beyond your study abroad semester or year.

You will experience challenges as well.  This may be the first time your host has had a guest from another country.  There will be cultural differences that can lead to frustration and sometimes anxiety.  Be open-minded, and remember that your host family will be interested to learn about your culture just like you are interested to learn about theirs.

There are several ways to help you blend into your host’s culture or family.  One way is to ask why they wanted to open their home to a study abroad student.  It is a great way to understand their expectations and allows you to share your reasons for choosing a homestay.  Another way is to offer to help around the house.  You will get a chance to bond with the family and spend time learning their daily routine.  Take every opportunity to learn from your host and do not be afraid to ask questions.  Becoming friends with your host will help you feel comfortable in their home.

Food and Water

When you visit a new country, you will want to try all of the local cuisine.  However, the local food can be drastically different than what you are used to.  Allow for an adjustment period while you get used to the dishes of the region.  During this time you will need to stay hydrated with water, not alcohol or caffeine.

It is important to also check the water supply of your host country.  In some countries it may be safer to drink and cook with bottled water.  More information can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s website.

Alcohol and Illegal Drugs

If you chose to drink alcohol while abroad, be careful and drink responsibly.  Some countries have higher levels of alcohol in their beverages.  In addition, cultural practices regarding alcohol may vary widely.  For example, in some countries, it is not common for women to drink alcohol.  In many European countries, social drinking is common and people begin having a glass of wine or beer with dinner as teenagers.  However, drinking to excess is not common, and loud, drunk Americans will stand out.

While abroad, avoid all temptation to buy, sell, carry, or use any type of drug. Most countries have VERY strict drug laws. Long trials, prison sentences, and even the death penalty can result from drug possession.

Remember that you are subject to your host country’s laws. If you are arrested, neither CMC, your family, nor the American Consular Officer can get you released from jail.

As a reminder, some prescription medications that are legal in the U.S. are illegal abroad.  Research your host country’s laws as well as the laws of countries that you may visit on break.

Library Service

There are valuable library resources available to you while you are abroad.  Below are just a few examples of how to conduct research while off campus.

Contact a librarian using “ASK US” at the library web address for any research question.  Responses are made within 24 business hours.
Material available electronically: reference materials, encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographical information, newspapers, data, statistics and more.

Interlibrary Loan is available while abroad for requesting articles or chapters not owned at the Library.  They will be sent electronically as email attachments.

Communicating with Home while Abroad

It is important to stay in contact with friends, family, and CGE while abroad.  Depending on your host country, there are various ways of staying connected with the U.S.


Depending on where you are and the quality of the postal service, mail can take weeks (even, at times, months) just to arrive in the country; getting it to your local address adds additional days.  In certain countries, there are also complicated customs regulations which determine what you can send and/or receive. You might also be required to pay a tariff to obtain a letter or package.

Mail at CMC

While students are away, all first-class mail will be automatically forwarded to students’ permanent addresses.  All students who wish to receive their mail abroad must submit a request in writing to the Story House mailroom.


CGE and other CMC offices email important notifications, including pre-registration information, to students abroad.  Contact your program provider for details on how to obtain internet and computer access in your host city.


Many cities now have cybercafés where, for a nominal fee, you can use a computer and internet.  This is a great option for students who are away from their host city for the weekend and want to stay connected.  Beware of what information is transmitted through the cybercafé computers, and always make sure to log off and take any USB devices before leaving.


You can converse over the internet for free, provided you have a built-in microphone or have purchased one prior to departure.  CGE is available for appointments via Skype.


This is an application for your Smartphone (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, iPhone).   You can make calls and send texts and pictures to other Viber uses for free from any country.  This will work with WiFi or a 3G connection. However, you must download and activate Viber before you go abroad.

Money Matters Abroad

Suggestions on how to handle money abroad

Have a budget and know what you can spend.  Keep a daily expense account for the first couple of weeks to be able to plan a budget for your entire stay.  Be prepared: You will spend more money on arrival than at any other point. You don’t know where to find the best bargains yet and the exchange rate will take some getting used to. 

Credit cards

Leave a photocopy of the front and back of your credit card with your parents in case of loss or theft.  Having a credit card in your name will be extremely useful, but know what your credit limit is on the card before you leave.  Set up an account at your home bank for an international debit card (ATM).  This is the best, easiest, and safest way of accessing money in most foreign countries and for your family to be able to send you additional funds.  You may want to shop around for a bank that does not charge high fees for overseas withdrawals. Check with your bank if there are conversion fees.

Make sure that you contact your debit and credit card customer service number and inform them of the dates that you will be abroad.  If banks are not aware that you will be abroad and what countries you will be in, they will often put a hold on your account and prevent you from making transactions when they see overseas purchases, in order to prevent fraud.

Do not bring a Discover Card.  Most countries do not have the facilities to accept Discover.  Many countries do not accept American Express.  Visa is most widely accepted abroad.  MasterCard is also accepted in many places.

Either have about $200 in local currency with you on arrival or plan on exchanging it or withdrawing the funds by ATM at your host country airport.  Some U.S. banks may have international currency.  This money should get you through the first few days.  You may not be able to gain access to your bank account or to an ATM machine for several days.

Personal checks

Do not bring personal checks from the U.S. as they are virtually useless and impossible to cash.

How to obtain money from the U.S.

Always check with your program or someone who has lived in your new host country (a returnee or an international student) to find out the best way of banking for an extended period of time.

The easiest way to obtain money abroad is to have someone in the U.S. deposit funds into your home bank account.  You can then withdraw the funds with your ATM card.  For a fee, other options include:    

  • Wire transfer:  Many banks and stores (Wal-Mart, 7-11) can wire money to foreign banks. 
  • Bank draft:  Many American banks have reciprocal agreements with banks abroad. 
  • American Express:  You do not need an American Express card to take advantage of this service.
  • Credit Cards and ATM/Debit Cards:  You will get a better exchange rate on your purchases if you pay with a credit card, though many credit cards will charge a fee for international transactions.
  • Do not rely exclusively on your credit card or international debit card (ATM) - These cards can be demagnetized, destroyed, lost, or stolen.

We recommend the following for personal security:

  • Beware of pickpockets. A sweet-looking child or even a woman with a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of children or adults who create distractions so they can pick your pocket.
  • Be careful when using an ATM machine. Try to use only those ATM machines that are well-lit and in a seemingly safe location. Withdraw only as much cash as is needed in the near future. Try to use ATM machines that are equipped with a “swipe” feature in order to avoid your card being eaten by the machine.  Withdraw cash during the daytime rather than at night.
  • Keep cash in a secure location. If carrying large amounts of cash, use an undergarment money belt.
  • Make sure credit cards are returned after each transaction. Know where your credit card is at all times.
  • Make a note of the credit card number, issuing bank, and contact numbers in case of theft or loss.
  • Be discreet when paying a bill. Do not “flash” large amounts of cash.
  • Leave copies of the front and back of all credit/ATM cards with a reliable and trusted person at home who will be reachable during the trip should these items be stolen or lost.


Tipping customs vary from country to country.  For example, in Austria only small tips are expected and you round up to the next dollar amount i.e. if a restaurant meal cost $9.13, you would leave $10.00.  Research the tipping custom in you host country.  In some countries tipping is expected when services are performed.

Remaining Abroad for an Additional Semester

If you are contemplating remaining abroad for the full academic year, you need CMC’s permission to do so. After you have obtained CMC's permission, you need to contact your program’s staff to inform them of your intention to stay (some programs have a deadline or may charge a fee).

To get CMC's permission, you need to write to CGE no later than November 1 (for a spring extension) or April 1 (for fall), explaining your reasons for remaining abroad, outlining how you plan to graduate on time, and requesting permission to stay from your department chair(s). 


The safety of our students is of utmost importance to us.  Prior to departure all students receive a pre-departure session on health and safety abroad.  In addition, we monitor the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy websites closely and we receive frequent updates from program providers who are in constant contact with their resident directors abroad.  Students with U.S. citizenship are always advised to register with the U.S. Embassy in the host country to assist in ongoing safety.  Non-U.S. citizens are advised to register with their home country embassy in the country of study.

Despite all precautions, total safety cannot be guaranteed while abroad any more than it can be guaranteed while on campus or within the U.S.  In spite of this, our office continues to do whatever it can to maximize the safety of those participating in our programs.  Your safety also depends on your behavior while abroad.  We encourage you to talk with our office and your family regarding your concerns and your plans for avoiding risks while abroad.  If your physical or mental health may be placed in jeopardy by being away from current support systems, you may want to have a thoughtful discussion with CGE staff and your family about creating some pre-departure plans and options for the upcoming semester.

Safety Tips

If you become the victim of a crime, immediately contact your program staff, the local police, your home nation’s diplomatic or consular office, and CGE.

If you have a medical emergency, contact your program staff, seek immediate care, and then contact your insurance company. 

Personal Safety

  • Keep a low profile in demeanor and dress.  College T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, and athletic shoes may identify you as an American.  Do not wear jewelry or insignia.  Once you have some time to adjust to your new location, you will have a better sense of how you should dress and act in your new surroundings.
  • Be discreet and polite, heeding signs and regulations in public areas.
  • Be especially careful in helping to maintain security at your residence and other program buildings.
  • Always have some cash on you, preferably in smaller bills.  Do not display a large amount of cash when you pay for things.
  • Speak the local language whenever possible.
  • Watch your intake of alcohol—excessive drinking is both unsafe and inappropriate in another culture and in an unfamiliar area.
  • Speak softly; people from the U.S. tend to speak loudly compared with many cultures.
  • Travel by reliable public transportation.  Do not hitchhike and do not travel alone.  Leave word with the program director of your travel plans detailing your companions, itinerary (with contact points and phone numbers), mode of travel, and dates of departure and return. 
  • Avoid traveling alone, especially at night.
  • Take special care around tourist sites and possible terrorist targets, such as police stations, churches, synagogues, and airports.  Avoid identifiable American hangouts, such as U.S. populated night clubs or bars, and other places where Americans typically gather.
  • Don’t get involved in controversial discussions/situations in public places, street gatherings or demonstrations, and public events characterized by crowd excitement.
  • Speak to program alumni and on-site directors about safe areas as well as areas to avoid.
  • Keep clear of military and diplomatic installations and war memorials.

An additional website with information on safety is the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC).

Conduct while Abroad

You are expected to follow CMC, host institution, and program provider rules and policies while away.  You are subject to the disciplinary process of your host institution and program while off campus.  Failure to comply with rules and policies may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from the program and expulsion from CMC.


No matter where you are traveling abroad, research your destination.  Here are some suggestions of online resources:

Visitors from Home

Some of you may be fortunate enough to have visitors from home while abroad.  In most cases, the best time for a visit is at the end of the program when you will be an expert guide with improved language skills and familiarity with your surroundings.  Students on university programs have a schedule that is similar to a semester at CMC with some flexibility, but some experiences abroad involve very full schedules as well as significant time traveling as part of the academic program. It may be disruptive and stressful to entertain visitors during the highly structured semester.  Check with your program provider for appropriate times for a visit.  Please understand that family and friends cannot join in most program activities or classes, and host families and roommates should not be expected to accommodate guests.

Volunteering Abroad

There are many resources for students interested in volunteering, working or interning abroad including:


You can still vote while you are abroad.  Youth Vote Overseas is a great resource to assist with registration and obtaining an absentee ballot request.

Additional resources for students abroad during elections include Federal Voting Assistance and Vote from Abroad.

Cross-Cultural Issues

Living abroad is a whole-person experience.  Before you depart, you will want to consider and reflect on how your identity might affect, or be affected by, your experience abroad.


Acceptable treatment of women in the U.S. may be vastly different from the treatment of women in your host country.  For instance, what might be considered friendly in the U.S. may be considered flirting or a sexual invitation in some countries.  Speak to your program provider about gender issues and viewpoints of your host country.  Upon arrival, ask local women and your program provider about appropriate dress and behavior for women.

Journey Woman is an online magazine resource.

Race, ethnicity, and minorities

If you are a different race or ethnicity from your host country, there may be certain advantages or disadvantages.  You may be perceived differently in a positive or negative way from those around you.  On the other hand, some stereotypes in the U.S. may be nonexistent in your host country.  Be mindful that different cultures view race and ethnicity differently, and some comments are made simply out of ignorance, not malice.

Project for learning abroad, training and outreach (PLATO) is an integrated, multi-dimensional program to address these needs.


You may be entering a region where the majority of the population practices a religion with which you are unfamiliar. Learn about the dominant religious beliefs and practices of your host country.  This will help you to be respectful of others.

Sexual Orientation

Every country has different views and laws, and understanding of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals.  It is important to research the general views and laws of your host country and city.   Resources for students include ILGA, the Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges, and study abroad for LBGTQ students at Michigan State University.


The laws governing disability support may differ in your host country from those in the U.S.  If you have received any disability-related accommodations through the DOS Office, you need to inform your program provider to discuss your accommodation needs and options while abroad.  Due to Medical/Privacy Laws, CMC cannot automatically transfer your information to another entity without your consent.  In many countries there are no requirements for providing assistance for the disabled, and the perceptions of disabled students in other countries can pose physical and emotional challenges. Mobility International is an organization dedicated to helping students with disabilities study abroad.