While Abroad

Upon arrival to your host country, you will be required to pass through immigration and customs. They will examine your passport and ask you questions related to your stay. Sometimes this process is quick and painless, and sometimes they ask you enough to write your biography. Be patient and answer all the questions. You are a visitor in their country.

After you get your passport stamped, you will pass through customs. You may have to declare certain items. Airport customs have the right to open your luggage and check for any illegal items — from fruits and vegetables to animals and narcotics.

If you are not traveling with a group and will not be picked up by a university official or program advisor, it is recommended that you reserve a place to stay your first night and/or look for transportation from the airport before leaving the United States.

Call or email your parents and the MSU Office of Study Abroad! Please do not wait a week to let your parents know that you have arrived safely.

Gift-giving

If staying with a host family, it is recommended that arrive bearing gift(s). They don’t have to be expensive, but are usually expected. Here are a few suggestions:

  • MSU Apparel (t-shirt, football, Bully toy, etc)
  • U.S. cookbook
  • Anything unique to Mississippi (magnolia, cotton, etc)
  • Photo books or calendars of your hometown or Mississippi

Also, if you are invited to have dinner at someone’s house, it is polite to arrive with a gift (flowers, wine, dessert).

Blogging

Looking for a meaningful souvenir from your time abroad? Try keeping a journal or travel blog. Jot down all of your cultural mishaps and language disasters. The Office of Study Abroad would love to link to your blog in order to share your experiences with other MSU students.

Your Host Country and Its Laws

It is vital that you remember that you will be a visitor while studying abroad. It is YOU that will have to adapt to the new culture—not it to you. Don’t assume that American culture is better; it is only different. Open your mind to new things and to new ways of doing old things. Before you leave, plan to do plenty of research before you leave on your host country’s customs, beliefs, politics, religions, holidays, and laws. Talk to MSU students who have visited the same country or to students from that country who are now studying at MSU. Remember: just because something is acceptable behavior in Mississippi does not mean it is acceptable where you will be living.

Not only could your behavior be loud and offensive to some, it could even be illegal. Drunk and disorderly behavior and drug-related crimes are among the most common reason U.S. citizens are arrested abroad. Always remember that you are a guest in another country. The more you learn now, the easier your transition will be later. Review the following resources before you leave:

Advice from the U.S. Department of State

Please review the Department of State’s Students Abroad website for further tips on travel, health, embassies, news, and alerts for students studying abroad.

Staying Safe

The safety, security, and well-being of study abroad program participants are of utmost importance to MSU and the Office of Study Abroad. While we cannot guarantee a risk-free environment, all efforts are made to best ensure the safety and well-being of our participants throughout the duration of the program. The Office of Study Abroad follows prudent measures ensure the safety of our programs and to reduce risk for study abroad participants.  All students complete an application, which includes health information and emergency contact information.  We require all students to complete an Outbound Orientation, purchase adequate international health and emergency assistance insurance, and register through the Department of State.

The Office of Study Abroad closely monitors U.S. State Department (DOS) Travel Advisories and Country Specific Risk Indicators at all times. OSA also regularly reviews reports by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as information provided by trusted security analysis services, local governments and media outlets.

While MSU is firmly committed to the provision of this support, we also emphasize to students, faculty, and parents that all program participants must take responsibility for their own safety and security. This is highlighted during pre-departure preparations, on-site orientation, and throughout students' stay in the host country. Points of emphasis during the orientation include students using common sense, being aware of their surroundings, and not putting themselves in compromising positions with the abuse of drugs or alcohol. The same precautions anyone would follow in their home communities in the U.S. should be maintained when traveling abroad.

Points to keep in mind:

Your actions and opinions (intentionally or not) will contribute to your host country’s opinion of the USA, Mississippi, Starkville, and Mississippi State University. Locals will ask you many questions while you are abroad, and it is wise to think about these topics before you are asked by the gentlemen selling you a baguette in Paris. Possible topics might include US foreign policy, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bush, Obama, slavery in Mississippi, Katrina, US banking industry’s role in the economic collapse, and other controversial issues.

  • You are still considered an MSU student while abroad,  which means you are still responsible for upholding the Student Honor Code while abroad.
  • While abroad, try to blend in with the locals. Stay informed of local news and LOOK AT A MAP! You may not have had geography since you were 12, but that is no excuse. Learn the names of capitals and countries that surround you.
  • Speak softly. Avoid the U.S. stereotype of being loud and obnoxious.
  • Try local foods and experience local culture. Eat at McDonald’s in Mississippi, but please don’t let the cashier at the McDonald’s in Hamburg, Germany know your order by heart. You didn’t cross the Atlantic to eat a Big Mac.
  • Don’t do drugs unless you want a tour of the local jail. Understand and respect local laws.
  • Do not drink excessively. Most of you will be allowed to drink legally while abroad, and some of you will even be able to purchase beer from your university’s cafeteria. Don’t abuse this new “power.” U.S. students are notorious for drinking in excess and getting themselves in trouble (and even getting robbed) while abroad. Drinking excessively in a foreign country is bad for your health and your reputation. Due to these reasons, MSU recommends that you avoid alcohol.
  • Use the buddy system. Never go out or travel alone. If you are traveling with friends that are outside of your program, leave their names and contact information with your roommate, program director, or host family.
  • Try to avoid protests and demonstrations that could escalate into dangerous situations. Anger intended for the U.S. Government could be directed toward U.S. citizens in the area.
  • Don’t carry all of your credit/debit cards with you at any point in time. Avoid carrying a lot of cash or flashing your money around in an obvious way.
  • Avoid being surrounded by a crowd. This is a perfect environment to be pickpocketed.
  • Only use official taxis. This is very important to keep you safe. Also, learn local taxi customs. In many countries, meters are not used, and you must agree on a fare before you get in the taxi.
  • Ask your program director what the safest means of transportation is throughout the city.
  • Act confidently when in an area that seems unsafe. You usually won’t be targeted if you look like you know where you are and what you are doing.

Upon arrival to your host country, you will begin to adjust to the food, time zone, climate, and language. This adjustment process can be overwhelming and frustrating, and you can experience culture shock. Although it may not seem like it at the time, this is a necessary step and is part of the adjustment process. Everyone that is abroad for an extended period of time goes through it and usually comes out smiling on the other end.

Phases of Culture Shock

The shock of moving to a foreign country often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all three:

Honeymoon Phase

During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on. During the first few weeks most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with the nationals that speak their language and are polite to the foreigners. This period is full of observations and new discoveries. Like most honeymoons this stage eventually ends.

Negotiation Phase

After some time (usually days or weeks), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one's native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, disgusting, and irritating etc. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason. This is where excitement turns to disappointment and more and more differences start to occur. Depression is not uncommon.

Adjustment Phase

Again, after some time, one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal." One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture, and begins to accept the culture ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced. Reaching this stage requires a constructive response to culture shock with effective means of adaption.

Reverse Culture Shock

Also, Reverse Culture Shock (a.k.a. Re-entry Shock) may take place — - returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.

Culture shock is a state of dis-ease, just like a disease. It has many different effects, time spans, and degrees of severity. Many people are handicapped by its presence and don't recognize what is bothering them. Culture shock symptoms are really hard to seclude. There are no fixed symptoms ascribed to culture shock as each person is affected differently. It is important to remember that experiencing culture shock is normal.

Managing Stress While Abroad

Experiencing stress while abroad is a given, but being able to manage it effectively is the key. The University of Michigan has established a website, Resilient Traveling, to address the effects of stress while abroad and act as a resource to effectively manage it.

 

Our primary concern will always be your safety while abroad. While this information is designed to guide students to make wise decisions and avoid dangerous situations, Mississippi State University cannot guarantee your safety abroad. In order to protect yourself and have the most accurate information available to you be sure you know the following:

In-country Emergency Number—– Know the Emergency “911” number for the area in which you will be studying abroad .  Depending on the country, police, fire, and ambulance may all have separate numbers.

On-site faculty/program director information- this includes at least one 24 hours/7 days a week contact phone number for the faculty member or on-site supervisor who is with you during your study abroad program. If you have not received this information from the faculty member in charge of this program, be sure to ask!

In-Country emergency numbers/information- Know the Emergency “911” number for the area in which you will be studying abroad. Look up the emergency numbers for Fire, Police, and Ambulance services in your country.

Also, write down the US consulate information that you may need. You can find that list here.

MSU Emergency Information—For emergencies, contact the MSU police at 662.325.2121. The MSU police have someone at the phone 24 hours day/7 days a week. The police have the contact information of several people on campus and will be able to get in touch with the right person. Have a call back number ready.

While studying abroad is a fun experience, dangers do occur. Please keep in mind the following basic steps to follow in case of an emergency:

  1. First, always contact the appropriate emergency officials in the host country (police, fire, ambulance, etc.). Sometimes this is not necessary if you are not in immediate danger, but always have this information ready.
  2. Second, contact your in-country faculty/staff member or site supervisor. The on-site program staff is the best resource in case of an emergency. Whether you are ill, have been harmed, or were a victim of theft, the on-site staff has the resources and know-how to handle this situation far better than anyone stateside. The on-site staff will work to help you immediately and will contact the Office of Study Abroad and your parents if there is need for further assistance.
  3. Finally, if appropriate, contact MSU at the numbers provided. Sometimes this step is not necessary or the faculty member will do this step for you, but know that we are there to assist you.

Below are some specific tips for dealing with issues abroad:

If you are the victim of a crime, contact the on-site faculty/staff and the local police to report the incident and receive immediate assistance. Get a copy of the police report and contact the nearest U.S. embassy, consulate, or consular agency for assistance. To contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services from overseas, call 202.501.4444.

In the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the on-site faculty/staff and the nearest U.S. embassy, consulate, or consular agency will assist you. Make sure you have registered yourself on the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Even if an emergency or natural disaster occurs 1,500 kilometers from your city and you are perfectly fine, notify your parents and the MSU Office of Study Abroad to confirm your safety.

If you are arrested abroad, call the on-site faculty/staff and the U.S. consulate. They cannot get you out of jail, but they can explain local laws, help you get an attorney, and contact your family in the U.S.

If you are arrested abroad, call the on-site faculty/staff and the U.S. consul. They cannot get you out of jail, but they can explain local laws, help you get an attorney, and contact your family in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State has an excellent website with resources to help American students traveling abroad.

For all other (non-emergency) inquiries, contact the MSU Office of Study Abroad:

Mississippi State University
Office of Study Abroad:
662.325.8929
studyabroad@msstate.edu

Before you leave your host country, make sure that your transcript will be sent to:

Office of Study Abroad
116 Allen Hall
175 President's Circle
P.O. Box 9742
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Before returning to the United States, you should understand what is legal to bring through U.S. Customs. Just because it was legal to buy that box of Cuban cigars in Spain doesn't mean that you can legally bring them back to the U.S. Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's website for U.S. travelers.

Also, be prepared to experience "reverse culture shock," (a.k.a. Re-entry Shock) upon returning to your home culture after growing accustomed to a new one. The best way to avoid these feelings is to stay international. Meet other international students that are studying abroad at MSU and help other U.S. students go abroad!