Things I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to: family emergencies while abroad.


I hope that no one experiences family emergencies while studying abroad, but life happens, and we need to be prepared. I experienced multiple family medical emergencies during my time abroad and suffered in many ways from not understanding who to contact and when. So, here is a short “guide” of some of the people/organizations/etc. you might need to contact during a family emergency.

Current professors: it is important when you are going through an emergency situation or a hard time for other reasons, to contact your professors early! There is only so much accommodation they can provide: usually an alternative assignment or pushing back the due date. But any accommodation can make a large difference in your ability to keep up in your classes during this time.

Study abroad program: if you need emotional support, they likely have resources to refer you to. If you are considering leaving your program early, then they can help you figure out the steps you need to take to do so.

Home university advisors: if you are considering leaving your program early, then your university advisors can help you navigate how this decision impacts your degree progress. My university advisors were also able to refer me to other departments and individuals I needed to contact such as the elusive financial aid department.

Home university deans: while advisors can be helpful, university deans have the power to make things happen quickly. My college dean got involved in my issue and helped me by contacting departments on my behalf and letting me know all the options available to me such as taking time off from school.

Home university financial aid office: financial aid offices can be excruciatingly difficult to get into contact with, but they are a vital element in any decision you might make about your program. It was through their efforts that I learned I could not afford to go home early. Don’t be afraid to label your emails with subject lines like “TIME SENSITIVE” and “EMERGENCY” to get their attention.

Study abroad program financial office: if you are considering leaving your program early, then every day counts when it comes to financial aid and program fees. The longer you stay, the more expensive it becomes to leave. For my program alone it was going to cost over $15,000 to leave my program early (not including paying back scholarships, airline costs, ending my apartment lease, etc.). So, make sure to contact them early and don’t be afraid to send multiple follow-up emails with the title “TIME SENSITIVE” or “EMERGENCY” to get their attention.

Scholarship organizations: if you decide to leave your program early it is important to note that you may be liable to pay back your scholarship rewards. You need to contact each scholarship organization individually to learn more about their policies. It can also be important to contact them if your circumstances have kept you from meeting program deadlines and requirements. There might not be anything they can do to accommodate you, but their also might be ways in which they can be helpful. One of my scholarships comes with five free sessions with a counselor. Things like this can be valuable during a time of hardship while abroad.

Airline you hold your roundtrip airfare with: if you need to change your flight, do so as soon as possible! The longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes. If you wait too long, then there is also a chance that the airline will no longer allow you to change your flight.

In my case, I forgot to contact the organizations I received scholarships from and was unable to recover the full amount of my awards as a consequence. When you are overwhelmed, like I was, it is easy to become angry, frustrated, and anxious when there is delay in communication with the organizations and offices you need to hear from or when they are not helping you in the ways you need and hoped. When this happens, I found it is helpful to remember you are dealing with businesses, NOT people. Businesses don’t care what your emergency is, they don’t experience empathy or sympathy, and they aren’t built to help you during an emergency. The people you are contacting are doing their jobs and following the rules they are given. They may empathize with you, feel sympathy for you, and genuinely want to help, but they cannot because they have to follow procedure. If you have the emotional capacity to do so, try to be understanding and not take it out on them as individuals.

I know how hard it is to “stay calm” when you are overwhelmed. It was an incredibly frustrating experience for me, but I technically have no one to blame but myself since I forgot to contact the scholarship organizations. I am also trying to be understanding towards myself because I was overwhelmed trying to keep up with my classes along with everything else and did not even think to contact the scholarship organizations.