Family emergency while studying abroad? Stay calm, here’s what to do…

family emergency
No one wants to have to hop on the first plane home at the last minute but if you do, here's how to cope... Source: Javier Canada/Unsplash

No one wants to get that dreaded call saying something isn’t right at home, regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately, life happens, and we can’t always predict when these things might occur.

In a family emergency, there’s likely to be a million things sprinting through your mind and it can be hard to keep it all under control and work out what to do.

First thing’s first – take a deep breath and process what’s happening. You’re not in the country so while you can’t be there physically you can still be there for your family, and there are certain steps you can take to do what’s best for you, your family and your education.

Contact home

You’ve probably already been in touch with your family as you were informed of the situation at home, but be sure to stay in contact in case there are any developments. Plus, it’s likely that you’ll want to lean on each other for support.

family emergency

Stay in touch. Source: Ehimetalor Unuabona/Unsplash

Speak to your family about how you’re feeling and explain what you would like to do now. You also need to ensure you know exactly what’s going on and are receiving updates if the emergency is ongoing.

Notify the university

Okay, so you’ve spoken to your family and now you need to alert the university  of the situation.

Book an appointment with your personal tutor and explain what’s happened in as much detail as you’re comfortable giving.

You could, for example, just say there’s been a death in the family, or a family member is unwell. Or you could go into more detail if you need someone to talk to so long as you feel up to it.

If you really don’t feel comfortable you can literally just say there been a family emergency or a situation at home which is affecting your learning or you may need to miss some classes for.

family emergency

If you’re feeling up to it, try and attend your lectures in the meantime – but don’t push yourself! Source: The Climate Reality Project/Unsplash

No matter whether you need time off, an extension, a listening ear or just a smidgen of understanding and compassion, you need to let the university know what’s going on because it could affect your studies.

Assess your finances

Your family is likely to be incredibly important to you but you need to ask yourself: can I realistically afford to go home right now?

No doubt you didn’t anticipate this happening at the beginning of term so your budget might not allow for the cost of a flight back home at this point.

Your family may be able to help you out with the costs of travelling home and this is something you should discuss with them if you really aren’t financially stable enough to get back on your own account.

Of course, money isn’t really going to be a major concern when something life-changing has occured. If you need to get on that flight, then go.

Assess your finances and let the university know as soon as you can but some things truly are too important not to come home for. Both the university and your family are likely to understand.

Make a decision

Now you need to make a decision. You know where you stand with the university, you have the best possible understanding of what the situation is at home and how it’s developing, now you need to weigh up the pros and cons.

family emergency

There might be no choice but to go home, so book your flight as soon as you know. Source: Elizabeth Camp/Unsplash

Do you need to go home or is this something you can deal with from afar? How will it impact your studies if you go? What about if you stay? What would make you feel better? How much will it cost? How long are you likely to be away for? Can you get extensions if you need them?

There’s a lot to think about and you may find it helps to talk it through with someone else but time is unlikely to be on your side, so make a decision as soon as you can and go from there.

Reach out for support

There will be people at your university who you can talk to, be it your tutor, a friend or a counsellor. Whatever you decide to do, speaking to someone in the country you’re studying in is a must.

It can feel awfully lonely dealing with problems at home when you’re so far away from your family and powerless to help from a distance, but sharing this pain should help you heal.

Don’t underestimate the power of a hug. Source: Giphy

Even if you just chat to one friend about what is going on, you’re likely to be met with a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. A problem shared really is a problem halved, so don’t be afraid to open up dialogue with those around you.

Keep the university in the know

No matter whether you decided to go home, take some time off, apply for an extension or just let the university know things are a little unsettled for you, you need to keep staff at the institution informed. If things have improved, let them know; if things have worsened, let them know.

If you’ve taken a few days or weeks away from your studies but will be returning to university soon, let them know – even better if you have an exact date. Maybe you don’t think you’re going to meet your extension deadline because things at home have gone downhill; if so, just inform your tutor and see what your options are.

Being open about what’ going on is definitely the best policy – don’t leave the university guessing or you might even land yourself in trouble!

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