Student Conduct and Living Abroad

Basic information

Off-Campus Programs Student Handbook


Behavioral eligibility for studying off-campus

In order to be recommended for an off-campus class or semester program by the Student Life Division, you must be in good standing, not having been placed on personal probation within 12 months prior to the date of the program you are applying for, or not having been placed on disciplinary probation within 18 months of the date of the program you are applying for.

Behavioral appeal process for semester programs

This process is for students who are NOT recommended for an off-campus program (by Student Life). If your preliminary application for a semester program was not recommended by student life, you can appeal to the Director of Off-Campus Programs. If you decide to pursue an appeal you should write a letter to the Director of Off-Campus Programs addressing the following questions:

  • What was the violation?
  • What has been done to address the violation?
  • Why the violation will not be an issue on the off-campus program, which you are applying?
  • Why should you be allowed to participate in the off-campus program?
  • Why do you need to go on this program at this particular point in your academic career?

You may also wish to include a letter of recommendation from a authority figure who can attest to the fact the violation will not reoccur (not required).

Once the Off-Campus Programs Director receives an appeal letter, it will be sent to the director of the specific program for which the student applied. The final decision for student participation is to be made by the Director of Off-Campus Programs in consultation with the program director. If the appeal is granted the you must meet with the program director to develop a formal contract outlining all expectations for the program. Successful student contracts could include the following:

  • Behavioral expectations prior to the trip (e.g. specific GPA, no additional violations, etc);
  • Behavioral expectations during the trip (e.g. specific alcohol policies, attendance expectations, etc);
  • Adherence to all aspects of Calvin’s student conduct code;
  • Consequences if expectations are not met.

The program director or instructor, a Student Life representative, the Director of Off-Campus Programs and you must sign the contract as a pre-requisite to registering for the program. Once signed, the original contract must be filed with the Off-Campus Programs Office

Student conduct code

While studying off-campus you will be held to the same conduct code as if you were studying on-campus. The official and most current version of the Student Conduct Code is found online. As you prepare for your semester off-campus, be mindful of the following:

  • Romance: Off-campus romances can be enticing, but they also hold additional challenges. A romance between two Calvin students will be difficult, because it will be played out in front of everybody else in the program and it will affect the dynamics of the whole group. A romance between a Calvin student and a host country national can be even more problematic and potentially traumatic. Be very cautious. Keep in mind, that sexual misconduct can result in expulsion for the program, and the student(s) sent home with no refund.
  • Alcohol and Drug Use: The legal drinking age varies by program location. For programs outside the United State the legal drinking age tends to be younger, offering you more freedom in making decisions about alcohol. Program Directors will expect you to use this freedom responsibly with the realization that demonstrations of public or private drunkenness can result in expulsion from the program after a warning. You should be especially aware of the impact of alcohol has on your decision making process, alcohol can also contribute greatly to the possibility of you being a victim of crime. As a result, think twice before you drink, and if you do decide to drink, do so in moderation.

Learning to be a pilgrim, learning from the stranger

Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the ranges – something lost…and waiting for you. These words written by Rudyard Kipling describe nicely the wonder of travel. The excitement that exists leading up to a new adventure, to an unknown place, the sense of adventure that invites exploration and the seeking out of new experiences. Yet Kipling’s quote should also lead you to ask the question, what is waiting for you as you pack your bags and leave for an interim or semester? What does God want you to seek in your time off-campus?

Some may see a semester abroad or interim as the opportunity to be tourists, seeing the wonders of the world, but this leads to a number of self-critical questions about the purpose of our travel: 

  • Do you see other cultures as commodities to be purchased and consumed?
  • By participating in this program, are you just buying an item for your resume?
  • Are you willing to leave your safe "bubble" of American friends and genuinely encounter another culture on its terms? Are you willing to experience the joy and challenges of another life?
  • To what extent, do you want a program where everything is planned, structured, and predictable, or are you open to what is unknown and not foreseen?
  • Do you want simply to gaze at exotic people from a safe balcony or bus, or do you want an engagement with another culture that teaches you how others perceive you?

These questions push you beyond the boundaries of an ordinary tourist and reveal something significant about Calvin’s hopes for your travel. The Off-Campus Programs Office hopes that you learn and grow through your experience. Much like the pilgrim on a quest, we wish for you to be transformed through your journey. We want you to come back a different person. We want your travel to influence the rest of your life.

Many of you have thought deeply about your motivations for studying off-campus. You have a hunger for more meaning than can be provided by the tourist industry. Tourists often ask only ?am I getting my money’s worth? Is it worth it? Whereas the pilgrim asks: Am I worthy of this encounter? How can I be a blessing to others I meet and let others be a blessing to me?

Many tourists judge the worth of the culture they visit and never examine what their travel reveals about their own culture’s values. The pilgrim, in contrast, should judge him or herself. The pilgrim also asks not what he or she wants but what God wants to teach us through our travel. So as you prepare for your off-campus experience and as you experience the joys and challenges of studying off-campus, continue to challenge yourself with the question, what is God trying to teach me through these experiences and my interactions with others along the way?

Culture shock

The term, culture shock, is used to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. For students, the feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place as they go through the process of cultural adjustment.

For some students a bout with cultural adjustment is brief and hardly noticeable. For other students the process of cultural adjustment can cause intense discomfort, often accompanied by hyperirritability, bitterness, resentment, homesickness, and depression. In some cases distinct physical symptoms of psychosomatic illness occur.

It is important to remember that cultural shock does not result from a specific event. Instead it comes from the experiences of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things which are different from yours and which threatens your basic unconscious beliefs, values, and customs. Further, culture shock does not strike suddenly or have a single principle cause. It builds up slowly, from a series of small events, which are difficult to identify.

One way that can help you in dealing with culture shock is to be aware of the progressive stages of cultural adjustment. These stages include:

  • Stage One: Cultural euphoria. During this stage your first reaction to a new place is often to enjoy and be pleased by all of the new things encountered. This time is called the "honeymoon" stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.
  • Stage Two: Cultural confrontation. During this stage a person begins to encounter some confusion about their new home. Crisis start to develop, feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feelings of incompetence can begin to emerge. Students can be irritable and hostile as there are often feelings of dissatisfaction.
  • Stage Three: Cultural adjustment. During this stage, the student begins to gain some understanding of his/her new culture. The student does not feel as lost and starts to have a feeling of direction as he or she becomes more familiar with the environment and wants to below.
  • Stage Four: Adaptation or biculturalism. During this stage the student realizes that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This realization is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging.

Adapted by Kohls, L. R. (2001). Survival Kit for Overseas Living

Responding to Culture Shock, adjusting to a new culture

  • Realize everyone experiences it.
  • Be ready to learn from it: there are different ways of doing things, not worse, not better.
  • Reread this info when you’re feeling down.
  • Pursue info gathering about the country where you will be studying. Do research, ask people, read books. Choose one or two areas and investigate them deeply: ie soccer, food
  • Begin looking for logical reasons behind everything that seems strange, confusing, difficult, threatening.
  • Make a list of all the positive things you can identify about your present situation.
  • Avoid other students who are in a permanent state of complaining and culture shock.
  • Work at maintaining a healthy sense of humor.
  • Find someone who has gone through culture shock and has a positive attitude now. Get perspective.
  • Make friends with host nationals and try to develop one or two deeper relationships while studying abroad.
  • Keep busy. Keep active. Keep your mind occupied. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.
  • Have faith that you will work through culture shock to brighter days ahead.
  • Be concerned about others in the program.


What role should technology and communication play in your off-campus experience? It wasn’t that long ago that students participating in an off-campus semester had very few options for getting news from home or sending back updates. Yet in today’s world you can be connected 24/7; thereby greatly changing the off-campus experience. You can Skype, email, Facebook and call daily. This connectivity can be a blessing but it also brings many challenges as you can forget to live in the moment and as a result miss important opportunities to grow and experience the places you are studying.

These challenges highlight a philosophical dilemma of studying off-campus. Can you truly have a study abroad experience – whether immersive or comparative – when you are connected the same way you are at home? Are you really embracing the experience when you need to pause to update Facebook and e-mail photos to your friends at home? Or to know that your families are one phone call away.

Earlier in this handbook, you were asked to discuss with your family and friends how much you want to use technology. This is also an issue to discuss with your fellow students and program directors in terms of how you can use technology responsibly, finding a balance that maximizes the safety benefits of technology while minimizing the intrusion on the cross-cultural experience. While technology plays a vital and growing role in other cultures, it is critical that you detach somewhat from the technological comfort that you have while at home. This problem only gets more difficult as technology improves, and the Off-Campus Programs Office encourages you to think seriously about the role technology will play in your experience.

Emergency procedures

True emergencies are actually quite rare. While losing luggage, tickets, or even a passport is inconvenient, they are not emergencies. Emergencies are situations in which there is an immediate threat to a your health and/or safety. An emergency is an occurrence or situation that poses a genuine and sometimes immediate risk to your health and well-being or the well being of your fellow students. Calvin has a number of emergency protocols in place should a true emergency develop (these protocols can be reviewed here. If you have an emergency while studying in one of our programs you should contact your program director immediately. During your in-country orientation, you will be given a safety orientation. Be sure you understand the basic policies and procedures specific to your location.

Emergencies at home: people need to know how to get in touch with you--especially if you are away from your program city or after the program has ended. You should have a conversation with your family before you leave about what you will do in the event there is a death or serious medical situation in your family. Please inform the Program Director if there has been a family emergency. You must have a leave of absence approved by the Program Director or the Off-Campus Programs Director in order to be excused from classes to return to the U.S. in a family emergency. Note: you must return to your study abroad location and complete the academic program there to receive credit.

If your family cannot reach anyone in the Off-Campus Programs Office, they should phone the Campus Safety office’s 24/7 line (616-526-6452). If you wish to contact the off-campus programs office via email, contact either Don DeGraaf or Dave Ellens.

Independent studies

You may register for independent studies while studying off-campus if they can find an appropriate faculty member to supervisor your work. As long as you are taking less than 17 semester credits, there will be no additional charge for completing the independent study. You need to set up the independent study prior to departure. The independent study request form is available here.

Communicating with parents

One of the goals of the Off-Campus Program Office is to facilitate the growth and development of all students who participate in an off-campus semester or interim. The College believes one way to encourage this development in students is to treat them as adults (see the parent resources guide). 

The Off Campus Programs Office seeks to encourage the development of students in the following ways:

  • Communicate directly with students and encourage parents to do the same;
  • Encourage students to communicate directly with their parent(s);

FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) provides guidelines that inform how the college interacts with students and parents (read more info on FERPA). Student’s permission is requested to share general information with his or her parent(s) (i.e. financial information, academic progress -- grades, academic services and accommodations, general group updates, group dynamics, and personal counseling matters). However, in the case of an emergency (as deemed by the college, see examples below), parents will be contacted immediately;

Even though communication to parents via students is the operative principle, it is not an absolute one. Exceptions could include:

  • Hospitalization such that students are unable to contact parents personally;
  • Serious disciplinary action for a violation of the student conduct code (e.g. most case resulting in disciplinary probation and in cases of suspension). In these cases, parents must by notified. Our preferred method is to allow students a short but reasonable time frame to make contact with their parent(s). Parent(s) are then asked to contact the Director of Off-Campus Programs for further discussion;
  • Suicide attempt; and
  • Permission by the student to deal directly with parent(s).

Visiting with family and friends

When you study off-campus, it often provides a great opportunity for friends and family to visit a new place. If your family or friends are planning on visiting you while you are studying off-campus, please coordinate their visit with your academic schedule. Many programs have a built in break (long weekend to a week) that provide a great opportunity to coordinate their visit with your own breaks. Check with your program director to find when it would be most appropriate to host family or friends while you are away.

Independent travel

Everyone is eager to travel while studying off-campus and our semester programs are typically structured in such a way as to allow you some time for independent travel. Check with your program director to determine free weekends and other longer program breaks. When you do travel independently (anytime you are planning to spend a night or more than 18 hours away from your study location), you must complete an Independent Travel Form which includes your itinerary and how you can be reached in case of an emergency, and turn it in to your program director before you travel.



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