Parents: What to do before your son or daughter leaves to study abroad

You probably thought the day you left your child at their dorm room freshman year was going to be the hardest goodbye, and that those tearful farewells would only get easier after that. And then they told you they were going to study abroad for a semester in a country 6000 miles away, where you may have heard stories of danger, violence, or even of study abroad students who’ve gone Missing, (A new ABC series staring Ashley Judd). Your anxiety likely grew and you wanted to do everything to keep your child “home” (which used to mean your actual home, and now just means somewhere in the state or country).  

Well we want to help ease your mind and let you know that you’re not alone.  Over 270,000 American students studied abroad in the 2009/2010 school year, which means you are one of half a million parents each year that have had to deal with this difficult separation as their child made the decision to study abroad. We came up with some things to do and topics of discussion to have with your son or daughter to reduce the amount of stress or anxiety on both your end and theirs. Remember, your child may be just as nervous about going abroad, so your support can really help make a difference in making the transition abroad a smooth one.

Things to do before your child leaves to study abroad

1. Research the program. Even if you feel the country they chose may threaten your child’s safety, understand that the program facilitating their study abroad experience is exceptionally dedicated to keeping their students out of harm’s way. Not only do they care about the students they choose to represent their program or university, but they obviously do not want the liability of anyone being injured or harmed during one of their programs, and will take all precautions to avoid such situations.

2. Have an open discussion to understand your child’s desire to study abroad. When you hear your son or daughter speaking passionately about their interest in traveling overseas for a few months, try and recognize that they have put a lot of thought into this decision and realize that this is a unique opportunity that may not come as easily when they are out of school, trying to find a full time job.

3. Talk about finances. Will your child be calling home every week asking for another overseas transfer from your bank account to theirs? Will they be given a set allowance prior to departing that is non-negotiable once they have reached their destination? Or are they expected to fully fund their time abroad by themselves? This should be determined and understood before there’s any chance hostile tensions arise from them either not having the money to go skydiving for the third time, or not being able to pay for groceries that week.

This Thursday (January 12th), our own team member, Michelle McCormack, will be presenting an online session on “Paying for Study Abroad” on College Week Live. So be sure to login to that at 5pm (EST) to learn more about financing your child’s study abroad experience. And if you’re still troubled about your son or daughter’s expensive travel and study decision, be sure to check out this article on the return on investment of studying abroad!

4. Discuss the level of contact and forms of communication to be used. You installed Skype and immediately added your son or daughter’s username. You’re following them on Twitter and demanded they become your friend on Facebook. You know their new address and class schedule, and have already prepared care packages and hand written letters. In other words, you have become one form or another of…the helicopter parent.

Your son or daughter, on the other hand, hasn’t given much thought to the bombardment of messages and missed calls they might have received from you (prior to reading this post). This conversation should definitely be handled prior to them leaving.  First think about how much time you currently talk to your child when they’re away at school.  Now consider they will have that same amount of school work abroad, with the added time allotment needed to explore and immerse themselves in their new environment.  This may mean they have to cut back on the time they spend on the phone giving you a daily briefing of their activities; but this doesn’t mean they are trying to avoid you all together. Figure out an appropriate amount of time and frequency of calls that satisfy both parties, and do your best to stick to that agreement.  If your son or daughter missed a call one time, that probably means they are out doing something exciting that they can’t wait to tell you about when they do get ahold of you.

5. Be open and honest about your concerns. Both sides should try their best not to become defensive, but understanding of the safety and academic concerns that may arise Let your son or daughter know your expectations for them while they’re abroad, and how they are not only representing their program and university, but that they’re also representing their country.

6. Talk about a family visit. Maybe you didn’t have the chance to study abroad when you were in college, and your son or daughter has already convinced you of the magnificent landscapes, historical buildings and museums, or adventurous activities that can be found in their soon-to-be new city of residence. They’ve talked it up so much, that it has your feet starting to itch as well, and now you want to join in on the fun!

Last but not least, RELAX and trust that your child has made a decision that will positively affect their life, and hopefully the lives of others in the process. Be excited to learn a wealth of knowledge about your son or daughter’s host country as they tell you stories from their personal experiences.  Your child will come back home with a greater understanding of the world, and you should be proud that you supported them throughout their journey! And remember, as difficult as that goodbye was when you saw them off at the airport, know that it will be the absolute best welcome home when they return!

Click here to read more about how parents can deal with their children while they’re abroad!