Parents are rightly concerned about the prospect of their student's abroad or away experience. Here are a few tips as you support your student through this exciting endeavor.
- Be informed. You’ll feel more secure about your student studying abroad if you do research before their departure. Research the destination, including history, culture, customs, laws, social/moral codes, dress, and language. Read all program literature and ask questions of your student, advisers, and staff.
- Let go. Although difficult to do, letting go is an essential part of sending your student off. Allow your student to make most of the study abroad decisions – offer guidance, not supervision. Discuss responsibility. Encourage your student to resolve his/her own issues while abroad. Let your student know that you trust him/her to make the right decisions while studying abroad. Talk with other parents who have been through this and try to prepare for the emotions they experienced.
- Pack light. Help your student pack light and wisely. The host country will typically have supplies for daily living such as clothing, bedding, personal hygiene products, and snack foods. Have your student walk around with packed bags to make sure they are manageable. Don’t forget to pack extra eyeglasses and any prescription medications. Get a note from the doctor regarding the need for medication, in case questions arise at customs.
- Communicate. Establish a communication plan prior to departure. Realize that it may need to be adjusted once your student has settled into a study-living routine. Encourage online updates via blogs or Facebook. Students and parents should both have a set of emergency contacts, including those at the host university and program sponsors.
- Manage finances. Devise a financial plan with your student by listing expected expenses (include columns for “needs” and “wants”). To limit spending and avoid lost money, students should withdraw small amounts of money from the ATM. They should exchange currency once at the destination.
- Discuss safety. Educate your student on how to stay safe in another country. Encourage your student to cultivate and use “street smarts.” Tell them to avoid political demonstrations, to never travel alone, to only take official taxis, and to protect their passport at all times. Establish emergency procedures. Use the U.S. Department of State website for current safety updates in specific countries. Advise your student to not bring locals back to his/her living quarters (socializing can be done away from student housing).
- Maybe visit. If you want to visit your student, do it when it’s convenient for him/her (i.e., not during the first weeks of adjustment or last week of exams). Although you may miss each other, students need to spend quality time immersed in the culture and with fellow study-abroad students for ultimate growth.
- Be ready for reentry. Allow your student a period of adjustment when first getting home. Encourage your student to keep in touch with the people he/she traveled with and met. These connections are important and can last a lifetime. Allow your student to share his/her stories. Your student will need others to listen and validate his/her experiences, and it will be a terrific bonding opportunity for both of you.