Congratulations! Your son or daughter has the opportunity to take part in an experience that will allow them to develop academically, professionally, and personally while learning, having fun, making lifelong friends, and seeing the world. Studying abroad gives students an advantage by building self-reliance, confidence, and the ability to take risks. Studying abroad also prepares students to compete in the increasingly global business world of today. Studying abroad is often the highlight of a college experience and impacts students throughout the rest of their lives.
A student and her mother talk about their experiences with a study abroad program.
Time spent preparing for a study abroad experience is an important part of the process. Throughout the steps of getting ready to go, your son or daughter will gain valuable self-reliance and confidence in themselves as they become familiar with the resources available and get to know more about their host country’s culture and the location they’ll be living in.
Students need to do most of their preparation on their own, and it might be detrimental to a student’s experience if parents who are trying to help end up doing too much. Helping students too much can hinder their independence and learning, which can take away their ability for self-reliance while abroad. It is in the student’s best interest to ask the questions that their parents are hoping to have answered. This is because then the student will know the answers themselves and feel ownership over their experience.We recommend that you encourage your son or daughter to take care of things on their own, including travel arrangements, housing, and insurance. Students are usually capable of booking airline tickets, researching living costs, checking currency conversions, and taking care of phone calls to doctors and others on their own. You can offer to help, but wait to step in until a student asks for help with specific tasks. It is imperative that the student fills out all the necessary forms themselves because of legal issues and federal student privacy laws.
Staying In Touch
Arrange ways to stay in touch. Look into whether your mobile carrier has any affordable international plans. Internet communication, such as Skype, can be one of the most affordable means of contacting home. Students may want to utilize one form of communication for local calls and another for international communication to keep costs down.
It might be helpful to look at maps of where your son/daughter will be living. Being able to connect him/her with a location will help you be more comfortable with their journey.
Discussing finances with your son or daughter is very important. Together you can talk about how everyday spending will be taken care of as well as what they would use to access emergency funds. Almost all countries around the world have ATMs that accept cards from the US. Having a card for cash withdrawal is important in order to get local currency as many places prefer cash to credit.
Emotional Support and Encouragement
It’s not uncommon for students to be apprehensive about studying abroad. These feelings can be compounded if parents and family members are constantly telling the student how much “We’ll miss you!” It’s more helpful to focus on the positive things that your son or daughter will experience, like how many new and exciting things they’ll encounter. This might not be a bad time to take a vacation abroad either!
While They're AwayStudents might experience difficulties or frustrations within their first few weeks abroad. Things that used to be routine might take much more effort in a foreign country. If your son/daughter calls or writes to you about these difficulties, you should keep in mind that you’re not expected to solve the problems; they just need to vent. Don’t get troubled if all you hear is complaints and frustrations. Your child is also undoubtedly having many fantastic experiences as well. As time goes on the frustration will go away as your child gets used to the flow of life in their host country.
Even if you’re regularly in contact via phone or internet, you should consider sending mail. Students appreciate letters and postcards and they especially love care packages from home. This can go both ways too, ask your son/daughter to send you postcards!
It’s nice to be able to have some sort of visual of your son/daughter’s living arrangement. Ask them to send you pictures or a video of where they’re living so you can better picture their living space. Ask them to describe their daily routine to you or about their favorite shops, restaurants, or hang out spots.
Homesickness happens to everyone. It happens to kids going to summer camp or someone starting a new job. Obviously, a student studying abroad might encounter homesickness to one degree or another while away. Below is a chart that shows what your student might go through while abroad. You need to recognize what your child might be going through and do your best to understand and help them through it with encouragement. The worst thing you could do is get them a ticket home!
Once They're BackInitially, upon returning home your son/daughter will probably be experiencing jet lag and be tired when you want to talk, or they might be energetic when you’re ready for bed. It’s a good idea to plan a good time to sit down and go over souvenirs and pictures and stories at a time that works for everyone. Just because a student is back home doesn’t mean their international experience is at an end. Your son/daughter is going to be gaining new perspectives and understandings about things back at home; food, economics, politics, transportation, etc. Here are some tips to help you and your son/daughter incorporate their study abroad experience into life back home:
Encourage your student to look into joining the Bison Abroad club on campus. Here they can connect with other students who have studied abroad and can understand their situation.
In the first few weeks after your son/daughter comes home, you should ask about more specific details rather than broad questions. Students tend to talk more easily about daily routines, food, and people they’re missing.
You’re going to hear the phrases: “When I was in (Chile, France, Italy, Australia, etc.).” and “It’s hard to explain.” It might be hard to listen to things when you can’t really picture the experience, but it is important for them to talk. Your son/daughter’s experience may very well have a large impact on you as well. Your understanding of your son/daughter’s host country will increase dramatically, and you yourself might be inspired to learn a new language or travel abroad.