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Education Abroad

Top 10 Tips for Parents

1. Educate Yourself

Chances are you will feel more secure about your child studying abroad if you do the right research. Research the destination country, including its history, culture, customs, laws, social/moral codes, dress and language.  Along with your student, learn a few of the local words and phrases.  Read all program literature and any available student accounts of studying abroad.

2. Letting Go

Sending your family member away to study abroad involves a certain amount of letting go on your part. It can be difficult to do, but to ease it, you should begin the process well before departure.  Allow your student to make the most of the study abroad decisions - be a guide, not a supervisor.  Give your student the information and resources they need to make informed decisions.  Do not expect to hear from your student every day while they are abroad, and do not make your student feel bad for that. Talk with other parents whose children have previously studied abroad and try to prepare for the emotions they say they experienced.

3. Packing

Help your student decide what to bring with then when they overseas. Pack light, but also wisely. Pack a few extra photos of your student in case they need to get a new passport. Have your student walk around with packed bags to make sure they will be able to handle it once they leave the house. They may be lugging their suitcase around for quite a while during their travels. If your student wears glasses, get them an pair or two to take with, particularly if they are prescription lenses. If your student is taking any prescription medications, be sure to send them overseas with an extra supply and a copy of the prescription. Try to obtain a note from the doctor regarding the need for the medication, in case of any issues during the customs process.

4. Communication

Keeping in touch with your student while they are studying abroad is important for both of you.  Establish a plan of communication with your student prior to departure. It is important to realize that this plan may need to be altered once the student has settled into a study abroad routine. Blogs are an inexpensive way to keep in touch. Encourage your student to start a blog while away so that you (and any other family members or friends) can follow along with the adventures. You may consider starting your own blog to keep your student current on what is going on back home. Your student's cell phone will only work overseas if you contact the service provider and get them to open up the phone for international roaming, which also means you'll have to pay exorbitant international roaming charges. That might not be the best option for everyone, so if necessary, devise another way of keeping in touch. Some apps like Facebook Messenger, Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp will work with wifi (most students will have wifi at their accommodations at the very least). Most students should be able to purchase an inexpensive cell phone in their host country with basic calling features. Students and guardians should both have a set of emergency contacts with them at all times, including contacts from the school and program.  Make sure you know what numbers are required when calling internationally. See http://www.countrycallingcodes.com/ for more information.

5. Finances

Teaching your student responsible ways to handle their finances is crucial and can begin even before departure.  If they don't already, have your student manage some money on his or her own before departing. Devise a financial plan with your student for the they will be abroad. Write down the expenses you expect them to have and make a column for "needs" and a column for "wants." To limit spending and avoid lost money, withdrawing cash from an ATM can help students budget (and also avoid international card fees). For example, students could take out cash every two weeks and budget accordingly. It might be a good idea to have a small amount of money in the host country's currency before the student leaves for emergencies, but do not withdraw large amounts prior to departure. Instead, we recommend waiting until the student arrives to avoid international transaction fees.

6. Student Responsibility

Participating in an education abroad program is a perfect opportunity to develop a stronger sense of responsibility. Discuss financial, social and academic responsibility with your student. Let them know that much of what is expected at home will be expected of them while abroad, if not more. Encourage your student to use problem-solving skills while abroad rather than going to you for small issues (when appropriate). Have your student do the bulk of the study abroad research. This will not only empower your student, but will also teach them the benefit of planning ahead. Let your student know that you trust them to make the right decisions while studying abroad.

7. Food

One of the most interesting differences between countries is the cuisine, and you will want to make sure that your student eats well while overseas. Encourage your student to explore new foods and cuisines, but to stick to the busy/popular restaurants, which are likely safer and more sanitary. Students should know to check for pasteurization when eating dairy products, as not all countries process foods the same way as the United States. In addition, students with food allergies will need to be extra cautious, especially around street vendors. Freshly cooked foods are the best bet because they are less likely to contain contaminants. Although they may be legally permitted to drink abroad, students should be advised to drink with great care while studying abroad. Alcohol abuse and overuse is unhealthy overseas just like it is at home. 

8. Safety

This is the largest concern for most parents and family members. Study abroad tragedies are few and far between, but educate your student on ways to stay safe in another country. Students must be encouraged to cultivate and utilize their "street smarts" while studying abroad. Advise them to take the precautions they take at home, as well as new ones. Tell them to avoid political demonstrations, to only take official taxis and to protect their passport at all times. Establish emergency procedures with your student prior to departure. Be sure to create a list of emergency contacts. Use the State Department's website to stay current on safety issues in specific countries. Tell your student to avoid bringing strangers or brand new acquaintances back to their residence. 

9. Visitation

You may want to visit your student while they are overseas, and that's great! However, if you choose to do so, do it the right way. If you visit, choose to do so at a time that is convenient for your student. Do not try to visit the first or last week of the stay, or during exam periods. Remember that while it may be a vacation for you, your student still has responsibilities. If you do visit, be prepared to switch roles with your student and allow them to show you a thing or two!

10. Re-Entry

Just as you must prepare your student for studying abroad and support them while they are away, you must also be sensitive to the possibility that your student could experience "reverse culture-shock" upon return.  There will likely be an adjustment period. Students might have gotten used to being more independent, so take that into consideration during the first few weeks after they return. Encourage your student to keep in touch with the people they traveled with and met while studying abroad. These connections are important and can last the rest of their lives. Lend an attentive ear to your child when they get home. They probably has a great deal of experiences to share, and it will be a terrific (re)bonding opportunity for both of you.