Letting your dear child venture across the globe to some far-off exotic locale thousands of miles away to study abroad might seem an impossible feat. How are you expected not to worry? How is the kid who still comes home to do laundry each month expected to take care of himself off in some foreign country?
Well, the fact is you will, inevitably, worry. But guess what? He will, inevitably, learn to do his laundry - among many other things. (At least we hope!). Studying abroad is the chance for your child to learn true independence and responsibility. It's an opportunity for her - dare we say this cliche - to find herself, to improve and grow as a person. Hopefully she'll come back a more well-rounded, culturally-sensitive, capable and adult-like version of your child.
Of course, even once you're convinced that this will be a good thing for you son or daughter, you're bound to still have a lot of questions. Or maybe you're so unsure, you don't know know what you should be having questions about.
Have no fear! We've got you covered. Sit down with your child and make sure you cover all the important bases by discussing these big, important topics. They might not have all the answers, but once you figure out what areas you still need to know more about, you can reach out to their university's study abroad office or their study abroad program provider and get all the answers (and reassurance!) you need. For more in-depth strategies, read our parents guide to study abroad
You may be thinking right off the bat that you can't afford to send your kid abroad. Sure, study abroad can be expensive, but it shouldn't be a deterrent. There are loads of study abroad scholarships, and some exchange programs will cost you the same amount as regular tuition. Sure, there's still a plane ticket and other costs (which could be more or less than your child typically incurs on their home campus, depending on where they study abroad).
Well, perhaps this is the perfect chance for your son or daughter to prove to you that they are mature and responsible enough to go abroad in the first place - let them get a part-time or summer job and make the funds they need for their flight and spending money.
While of course the hope is that it will never have to be used, your student needs to have some kind of insurance coverage. Some study abroad programs may include insurance or offer it for an additional fee. There are plenty of third-party international providers as well. Some countries have universal health care that will result in little to no cost to an international student if they need to visit the doctor.
Talk to your child, take a look at the situation, and make the best decision you can in regards to whether they need medical or travel insurance. If you have an especially adventurous young adult on your hands who might wander off hiking in remote places, you may want to make sure you have comprehensive insurance that would include things like emergency evacuation.
Just reflect on how good you have it. Twenty years ago, you would have had to wait weeks for letters in the mail or pay an arm and a leg for a quick international call. These days, you can Skype or do a Google Hangout and not just speak to your child for free, but see them as well! These days, internet is easily accessible almost anywhere, so the biggest challenge you may face is the time difference. Enjoy the ease of communication, but don't expect too much.
It's important to allow your son or daughter to have a little space and to immerse themselves in their experience. Agree before they leave on how much communication is expected. A quick email check in every day or two, supplemented by a video call once a week, should be more than enough.
Bad things can happen anywhere. No one can guarantee your child will be safe from any harm while abroad. Then again, no one can guarantee they'll be safe from any harm on their U.S. campus, or even at home. Chances are, nothing bad will happen. However, you have every right to check in on the things you can control. If your child is going abroad through a program provider that organizes students' housing, you can easily find out where the housing is and make sure it's in a safe neighborhood. With exchange programs, the students will likely be in campus housing, which should be just as safe as any American dorm.
Most universities also provide a pre-departure orientation for study abroad students. In addition to basic information, like how to deal with culture shock, orientations usually cover safety precautions and potential safety issues as well. It is also worth taking the time yourself to sit down and talk about how to handle different safety situations and discuss any activities or travel your child may be planning to do while abroad. While they are old enough to make decisions on their own, you can at least request to be informed when they are going on a trip or participating in an activity that comes with any kind of risk.
Hopefully s/he'll come back a more well-rounded, culturally-sensitive, capable and adult-like version of your child.
More than likely, nothing bad is going to happen to your child while they're abroad. Take comfort in the fact that this generation of parents and children can keep in touch across thousands of miles like no other generation could before. Study abroad is more popular than ever, and universities are preparing students better than ever before. Most likely, your child knows other students who have already studied abroad. They are more well-informed and aware of what they're getting into than you can probably imagine.
Trust that this is a great experience that they will make the most of, take a deep breath, and let go.Photo Credits: Berkenthought, Greenheart Travel.