The number of high school and university students making the decision to supplement their education by studying abroad has increased in record numbers over the past thirty years. However, as a parent of one of these students you may be hesitant to send your kid abroad on their own.
Second guessing your kid studying abroad is understandable – it’s scary to be so far away from your child knowing that they are living in an unfamiliar environment – but if you are a parent still on the fence about letting your child study in a foreign country, here are some important things to consider first.
1. Your child's health and safety is a major priority for program providers
Maybe you are most worried about your child’s health and safety. Especially if your student is looking at a less traditional program - possibly in the developing world. You might find yourself asking “why can’t you just study French in Paris? For my own peace of mind? Please?!” My own mother was concerned about my safety when I decided to study in Senegal for a month, but everyone in my program stayed safe and had no trouble getting medical attention if they were sick. Like any good study abroad program, the organization that I chose to study with had thorough measures in place to keep us safe and healthy. They provided us with trusted doctors, did background checks on our host families, and has a system in place in case of emergencies. Study abroad programs – especially in developing countries – tend to keep close tabs on their students and will notify you immediately in case of a serious problem.
If a question arises after reviewing the program materials, please ask your student. Each student has individual needs, and parents know their students well enough to know what to ask. When parents and students discuss what possibilities may arise abroad and how to handle them, the issues are often easier to manage from afar.
Instead of worrying about all the things that could happen, research the health and security measures of the program your child is considering or talk to one of their coordinators. Buy travel insurance if it’s not included and consult a physician who specializes in travel medicine about precautions your student should take to stay healthy. Most importantly, research the country and read expat blogs. While the U.S. embassy website is a great resource, it tends to air on the side of caution - expat blogs give you a more realistic idea of life as a foreigner in the host country.
2. It could save you money
Depending on the type of program your student chooses, studying abroad could actually save you money. American universities are painfully expensive, but not all of those in the rest of the are. For example, in France the average annual tuition is $260 - $650 in public schools, meaning that even a whole year at a French university (plus living expenses) could be less than what your student is paying at home. Even if it’s not a direct university exchange, paying for a program with a private company could still save you some bucks in the end. Just make sure that your student’s home university will give credit for their study abroad program before they commit.
You can also save more than $25,000 a year in some cases if you enroll directly rather than using a study abroad company. But there are a few caveats: You usually need to know the language of the country where you'll be studying, and you need to ensure that your home institution will grant credit for courses you complete abroad.
3. Modern technology makes it easy and affordable to stay in touch
If the distance unnerves you the most about sending your kid abroad, fear not. Modern technology, the internet in particular, makes it incredibly easy and affordable to stay in touch with your kid. To start with, download Skype. This software application allows users to make phone calls over the internet or to phones worldwide, and computer to computer calls are free. Set it up and test it out before your kid leaves; once they’ve settled in to their new home, set up a weekly “Skype date” where you can both get online to talk. Alternatively, you could keep in touch with international calling cards or by updating your phone plan to include international numbers.
To feel like you’re sharing your student’s study abroad experience, follow their blog. Sometimes it can be exhausting for students to re-explain their experiences to each and every friend or family member - this is why blogs are so popular among study abroad students. Get the link to your student’s blog before they leave so you can read about their experiences and feel like you’re there with them. Also, try to be an active listener when your student describes what they’re seeing, learning, and doing in their host country. There’s no better way to show support as a parent than to try to understand your kid’s host country through their eyes!
4. Not all programs are designed to last a whole semester or year
If you’re still not totally comfortable with your student studying abroad, consider letting them go on a brief summer or winter break program. These shorter programs tend to have packed schedules (and therefore give your student less time to get in trouble) and run more like an educational tour group. Also, several weeks apart are much more manageable than several months!
Both short-term and long-term study-abroad programs can meet some of the goals of the liberal arts in general. The students who took our course reported that it had made them question their assumptions, gather and interpret data, and use the data to reach a better understanding of their own role in a globalized society.
5. Your child will get an education that the classroom could never give them
If you're still concerned about your child studying abroad, consider this. Don’t you want your kid to have a phenomenal education and edge in job market? Don’t you want them to build character, independence, and possibly learn a new language? There’s no better way to accomplish this then putting them on an airplane and sending them off to a foreign country for a month, semester, or even a year. Experiencing economics in the third world, the ecology of the Amazonian rainforest, or anthropology of the Mediterranean is a completely different way to learn about a subject than simply sitting in a classroom. It will give your student a more holistic understanding of the subject, and the tangible experience will truly enhance their education.
Furthermore, studying abroad shows future employers and schools that your kid can adapt to new situations, has international experience, is good with cross-cultural communication, and is independent and open-minded. They may also come away with practical skills, like data collecting or language, which can make them more hirable than peers who decided to stay at home. Employers are starting to see the skills (both hard and soft) gained by studying abroad.
If you're second-guessing your kid’s choice to study abroad, your worries only mean you want the best for them. However, your worries might also be holding them back from an enriching educational experience and growth-inspiring adventure. There are plenty of parents who have braved their fears and, despite their parental instincts to keep their kids close to home, let them board that airplane for an absolutely irreplaceable experience. Your kid is showing an incredible amount of bravery making this decision, why not you too?
Suggested Programs for Study Abroad
- IAU College
- SPI Study Abroad
- SACI Art Centers International
- API Study Abroad
- International Studies Abroad
- The School for Field Studies
- USAC Study Abroad