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Why You Should Let Your High School Student Study Abroad Alone

Study abroad alone

As a parent, letting your high school student study abroad by themselves is a huge step. For many parents, this will be the longest they've ever been away from their child, and the extra distance and unfamiliar environment can lead to understandable worries.

The good news is that with today’s technology and tools such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook it's easier than ever to stay in contact while your child is thousands of miles away.

Eventually your student will find humor and perspective in the experience and reach the gradual adjustment phase.

Many study-travel trips also have chaperone opportunities and it may be tempting to join your child on the overseas adventure. However, being in constant contact with your child while he or she is abroad may actually hinder their experience.

Let’s look at the reasons why it's important to take a step back and let your child do high school study abroad themselves.

1. Being in Constant Contact with Home Makes it Harder to Adapt

Adapting to cultures while studying abroad

Culture shock is a completely normal part of adapting to a foreign culture that every person who spends a long period of time abroad goes through. In general, cultural adjustment can be broken down into four phases: Honeymoon, Crisis, Recovery, and Adjustment.

During the Honeymoon phase, your child will be filled with initial excitement and euphoria about being abroad. They will be very positive, open-minded, and interested in learning about the new culture.

After some time your child will pass onto the culture shock phase. The novelty of their new environment will have worn off and they may be upset by cultural differences, stressed by small problems and overwhelmed with homesickness.

Eventually your student will find humor and perspective in the experience and reach the gradual adjustment phase. Highs and lows will even out as they become more familiar with the new culture.

The final stage of cultural adjustment is adaption. In this phase your student will feel at home in their new environment and no longer be negatively affected by cultural differences.

Dealing with culture shock abroad can take your child longer if you are over communicating with them. Remember, passing through this phase is necessary for your student to be happy in their life abroad and reach a state of biculturalism.

2. Too Much Communication Replaces Immersion with "Fear of Missing Out"

Intercultural development is one of the biggest benefits of studying abroad. Living and studying in a foreign culture can help participants to be more respectful of other cultures, broaden knowledge of political and economic systems, and be more aware of their own cultural biases.

Intercultural development is greatly enhanced by immersion and studying abroad is a unique opportunity to be fully immersed in a new country and culture.

If your son or daughter does not have enough space while abroad they will not be able to fully immerse in the experience and instead be preoccupied with the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

While it's important to be there for your child if they face problems beyond the scope of what they can handle, it's also important to give them space to solve feasible problems on their own.

If your student is constantly Skyping home, scrolling through Facebook and texting you, they will not be living in the moment and soaking up the culture around them. Instead, they will be focused on the fun things going on at home and all they are missing out on.

In the end this will have meant that your student lost out on valuable time being culturally immersed and broadening their perspectives to the maximum reach.

Give your child enough space so that they can focus on exploring their foreign surroundings, learning the language or culture of their new country and making new memories instead of dwelling on the activities, traditions and relationships they may be missing out on at home.

3. If They Spend too Much Time Talking To You, They'll be Slower to Make New Friends

Study abroad friends

Finding quality friends will play an essential role in your child’s happiness abroad. Local friends will provide a deeper insight into the culture and help your child open their mind to their new environment. Many who study abroad make life-long friends as a result of the unique bond being abroad creates.

Having friends in their new environment will help your child deal with the hardships of being in a new place and feelings of homesickness. Friends will also help your child to have more fun and form positive, life-long memories.

Making friends anywhere is an intimidating experience, and even more so when done abroad (and possibly in another language). It's often easier for high school students to communicate with friends and family at home instead of stepping outside their comfort zone to make new connections.

If your child spends too much time talking to you they will miss out on opportunities to meet new people and hence slow the process of making new friends.

If your high school student is having trouble making new friends abroad, encourage them to expand their limits of comfort. Joining a club or sports team, participating in language exchanges or volunteering in the local community are all great ways to help your child have an easier time at making new friends.

4. Students Who Rely Too Much on Home Support will Miss the Benefits of Increased Independence

Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity for your high school student to overcome challenges in a unique environment. Whether it’s making a new friend from a different country, using a map to locate a historical monument, or trying to purchase something at the grocery store using a new language, their time overseas will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for personal growth.

When facing unique challenges it may seem easier for your child to rely on their parents for the answers and solutions rather than to solve them on their own. However, in the long run it will be better for your child to push through minor and day-to-day challenges of living in a foreign country independently, or with the support of local peers.

The satisfaction of overcoming such challenges on their own will boost their self-confidence and ultimately lead to a greater sense of happiness.

While it's important to be there for your child if they face problems beyond the scope of what they can handle, it's also important to give them space to solve feasible problems on their own. Encourage, don’t hand hold your High School student as they go through their experience abroad.

The satisfaction of overcoming such challenges on their own will boost their self-confidence and ultimately lead to a greater sense of happiness.

So, How Can You Maintain a Healthy Communicative Relationship while Your Child is Overseas?

Of course this doesn't mean you should cut out communication with your child while they are overseas. Your communication will be an invaluable support system as they adapt to a foreign culture.

  • Talk with your child before he or she leaves about how much or little communication is expected on both your child’s and your part. Make an agreement.
  • Schedule a time for a Skype call once a week.
  • Limit emails to no more than once per day.
  • Be supportive. Remember that your child will be going through the different stages of cultural adaption and may not realize it.

It may not feel like it now, but your child’s time abroad will pass and someday soon they will be back home with increased confidence, knowledge of the world and memories to share! Take a step back and let them get the most out of this experience.

Photo Credits: Anna Morris
Lauren Salisbury

A California native, Lauren Salisbury has found the best way to get to know a region of the world is to live there, and with that in mind has worked in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain and Costa Rica. Lauren earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and is now living in the Costa Rican rainforest, working as Social Media & Marketing Manager for Outward Bound. Lauren documents her travel adventures on her blog SomethingInHerRamblings.com.