Guest Post: Study Abroad from a Parent’s Perspective
By: Lisa Dalton, parent of a senior at the University of Oregon, and sophomore at Washington State University
CMC Note: There are alternatives to “studying” abroad, including service projects that many universities arrange, as well.
If you are in the midst of college tours with your high school senior, or you have a student away at college with a year or more under their belt, you most likely remember the college tour guide talking about all the study abroad possibilities your student can take part in, while attending their university.
My college senior just returned from a year abroad in Lyon, France and had the time of his life. Renting a room from a French family, he partook in daily life, met students at the university from all over the world, and traveled more in a year, than I have in my lifetime. He wanted to study abroad even before he headed off to college, and pursued the opportunities beginning in his freshman year by attending free presentations and meeting with the study abroad adviser. He chose a one year program because one of his goals was to be fluent in the language. (I don’t think he realized that fluency had so many different definitions until he was there for a while.) He left with a fluency in not only the language, but the cultural lifestyle, food and people; things we might not automatically think about when we hear students say they want to study abroad.
There are many concerns as a parent of student who wants to go abroad–the distance, communication, the cost, ability to graduate on time and security. They are all valid concerns, but all can be addressed to provide your student the opportunity to learn in environment like none before.
- Distance: There are programs all over the world, and most universities have programs managed directly from their campus with resources– sharing information on the costs and transferable units. Even two year universities offer abroad opportunities. If six months seems too long, there are both spring break and summer options. And, an added perk could be the opportunity to visit your student at their destination if they will be there for a semester or more. (Our family went to France for the holidays rather than having him fly home for two weeks. It was a memorable experience for us all, and he really enjoyed sharing “his new city” with us.)
- Communication: I would say in general boys are not as likely to communicate regularly with their families as girls, but with SKYPE, email and Facebook available, parents should be able to have regular communication with their students. Since our son traveled often on the weekends, we were not able to SKYPE every week, but he did have access to Wi-Fi in almost every place he visited and was able to let us know when he arrived. We also encouraged him to always travel with a friend, and make sure his host family and/or classmates had his schedule in case he was delayed somewhere.
- Cost: Many programs are no more expensive than the typical year of tuition, room & board at your student’s university. There are a few additional costs including the flight, passport/visa and a good suitcase, but most are covered by any financial aid/scholarships programs your student would otherwise qualify for each year. My son’s abroad program provided resources to obtain a tutoring position while in France and he was able to earn enough money to pay for additional traveling.
- Graduation: In a time when it is difficult to obtain classes and graduate in four years, your student should check with their program to make sure classes are transferrable and plentiful at the university they will be attending. (A recent study actually found that students who study abroad have a higher graduation rate than their peers who don’t study abroad.)
- Security: As the world has become smaller, security has become a larger concern for parents and their students. Most programs provide an orientation for the students going over basics on personal safety. Fortunately with most of us having a cell phone always ready and available, help is only a phone call away if necessary. Be sure your student has people they can contact for assistance including program managers, host families, or roommates if they are in shared living agreement.
Although you may have concerns as a parent about your student studying abroad, sit down and discuss this opportunity with your student if they show interest. Great websites and advisors can clear up most of your concerns, and a frank discussion can bring out any personal concerns you have about your student studying abroad. Whether they take part in a summer program, a semester to a city that intrigues them, or a year in the country where they have been studying the language, it’s an experience they will never forget.
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