I’ll never forget the day I put my 21-year-old son a plane to send him halfway around the world to study abroad in Australia. I’m not sure if I was more excited or if he was. I’m a firm believer that kids, and parents, should take advantage of opportunities to study abroad.
Travel is definitely in my genes and it’s something I passed down to my children. When they were seven and nine years old, I made the bold decision to move them to Italy when my husband had a job opportunity. Despite being enrolled in a local school, I’m embarrassed to say, they didn’t attend that often. My motto as an expat was, “They’re not here to learn. I’m here to travel.” And travel we did! In that short two years, we hit nine countries and they gained a whole new appreciation for different cultures. They’ve both traveled internationally on their own and my son backpacked through Asia alone on his way to study abroad in Australia.
I have friends who think I’m crazy for letting my kids go halfway around the world without me, without my oversight, without the comforts of home. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The adventures they’ve had, the important lessons they learned about other cultures, and the friends they’ve made along the way will stick with them for life.
My favorite travel quote is by Saint Augustine: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” And it’s true. The things we experience in different places – whether it’s the people, the terrain, the cuisine, or the daily hardships – are important insights that shape who we are and how we live our lives. My son is currently staying with a family in India who run a school for homeless children. He’s experiencing the country through the eyes of the locals. This is certain to change his perspective on poverty and charity.
Study abroad is one of the best ways for kids to experience, and explore, the world. But it can be nerve wracking as a parent to send them halfway around the world on their own. Aside from the academic questions you’ll need to sort through, here are five questions to ask yourself before considering a study abroad program:
1 Is your child somewhat independent? Homesickness is a necessary evil so you’ll really need to gauge your child’s maturity level to handle it. Chances are, they’ll find themselves left to make important decisions on their own. Does he/she have a level of independence and self-confidence to make these decisions? My son lost his debit card shortly after arriving and had to make some quick decisions about how to handle the situation.
2. Is your child street smart? Not that they’re going to find themselves in dangerous situations, but having some sense of street smarts will come in handy – things like being good at reading a map and following directions. Or having the common sense to be aware of their surroundings and keep personal belongings close. Naiveté is not a good trait for adventurous kids. My son spent a great deal of time traveling and staying in hostels so having the common sense to lock his backpack to the bed and secure his passport and money was critical.
3. Will you be a supportive parent? I found myself on the phone numerous times at 3am due to the time difference, trying to sort through and solve problems. You’ll need to be ready to jump through hoops at any given time to offer your child emotional, and yes, financial, support.
4. What does your student hope to achieve in his/her time abroad? Do they want to learn a new language, get a new cultural perspective for their future career or simply to experience an adventure? My son spent most of his time in Australia surfing rather than studying, but hey, it was a memorable experience!
5. Is your child willing to fully immerse in a new culture? Often, the best way to experience a new place is to engage in local activities. Shy children won’t get as much out of the experience as more outgoing ones. If your kid is willing to immerse themselves 100% into programs and activities offered through the study abroad program, chances are, they’ll have the time of their lives.