Now that your student has decided to study abroad and has chosen an appropriate program, the real preparation begins. There is much to do to get ready for this new and exciting experience. As the college parent, your role will be largely supportive, but your involvement will be crucial. Working with your student to ensure the best experience possible can be rewarding for both of you. Remember, though, that your student needs to be in charge of preparations. This is good practice for the independence that he will need while he is away.
Here are some suggestions of ways in which you might be helpful.
Encourage your student to start preparations early.
Your student can begin preparing as soon as he knows that he will possibly be studying abroad. He should meet with the study abroad office early to complete paperwork and plan what needs to be done. He should meet with his academic advisor to discuss course selections – both for while he is away and for the semester prior to his time abroad and his first semester back.
Have your student check and write down all deadlines.
Your student may now need to juggle two sets of deadlines. Her college will have deadlines for applying, registering, financial payments, etc. Her host institution or study abroad program may have different deadlines. Making a master list and posting it in a prominent place will help her to keep up.
Read all of the materials available.
Your student’s school will give him materials and his host institution and study abroad program will provide him with materials. There will be lots of information to absorb. Read all of the materials available. The more you know about requirements, how the program works, the host country, opportunities and challenges, the more assured you will be and the more supportive you will be able to be. If you have questions, they are likely to be answered in the materials provided. Remember, other parents have been through this before.
Help your student make travel arrangements.
Depending on your student’s program, he may be responsible for making his own travel arrangements to the host country. If he is, help him think about what he needs. Does he have an arrival date? Will he be met at the airport? When is the program over? Will he want to travel once he is done before returning home? Can he find out if there are other students traveling from the same airport? Help him consider length of layovers and number of stops as well as looking for the cheapest flights. Remind him to make his travel arrangements as early as possible.
Help your student take care of necessary logistics.
While remembering that your student needs to be the one ultimately responsible, you might help him think through what he needs to do. Does he have his passport? Does he need an adapter or converter? Will his cell phone work or will he need to change plans or buy a pay-as-you go? Does he have a credit card? Will he need to exchange currency or get travelers’ checks? Has he had a recent physical or eye exam? Does he have an extra set of glasses? Does he need prescriptions? Are his medications legal in his host country? Will his health insurance cover him while he is away?
Encourage her to talk to students who have returned from studying abroad.
If there are students at school who have already studied abroad, encourage your student to seek them out and talk to them. Students who have been through the experience will not only be encouraging and supportive, but they will be able to provide real, practical advice.
Help your student gather important information in one place.
Help your student put together a packet of information which will be readily accessible during travel. He will certainly have his passport, but will he need his birth certificate as well? Does he have contact information for you and other family members? Does he have contact information for the study abroad program and host institution? Does he have information about the local embassy or State Department contact? Does he have his health insurance information? A list of what is in his luggage? Visa information? Credit card numbers? Passport number written down? Does he have local maps and language information? Having easy access to important information in his carry on luggage may be crucial.
Help your student think about a contingency plan.
Although you both expect and hope that everything will go smoothly, it is reassuring to have a back-up plan. What will your student do if he gets separated from his group while they are traveling? If your student is traveling alone, what will he do if he is not met at the airport? What will he do if his luggage is lost en route? What should he do if he loses his passport? What if his wallet is stolen? Hopefully, your student will never face any of these scenarios, but knowing what he will do in an emergency will reassure him.
Allow your student to do her own packing.
When it comes to packing, it may be best for you, as parent, to stay out of the way. Your student probably knows the basics of what she needs and what she can live without or buy once she is there. Do give some gentle reminders that she think about the weather, cultural considerations, research customs regulations, think about small gifts for host family or mentors, and consider leaving room in her luggage to bring purchases home. Once she is packed, you might suggest that she walk around the house – or even the block – with the luggage to see how it feels. She may want to rethink some of her choices. As with so many of us when we travel, she will probably overpack at first. Suggest that she try to weed out. She may want to consider shipping a box of things to arrive after she does to reduce her load.
Helping your student prepare for her experience abroad may not be unlike helping her get to college during her freshman year. You will guide, suggest, support, but the work of preparation must belong to the student. It is part of the growing that she will do during her time abroad.