Studying abroad will almost certainly be a defining period in your son or daughter's educational experience—a psychological journey that will transform him or her into a global thinker with international perspectives and put him or her a step ahead of the competition in the eyes of prospective employers. In spite of this, you and your son or daughter may have a wide range of feelings about the upcoming experience, from excitement to the potential stress at the idea of being far apart.
By understanding each other's feelings and supporting decisions before, during, and after the period of overseas study, you can help maximize this opportunity. Here is some advice on what to expect (we've been seeing study abroad transformations in action for more than 60 years).
Before your child leaves, offer your full support. Let him or her know that you will be there throughout the experience if needed, including that you can still be reached from overseas.
If studying abroad was your idea to begin with, be sure not to push too hard. Every year, program directors hear complaints from students who didn't want to come in the first place—and those students experience more difficulty than others adjusting to the new environment.
It is by overcoming any difficulties that your son or daughter will quickly rise to a new level of independence, so avoid the temptation to become too involved. Ultimately, this is his or her learning experience.
Time abroad often begins with a honeymoon period during which students are excited to finally be in the setting about which that they have dreamed. After facing realities such as unfamiliar school procedures, unexpected difficulty with the local language, commuting woes, and the absence of usual support groups, culture shock can set in. At the same time, the student is away from medical, psychological and advisory services they may have come to rely on at home. Expect to hear some tales of frustration, though your child will likely be experiencing many wonderful things as well, even if you are not the first to hear about them. In most cases he or she won't expect you to solve problems—as much as you may want to—and is just looking for an understanding ear. Try to keep conversations positive and remind them not to compare cultures too much but to seek out the differences and enjoy them. Your advice can lead your child on the right track even from afar.
Also, it's important to remember that study abroad students are not on vacation. If you plan to visit your son or daughter while abroad, attending class with him or her—or taking them out of class to sightsee—will interrupt the educational process and immersion experience. If you want to visit, it's best to do so when the program has finished so you can travel together. And it's usually not wise to try to obtain permission for your student to return home early; the end of the semester is the most important part of his or her academic experience.
After living abroad for as long as study abroad students do, they can't help but be changed by the experience. This can take many forms, from new ways of dressing to cravings for different kinds of food to new political perspectives. Don't worry too much: negative feelings usually last for a very short time, while a realistic view of America and its place in the world remains with most students for life.
Be prepared for him or her to experience some degree of “reverse culture shock”—most do—and need some time to fully readjust to living at home again. In some cases, he or she may even experience a period of depression or longing to return abroad. Once again, your support, interest, and understanding will help your son or daughter during this life-altering experience. Observing and discussing changes like these is an excellent way to share in your son or daughter's international experience, and you will probably want to hear more than most other people, which will be gratifying to your son or daughter. Most study abroad participants report years later that the time they spent overseas was the best part of their younger years—and that it changed them for life.