Going abroad takes courage, energy, and planning for each individual who boldly decides to expand their horizons. But what about the supporting cast? Parents are a huge part of a successful launch in many ways. They are learning a new dance that involves giving advice, helping solve problems and yet standing back and allowing their grown kids to learn first-hand. But they need a little help with the process. Help your parents, really? Yes, there are concrete things you can do to help your parents help you have a great program abroad.
- GO WITH A GOOD PROGRAM – Find a program abroad through an accredited organization with solid programs. Simply buying a ticket and heading to your country of choice with the intent of finding something to do when you get there is a romantic concept that rarely works. You are leaving a lot to chance, and possibly losing a lot of money when things don’t pan out. Parents like to know that there is a sound program with reliable supports waiting for you at your destination.
- BE OPEN ABOUT GOALS – Don’t assume you are on the same page with your parents when it comes to goals for your program abroad. You might value the trip as a time to immerse and explore. They might want you to get university credit for the experience. Make sure you have an honest conversation early in the process. Sharing your ideas helps give them a chance to express their thoughts and goals before it comes out later when it is too late to change your plans. Program Advisors are also helpful with finding a program that fits many requirements – just ask!
- SET BOUNDARIES – How many times do you expect to communicate in a day? Do you want a package of goodies mailed every Saturday? How about a drop in visit on your birthday? These are all things to discuss BEFORE you leave. In the old days, without social media or cell phones, kids checked in with their parents via letters or an occasional collect call! Strange, right? In a hyper-connected world, it can be challenging to have split focus. It’s almost like we feel like we can be in several locations at once! It’s best to keep it simple and make an easy plan for communicating long distance. Many programs discourage visits with the family, so get familiar with your favorite app for face to face chatting. Take deep breaths and remember to share but not overshare as your parents might read a post as a cry for help when it merely documented a passing feeling.
- COMMUNICATE CLEARLY – This one is harder than it sounds. Homesickness and the disorientation of a new culture can really distort the messages we convey. If you vent to a parent that you are unhappy while telling your program coordinators that everything is “fine”, you will create a lot of confusion. If something is truly challenging and you need help, this should be communicated to your program staff in a timely manner as they have the tools to help you fix problems. Assertiveness is an invaluable skill that will get exercised on your trip. So put this muscle to work and be calm, be clear, and communicate!
- ACT RESPONSIBLY – Make adult choices about your safety. Drinking excessively in a new, unknown environment is a dangerous idea. Staying out past dark without a safe ride or reliable companionship home, is also an unsafe choice. Hold yourself to a higher standard of behavior because you are in a new place with many unknown variables. Use the same care in your relationships abroad. Avoid toxic friends who continually find fault with a program or culture. Seek out positive people who are flexible and secure. Make peace with some alone time and nurture new hobbies or dive into new books. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Good self-care sends a message to parents that you are ready for this new life challenge. They will relax and look forward to talking to you for hours about your adventures when you return!