5 Study Abroad Tips for Parents

Below you’ll find a guest blog written by Bob Bessette, the father of a junior at Bowdoin College in Maine, who is finishing up her semester of studies in Ireland.  I was particularly interested in his post because my son Ben, who is a sophomore at Beloit College, plans to attend school  in Ireland for a semester during his junior year.
If you want to learn even more about studying abroad, I wrote my own post on the subject two years ago when my daughter, a graduate of Juniata College, was studying at the University of Barcelona for a year. Here is my post: Studying Abroad: 7 Things Parents Should Know
Here’s is advice from Bob who writes his own blog at TotallyUniqueLife:

Studying in Ireland

Four long months have passed since our daughter left to study abroad at the University College Cork in Ireland.  When she returns in a week,  she will be presumably a lot wiser, not only in the subject matter she has been studying, but also in the ways of the world.  I guess that’s the essence of studying abroad – to expand your horizons and get to know another culture other than the one you have lived in for your whole life.  Based on a recent conversation with my daughter, it appears that the study abroad semester has been successful.  She said just the other day during a Skype session,
I’m just starting to realize that I’ll be leaving soon. Ya know, I’m really going to miss this place but I’m really looking forward to coming home.”
Isn’t this what you really want to hear as a parent?  She has fostered friendships with others who were also studying abroad, as well as with Irish students.  During this time she has also been able to visit two additional countries, Scotland and Italy.  She created a life for herself at her dorm making dinner on a nightly basis with roommates from other countries that also enjoy the cooking process.  She has explored the region, gotten to know the natives at the local marketplace and pubs, and has garnered a true sense of what the Irish culture is all about.

Study Abroad Tips for Parents

As parents, this was the first time my daughter had ever gone on a plane by herself.  We have traveled to Greece, Spain, and domestically as a family over the years, but this was the first time we ever watched, with misty eyes, as she walked through security to head off on her own adventure without us. Actually, it was a lot tougher leaving her off at college for the first time.  But this was different since we couldn’t just jump into our car, drive two hours, and be with her should she need us.  After four months of dealing with our daughter studying abroad, here are five tips I’d like to share with parents whose children are about to embark on a similar experience.

1. Finalize Travel Plans

One rather unnerving experience occurred while we were checking my daughter’s bags at the airline terminal the day she was leaving for Ireland.  The attendant asked my daughter if she had her return ticket yet and she responded “Not yet”.  The attendant told her “Then I can’t let you travel today”.  Needless to say, we were taken aback.  He explained that there was a recent edict from the State Department disallowing foreign travel unless a return flight was already booked.
Luckily my daughter had already scoped out return flights so she had a good idea of what it would cost.  She asked him if she could buy a ticket online right there using her laptop. He said “Sure” but he just needed to see the details and proof of purchase.  Within minutes she had bought her ticket online, showed him the ticket number, and we were on our way to eat some lunch before she was off to the security line.  Look into whether or not your child will need a return ticket before taking off.  It may save you from some heart palpitations at the airport.
What is strange is that my daughter actually knew of others from the U.S who did not buy their return flight before they left and had no problems flying to Ireland.  Perhaps it was a temporary thing or something related specifically to the airline.

2. Skype is your Friend

If you have not heard of Skype yet, get to know it.  Skype is a software application that will allow you to have a video chat with your child over the internet at no cost.  All it requires is that you download the application onto your computer and your child does the same.  You will also need a webcam that will plug into a USB port on your computer.  My daughter’s laptop already had a built-in webcam.  We had to buy one for our computer at a very reasonable cost.
One amazing aspect of this study abroad experience is that we actually have had more contact with our daughter since she has been in Ireland than when she is two hours away at college.  With Skype we have gotten to see and talk to her regularly and have not missed her nearly as much as we thought we would have.  There is something about seeing her and talking to her, in lieu of using email or talking on the phone, that allays those pangs of separation anxiety.  If there is one tip I would give any parent whose child is heading abroad it’s download Skype.
Technical Note: When my daughter got to Ireland she could not use Skype in her room at the dorm due to what we thought was a firewall issue.  What was strange was that another roommate could use Skype to communicate with her family.  We discovered that the latest version of Skype, which was on my daughter’s computer, would not work with the in-dorm proxy server.  All she had to do was uninstall the latest version of Skype, install the older version and Skype was up and running.  Hopefully your child does not have a similar issue but, if he or she does, this could be a potential solution.

3. Consider Social Media

My wife and I do not do Facebook but, to be honest, it may make a lot of sense to create a Facebook page so that you can have access to any pictures or comments that your child posts to their Facebook page.  Fortunately, my daughter created a blog when she went to Ireland that allowed us to see her pictures and hear of her adventures in Europe.  The only problem is that she posted all of her pictures on Facebook but only a few on the blog.  We had to ask our youngest daughter or other family members to log into their Facebook page so that we can see the many pictures our eldest has posted.
If you use Twitter and your child does as well, this is another way of using Social Media to keep in touch with your child abroad.  My daughter doesn’t do Twitter but, believe it or not, I do so it wasn’t a viable mode of communication for us.  It could be another option if both you and your child are regular Tweeters.

4. Bring Enough of the Essentials

This may seem obvious but some of the basic items that your child uses every day may not be available in the country to which they are heading.  For example, my daughter could not find quality dental floss or Chapstick in Ireland.  These are two items that she uses every day.  So I ended up shipping her 2 packs of dental floss and a 3-pack of Chapstick in one of those padded envelopes.  Unfortunately, the package did not arrive for over a month and we had thought it had gotten lost in the mail.  In the meantime, she was able to get these items from someone else who was visiting from the States.  If your child uses something on a regular basis, make sure they bring enough of it to last them the amount of time that they will be abroad.

5. Try to Relax

We, as parents, go through a lot when it comes to our children.  If you are anything like my wife and I, you worry about anything and everything that could go wrong with your child.  It is especially difficult when they are in another country far away from your control.  If I were to give some advice to my fellow parents it would be to try to concentrate on the many benefits of the adventure on which your child is about to embark.  If you try to focus on how much your child will gain from this experience, it will be a lot easier for you to relax.
In one week we will be welcoming our child, with open arms, back from an adventure that only she has experienced.  It was tough on all of us but personal growth is achieved through trying times.  I somehow think that she will be a little bit older and little bit wiser from the experience.  I wish you and your child much success with your mutual study abroad experience!
Bob Bessette is a parent who has felt the pangs of separation anxiety associated with his daughter going away to college.  He writes about experiences like this, and others, on his own blog entitled TotallyUniqueLife, which deals with practical solutions, tips, and advice for your life.

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  1. Thanks Lynn for sharing this article my son is also studying in Canada and sometimes i feel so lonely without him but thanks to the person who developed Skype for us.

  2. I really feel better after reading this. Our daughter will be studying abroad in Florence, Italy. She is leaving in 2 weeks and I’m a little nervous. She has been 2 hours away from home for college but I’m fine with it because I know it’s not that far away. Thank you for helping me deal with letting go and not being so worried.

  3. Hiya! Great article and I enjoyed reading it. However, I don’t understand how your daughter didn’t find chapstick and dental floss in Ireland? Where was she looking?

  4. Hello my name is Andri from Indonesia, I’m 18 years old. I have a destiny to tour study in other country, Now I’m studying in vocational tourism school but cost in my school now is more expensive, and My parents did not have enough money for school fees and I have plan study in Switzerland, I want continue to college in Switzerland, also I want to learn piano. I could keep studying and carrying on and have a better future. Does anyone wants to be my adoptive parents?
    help me 🙂

  5. I studied in Spain this past summer and one thing I would recommend is having a budge and sticking to it. It helps save a ton of money. Another thing I would say is to find a prepaid cell phone that has a good long distance plan. TracFone has a plan where you can call internationally for the price of a local call. Definitely worth it as it saves a ton of money.

  6. Our daughter has studied abroad in Caracas, Venezuela, Amman, Jordan, and then another year in Damascus, Syria. Aside from the great advice already offered, here are a couple of things we learned.
    Banking in some countries is very different from our system, and if a financial problem occurs, it is difficult to resolve it on behalf of your child if you are not officially named on your child’s bank account. For us, no information could be given to a person not on the account. So be sure to have a joint account, even if it is just for the semester abroad. Figure out ahead with your banker, how problems may be resolved when the student is out of the country.This includes a student’s credit card account. Our daughter was able to resolve banking problems via live chat on her bank’s website.
    Mail systems in developing countries can be wholly unreliable or subject to many restrictions. Packages are frequently opened for “inspection.” A box sent to her in Caracas was delivered to her, but with half of the bag of Skittles eaten! I learned from our helpful UPS store manager that nearly everything that I put in the box to send our daughter in Jordan was not allowed — not even her favorite comic strip. I was able to send her the most important item, a new debit card, in care of the Director of her program in Amman. It is wise to have the business address of the local contact person since some homes in these countries do not use actual street addresses.
    While we rarely worried about our globe-hopping daughter, Skype is fantastic for all kinds of communication and we loved hearing about her life. She even did a job interview over Skype from an internet cafe (very little in-home internet in Syria). And be sure to check with your cell phone company about text messaging. It might only be 20 cents a message, and can be received and sent at any time instead of an agreed-upon Skype date from an internet cafe.

    1. Great suggestions for students studying abroad. I particularly liked them because you shared the experience of students, who are not studying in popular European countries. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    1. I wish her good luck!! I know I was nervous when my daughter headed overseas and she was heading for a Third World country.
      Lynn O.

  7. Lynn,
    I’m not convinced it’s the students requesting these items, it’s the parents assuming they ‘need’ them. In most cases the students are doing just fine with the things (often new foods) they find in local supermarkets. But, the care packages do really bring a smile to the students faces and really make their week.
    And I do admit to asking visitors to Ireland from North America to bring me things that I miss and can’t get here!

  8. Interesting article. I run a study abroad program in Ireland and agree with much of what is said here. I think the bit about the return ticket may be the airline being worried that Irish immigration may turn the student away once in Ireland, and not the State Department. Still, it is a very good idea to have that return ticket.
    Yes, Skype is your friend for keeping in touch. Parents must also keep in mind that Irish internet connections (and other countries as well) may not have as great a bandwidth as in the USA, however.
    I’m constantly amused by the ‘essentials’ that students have shipped to them by state-side parents. Mac and Cheese, Oreos, maple syrup, candy, and yes, lip balm always seem to top the list.

    1. Thanks Stephen. Thanks for sharing the study abroad experience from your perspective. That’s amusing what students feel they need when they are in Ireland!
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  9. Hi Lynn,
    Thanks so much for allowing me to contribute to your prestigious blog. It was an honor and I hope my post helps other parents deal with this exciting but, at times, difficult time.