What parents need to know about study abroad

By Rachael Kroot
Published October 31, 2011

It’s important to understand that Moms and Dads often need some extra reassurance before letting their child leave the country for months at a time, if not for an entire year. Doctor Laurie Kohler, the on-location Resident Director for University of Maryland in London, works with worried parents on a regular basis. As a study abroad professional, she has a great appreciation for the study abroad experience; and as the mother of two boys who got their degrees abroad, she also understands the parent perspective. She says, “There are times when study abroad can seem rather nerve-wracking for a parent, but part of this process is giving our children the unique opportunities and the space to grow both intellectually and personally, and to develop resilience and maturity to deal with the joys and frustrations of life, wherever they may be.”

The best thing for both students and parents is to talk honestly about the decision making process, including why study abroad is important and what aspects of research have been done and still need to be done in order to make a well-informed decision.

Let us help you start the conversation with our suggested discussion points.

For students: Points to discuss with your parents

  • International experience can be a big resume and transcript booster. A lot of employers feel that studying abroad shows great initiative and independence not to mention a global perspective in today’s international marketplace.
  • Studying abroad is a great way to learn about different cultures first-hand. It’s also the best way to practice or learn language skills which is another valuable skill in our international economy.
  • Spending time abroad is a good way to develop maturity and personal independence. Students learn a lot about themselves and what they’re capable of by living in a foreign environment.
  • In many ways, study abroad has become a common stepping stone in a student’s life (almost like going to kindergarten or summer camp for the first time). If possible, put your parents in touch with parents of past study abroad participants so they can learn first-hand what the experience was like for both the parents and the student.
  • Study abroad is a once-in a lifetime experience. Period. You can visit another country any time in life, but to live abroad is a unique opportunity that doesn’t normally lend itself to non-students.

For parents: Questions to ask your child

  • What program(s) are you looking at? After conducting some online research or talking to an advisor, does it seem like students in the past have had good experiences with that program?
  • Same goes for the location. Where are you interested in studying? Is it a popular study abroad destination? What have past students said about the location?
  • Is the country/city you’re considering a safe place to live? What is the crime rate of the location? What should we know about the health system?
  • What sort of housing is available to you? Will you be on your own to find an apartment, or will your program take care of it for you? Are you interested in a home-stay (living with a local family) or would you prefer a dorm setting? What are your options and how much do they cost?
  • What is the exchange rate, and what is the average cost-of-living? How much do you plan to spend on travel, souvenirs, etc? Are there scholarships available? In the end, is it a program and/or destination you/we can afford?

For both students and parents: Preparing to manage the distance as a team

  • Sign up for an online instant messaging service such as Skype. This will allow you to voice and video chat for free and bridge the distance to feel as if you are only in separate rooms.
  • Consider purchasing international cell phones. Most of the time, it’s easy buy phones upon arrival in a country, but some cell phone companies offer universal/international cell phones that you can buy in advance from home in the US. Just make sure you bring the proper electric converter so you can plug into the foreign outlets (this goes for your other electronics as well).
  • Look into different money management options. Certain debit cards offer free withdrawal from partner ATMs in other countries while some banks are more understanding about overdrawn accounts than others. No matter what bank you use, be sure to alert them of your upcoming change in location so they do not freeze your account when they see the first international charge.
  • Make sure everyone is prepared for homesickness. It’s normal, and it will pass.
  • If possible, invite your parents to come visit you at your new home-away-from-home. It’s the best way for them to feel a part of your new life and to see where you’ve been living and what you’ve learned. Plus, it can be a second honeymoon for Mom and Dad!
  • Finally, it’s important for students to remember that studying abroad is an experience that will help you gain maturity, so why not start now with a mature and honest conversation with your parents? Parents, remember that college and studying abroad is supposed to build independence in your child, so why not encourage this new trait with the opportunity of studying abroad?

Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.

Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and studied abroad in London during the Spring of 2009.