The Parent’s Perspective in Regards to Studying Abroad – Part 1

By Paula Wethington

I’ve often been asked, as a mom, “What’s it like to send your daughter overseas?’

Here’s why the question comes up: My daughter, Karolyn Wojtowicz, now 22 years old, has been on three overseas trips.

She was a student ambassador to our city’s sister city in Japan the summer between her junior and senior year in high schools. She spent a semester in South Africa while she was an undergrad at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind. Most recently, her duties as a graduate assistant at William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, included coordinating a student trip to Rwanda.

To answer the frequently asked question: my daughter has been interested in study abroad, international countries and other languages since she was in fourth grade. We expected she would travel overseas at some point. It was just a matter of when and where.

I was actually more nervous for a domestic trip than for her international ones. That travel involved attending a conference on behalf of a volunteer board she served on while in high school. It was her first flight, not just her first time traveling alone. She would meet the program staff and other volunteers upon arrival. As you might imagine, I asked a lot of questions to the staff on the phone before that travel took place.

This was also at a time when travelers were still adjusting to the new security rules and restrictions at the airports. I requested a waiver at the ticket counter to be permitted, as a parent, to escort my minor daughter to the gate and wait with her. It was granted.

In comparison, my daughter’s first overseas travel a short time later was not so worrisome. She was among a group of adults and high school students headed to Japan, all of whom I had met in the weeks leading up to the trip.

The study abroad semester to South Africa involved more family logistics since she would be away for five months.

There wasn’t much I could do in preparation for the Rwanda trip. But at that point, my daughter was an expert traveler and my role was to admire her photography skills and listen the stories when she returned!

If you are a parent who is wondering whether to send or encourage your student to travel overseas, I would say overall, yes, this is a good idea. No matter what career field or workplace your student plans to go into, he or she will meet co-workers or customers who are from other countries and cultures. Some first-hand experience as to what it is like to be in unfamiliar region or hearing a different language in everyday conversation will be helpful in understanding how to relate and work with people who are new to the United States.

The decision as to whether this is a good idea for your student really involves whether he or she is mature enough to follow directions from the chaperones or instructors, can understand that other countries have different expectations of appropriate behavior and attire than are seen in the U.S, and has a genuine interest in learning about people and other cultures.

Paula Wethington lives in Monroe, Mich., where she is a reporter and frugal living / personal finance columnist and blogger for The Monroe Evening News.

 (Look for part 2 of this post tomorrow morning!)