Below you’ll find a guest blog that Bob Bessette, the father of a rising senior at Bowdoin College in Maine, wrote. This post first appeared on my college blog in December when Bessette’s daughter was finishing up her semester abroad in Ireland.
I am rerunning this blog post primarily because my own son Ben, who is a rising junior at Beloit College, will be heading overseas in less than a month. Ben will be participating in a semester-abroad math program that is offered by St. Olaf College.
Here is the advice from Bob who writes his own blog at TotallyUniqueLife:
Studying Abroad 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.