On this #TravelTuesday, former Aspect student, Olivia, shares a Q&A session her parents participated in on studying abroad. Their responses provide an honest and helpful viewpoint for overcoming parental concerns and how to encourage your child to have an educational, unforgettable exchange year!
What were your first thoughts when Olivia said she wanted to study abroad?
It wasn’t surprising to us that Olivia wanted to experience what it was like to live and study in another country firsthand. We were fortunate to have had opportunities to travel as a family when her dad had business meetings all around our country where we would join him. What was surprising was when she expressed this desire in her freshman year of high school! So young! As you might expect, we were not prepared to send our daughter anywhere unless it was to visit family. She was disappointed of course but not deterred.
It was in her junior year when she presented us with compelling reasons and well-researched facts as to why this would have a profound and positive impact on her back then and in the future. Some of her points included how positive it would look on her college applications, her ability to experience living away from home before her first year of living in a dorm on a college campus, the ability to learn a language firsthand, as well as exposure to a country’s monetary system, schooling, family values, government, and transportation just to name a few. It was very clear to us that she was prepared to take on this journey. While we respected and admired her research and presentation of worthy reasons to study abroad, we couldn’t escape the fact she was asking to be far away, in a country where she might not speak the language. How would we know if she was safe?
What were your biggest concerns?
There were so many concerns. There were the normal concerns that we would have had even if she was living at home like wearing her seat belt and doing her homework, feeling peer pressure, being isolated, becoming ill or needing emergency medical attention. Then there was the anxiety surrounding the unstable world in which we live. Could we get to her quickly or bring her home? How does one do that being so many miles and continent(s) away – with a possible language barrier on top of it all! What would the “actual cost” be? What if she wasn’t in a safe home or the host family wasn’t invested in her well being and it ended up being a terrible experience? Why was she so anxious to go? Did she not feel like she fit in at her school? Was it best to do a whole year or half a year? This was her senior year. How would she feel when she came back to her school and friends?
What calmed those nerves?
We never really doubted Olivia’s ability to navigate the traveling component as she had traveled often with us and she is a natural problem solver who does her research. Even if she didn’t, we knew that it is easier than ever to get around in our society and people tend to be helpful and many people speak English. She did 90% of the work and that was important to us. She obviously really wanted to do this.
How did Aspect help to calm those nerves?
Even though Aspect wasn’t the biggest organization or the most well known, they stood out as they took a real interest in learning about Olivia’s interests, strengths, what the might obstacles be, her maturity level, and personality type. They did this through an extensive questionnaire that both we and Olivia had to complete. The coordinator spoke with us not once, but several times. They were great about talking to Olivia and “hearing” what her goals and expectations were. They did this better than some of the other programs we looked at. We felt Aspect was invested in Olivia’s well being and giving her a safe and rewarding experience.
How did you prepare for Olivia leaving?
One way we prepared for her departure was anytime we had questions or concerns, we knew we could reach out to our coordinator at Aspect. They got back to us immediately and they were able to spend whatever time we needed to help us prepare. We tried to anticipate what Olivia’s needs might be. How were we going to adjust to her not being at home? It was really beneficial when we talked to other families whose children studied abroad. We also talked to families in our community who hosted high school kids from other countries to understand what that side of the experience was like for them. We also spoke to kids that went abroad and learned the advice they would give to Olivia.
How were you able to help her while she was abroad?
We supported her in similar ways as what families do when their kids go off to college. We would send letters, cards, and care packages to Olivia and her host family. We Skyped on a regular basis. When she was homesick or having a rough couple of days, we reassured her that she made the right decision and that she would succeed. We never let her forget that she was loved and would be ok.
How did you help her readjust when she was back in the US?
We felt it was important to get back into a routine as soon as possible. We also made sure she reconnected with her friends and family right away. It was important for her to share her experience to help others that wanted to go abroad. Coming back could be just as hard as going and we tried to make sure we were available to her when she needed us. We also found it was helpful to talk about her feelings and what healthy coping tools she could use if needed.
What changes did you see in Olivia after the semester was over?
The fact that she had the desire and motivation to do this and that she succeeded gave her an air of confidence that would not have been there otherwise. She wanted to experience more countries and cultures. She had a better appreciation for what she had here, and not just in a materialistic way. It was in her relationships, her views of our government, what worked well in her host country and what didn’t. She found her voice in many ways when it came to being able to discuss world events. She loved that she met some really wonderful people and how she would light up when she told stories about them. Many of them are good friends to this day. There were times when she was abroad that it wasn’t all fun and that she missed her family, friends, and the way we do things in our country. That said, she learned how to deal and cope and came home stronger and a more confident person. She also showed more empathy after her return. Finally, Olivia could see situations from different points of view which was a direct result of being exposed to a different culture. She learned that not everyone likes Americans and wanted to help change that perception.
Was it worth it?
It was worth it because it made a young mind grow intellectually and personally as only living abroad can. It gave her a chance to say “I did it”. It provided the opportunity to take risks and to learn from successes as well as how to cope with setbacks. Aspect was fair in how much they charged for their program and what they provided. Most other programs charged a lot more for the same type of program. It was also worth it because she is still active with Aspect Foundation and enjoys the people there!
Make 2019 the year of adventure!
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