Studying Abroad Expands Horizons

By Margery Gianopoulos, Courier & Press, April 21, 2015 – Is your college student thinking about studying abroad? My daughter left in January to study in Greece for the spring semester. From the very beginning her dad and I were very supportive. We knew what a great experience it would be and loved the idea that she would be in Greece where we still have family and her grandparents were born.

However, as the time got closer for her to leave, our fears kicked in. Would she be able to figure out how to get places? How would she do with the language? Would she make good choices? And most importantly — would she be safe?

As our daughter’s departure came closer, I found I was constantly talking to her about safety. With recent acts of terrorism taking place around the world, having our daughter that far away was frightening. Just as the movie “Jaws” made us leery of swimming in the ocean, the movie “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson, has heightened our concerns for students studying abroad.

Letting your children go and do things on their own is one of the healthiest things a parent can do. Whether it’s going down the slide at the playground when they are 3 or flying across the ocean to study as a young adult, trusting that it will be OK is incredibly important for both the parent and child.

Our daughter has grown so much in just the two short months she’s been gone. She has had experiences that will stay with her forever, and studying abroad has amazing benefits.

The Institute for the International Education of Students surveyed alumni from all of their study abroad programs from 1950-1999. No matter where the students went to study or the length of the program, the data shows that studying abroad is usually a defining moment in a young person’s life and continues to impact their life for years after the experience.

I feel I have grown as a parent, too. I still have concerns about her safety, but she has proved she makes good choices. Trusting that she can take care of herself is very rewarding. I am letting go of control, and that’s not easy, but I’m proud of myself for doing it. It helps that we text almost daily through Viber and connect on Facebook. Seeing her pictures makes me wish I was there to experience these things with her.

If you have a child who is interested in studying abroad, encourage them to do so. Here are some tips that might make letting go easier:

Keep in mind that violent crime is rare and the majority of study-abroad programs are incident free.

Have a communication plan. How often will you hear from them? Can you Skype or video-chat? Set a time each week when you will connect.

Ask your child to let you know their itinerary when they travel to other countries. Know who are they traveling with, and get the name and contact information of roommates and others in their program.

The advantages of our daughter studying abroad have definitely outweighed our fears. We are certainly anxious to see her again, hear her stories, and see the changes this experience has made in her.