Talking To Parents About Study Abroad

By Makena Sage, API Peer Mentor, Buenos Aires

You can’t wait to study abroad. You’ve picked out the place, the program, and even started mentally packing your suitcase! There’s just one thing left to do before you can apply: tell your parents. I can practically see the fear on your face as you read this. But don’t worry! I know it can be scary to think about telling your mom and dad you want to spend 4-12 months in another country, but there are ways you can approach this so they too will see what a great opportunity it is for you (and no, sneaking out in the middle of the night is not an option).

Whether you’ve already told them (and are looking for ways to deal with their concerns) or you have yet to bring it up at all, the following tips will help you navigate these uncertain waters like the calm and collected world traveler you are.

Tip #1: Broach the Topic Slowly

In other words, put out “feelers” before you jump right into telling your parents about your big plan. Start by asking them about their travel experiences, or whether they ever wish they had spent time abroad (if you know they haven’t). You could also strike up a discussion about your Aunt Mary’s trip to Greece last year, or how your friends are all thinking about studying abroad. You know your parents better than I do, so it’s up to you to decide on the best approach. The important thing is to get a sense of their feelings about travel and the idea of study abroad in general before you ask them directly if they’re cool with you spending months in a foreign country.

Tip #2: Focus on the Benefits of Study Abroad

A lot of people – possibly your parents included – don’t know that much about study abroad. Their current opinion is probably based on little bits and pieces they’ve heard or read about. It’s important that you give your parents as much information as possible about what it’s really like to study abroad. Focusing on the benefits may help you make your case. For example, will you be learning a foreign language? Study abroad has been known to help people become closer to fluency in as little as a semester, due to the fact that you’re completely immersed in the language on a daily basis. This and the other experiences you have abroad are vital to helping you compete in an increasingly global job market. You may even want to bring some statistics or articles to back up your proposal.

Tip #3: Reassure Them You’ll Be Safe

Whether or not they admit it, safety is most parents number one concern when it comes to their child studying abroad. Rather than belittling your parents for worrying too much, assure them that you understand where they are coming from. Then provide them with information that will make them more comfortable about the idea. A simple Google search on safety in your country of choice may bring up some reassuring information and statistics. If that doesn’t work, try contacting your program provider. They have likely done extensive research on the topic and can give you some resources to show your parents. The truth is that many popular study abroad locations are at least as safe as any major U.S. city (if not safer). And even if there are safety concerns, your study abroad program will take every precaution to prepare you so that you can avoid/deal with them if or when they arise.

Tip #4: Promise to Help with Funding

Another major concern most parents have when it comes to study abroad is how you (or they) will pay for it. The good news is study abroad can actually be less expensive than studying at your home institution! This will vary widely by University, so the first step is always to set up an appointment with your school’s study abroad office. They will be able to tell you what your program options are and how the school handles paying for study abroad. When I went abroad, I paid the regular cost of tuition and room, but didn’t have to pay for a meal plan, even though breakfast and dinner with my host family were included in my program. Best of all, my financial aid transferred too! I applied for, and received, a Gilman scholarship for study abroad as well, which covered the cost of other meals, travel, etc. So essentially, I went abroad for free, or less than I would have spent had I stayed in the U.S. for the semester.

If it turns out that you will have to pay for some aspects of study abroad, or for some reason it’s more expensive than a regular semester would be, then it’s up to you to help your parents pay for the experience. Set up a plan to save money in the months leading up to your departure. Apply for scholarships through your school (if available) and online. Create a budget for how much money you’ll need for day-to-day expenses, shopping, and any trips you want to take and then make an agreement with your parents as to who will pay for what. When you show them you can take responsibility in this way, they will feel much more comfortable sending you off to a foreign country for several months.

Tip #5: Make a Plan to Keep in Touch

A few decades ago it would have been very difficult to keep in touch with loved ones if you studied abroad. Long letters and expensive long-distance phone calls were really the only options. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. Modern technology has made face-to-face conversations and instant written communication and photo sharing a reality. And best of all, it’s free! If you’re not already familiar with Skype, it is going to become your new best friend. This free software allows you to video chat for free with other users from anywhere in the world. Family not that tech-savvy? You can also purchase Skype credit to make calls through your laptop to phones for very reasonable (a few cents a minute) prices.

Another great option for keeping your friends and family updated while you’re abroad is to start a blog. Sites like WordPress and Tumblr are easy to set up and use. Instead of writing long individual emails to family and friends back home, you can just send them the link to your blog so they can follow your adventures from afar. Here’s an example of the study abroad blog I kept when I was in Argentina.

When it comes down to it, your parents just want what’s best for you. Armed with these tips and a lifetime of experience convincing your parents to let you do what you want (let’s be honest, we’re all “guilty” of this), you are sure to win them over to the idea of letting you study abroad. In fact, they may even become as excited about it as you are! Which means you can break out your real suitcase and start finalizing those plans. The adventure of a lifetime awaits.

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  1. haha, that looks like a pretty big thing. believe me, most of parent, despite being worried, are happy that you can learn nex things, cultures etc.

  2. well, there are some parents that are happy to get rid of their kids for some time 😉

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