Preparing Your College Student for Travel Abroad
6 tips that will make the journey better for you and your child
International study abroad programs have become popular among college students. The number of students studying overseas has more than tripled over the past two decades. From 2012 to 2013, 289,409 American students packed their bags for an extended stay abroad.
No doubt having your child thousands of miles away from you can be stressful — especially with increasing global incidents of social unrest. But there are a handful of practical things you can do in advance that will help your child more easily navigate a foreign country, while also giving you peace of mind about his safety and well-being.
Have your child see his doc. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends students visit their doctor four to six weeks prior to departure. Depending on the destination, certain vaccinations may be required or recommended. For example, for travel to Guatemala, vaccinations against hepatitis, rabies and typhoid are suggested. If your child takes a prescribed medication daily, you will want to get enough refills to last throughout the stay.
Use the doctor’s visit as an opportunity to remind your child about simple things she can do to stay well while traveling, including good hand hygiene, dressing appropriately in inclement weather, being cautious about eating foods that are unfamiliar (particularly if allergies are an issue) and drinking bottled beverages rather than tap water in areas where travelers’ diarrhea is a concern.
Copy important docs. Make copies of your child’s passport, driver’s license, health insurance card, credit cards and bank information. Keep a set at home, and give a set to your child to take in case the originals are lost or stolen. If your child plans to use a credit or debit card overseas, notify the card issuer or bank a few days prior to departure. This will avoid a hold being placed on the account due to suspected fraud.
Make an agreement about communication. Decide in advance how often and when you and your child will communicate. (Hint: Prior to you child’s departure, call your wireless carrier to discuss international calling and data plans to avoid unexpected charges). Rachael Siegel-Berele, a junior at Elon University in North Carolina, kept a blog during her three-month stay at Manipal University in India last fall. “It was very helpful for my parents to keep up on what I was doing throughout the semester,” she said. Of course, blogging may not be for everyone. But brief email updates are another option, as is Skyping. “We also decided on a set time and day to Skype that worked with both our schedules,” she adds.
Download a translation app. There are many free or inexpensive translation apps that can help students and their parents become familiar with a foreign language. For the traveler, not having to struggle to ask for a check or find the nearest restroom can definitely help ease anxiety. Parents can also bone up on the language so they can translate their child’s text when it says: Avendo un gran tempo! (Italian for “Having a great time!”)
Highlight the importance of taking personal responsibility for safety. “We believe that the students who are most successful abroad are those who assume personal responsibility for their safety,” said Courtney Greene, senior vice president of student and university relations at Academic Programs International, a study abroad organization founded in 1997. “Proactively discussing potentially dangerous situations, such as drinking too much and being left behind by friends, can help students make better decisions when encountering hard situations abroad.”
Encourage your child to follow the safety recommendations provided by the school or program for international students. “There is an anonymity factor that may cause students to be more daring and adventurous while abroad,” says Greene.
Ultimately it comes down to making good decisions. “Regardless of the destination, let your child know that making wise personal choices tends to be the number one factor in staying safe,” she says. This might mean your child choosing to pay for a taxi when returning home late at night or deciding not to consume alcohol to excess.
Insist on itinerary updates. Knowing where your child is throughout the trip provides a sense of comfort.. But tell her there are also practical reasons for needing to know her whereabouts — namely, being able to track her down if necessary and to make her aware of any safety concerns that might affect her. “If your student is traveling for the weekend, make sure you have a means of contacting him, and that you know where he is staying and with whom he is traveling,” says Greene.
Diana's son, Alex, is currently studying at the University of Seville in Spain.