Your Child is Overseas, Now What?

by Mariel Tavakoli

After all the research, the preparation, the packing, the tearful goodbye (mostly on your end), your child has finally arrived in their destination abroad and you may what? It might be tempting to hang around the phone, send messages over every form of communication, constantly check the news in whatever country, and spend each waking moment worrying about the whereabouts of your son or daughter. However, this is unnecessary.

Yes, your child is overseas, which means that they are embarking on a unique experience that will challenge and shape them. Whether studying, volunteering, teaching, or just plain adventuring, your child is rushing headlong into a learning experience that they’ll continue to unpack in the years to come.

Man looking at a phone and laptop computer
Try not to helicopter parent, pick a time to check in and stick to that schedule.

Here are several ways that parents can join their kids on the journey, without stifling the opportunity for growth that international travel can provide:

1. Choose a Means of Communication

Skype, email, Facebook, international phone plans, Twitter, blogs, Whatsapp, Viber...the list of apps and other forms of keeping in touch across international borders goes on and on. While your child may be familiar with some or all of these platforms, that does not mean that they need to be contacted on all of them. Before you and your child part, decide on one or two of these systems that you will use together and prioritize to check for new messages. If your child does not respond to your outreach on the chosen platform, you can then rest assured that it is likely they did not have access or WIFI, rather than feel the need to send multiple messages in every manner possible.

Don’t plan on talking to your kid every. single. day. while they’re traveling. It can be tempting, especially with the proliferation of smartphones and pocket internet, but it can actually detract from your child’s ability to succeed rather than elevate it. It can make your child feel more homesick, less invested in their experiences, and more detached from their life abroad. - American Gap Association.

2. Agree on a Time to Talk

Another way to prevent agitation over communication is to set a time that you and your child will talk. Maybe it’s every morning, every Tuesday, or every other week. Choosing a time together will allow you and your child to set expectations of when and how often you will be in touch. As your child will be soaking up every opportunity abroad, it will not help either of you to be constantly hanging around a phone or computer.

Be advised that it is best to decide on this schedule after your child arrives and is settled with their program, as class schedules and travel plans are subject to change. Remember to be considerate of the time change and availability of WiFi or phone service, which may be different between where they are overseas and your home. While your schedule is a best practice, both parent and student must be flexible.

At the end of the day, communication is key; even if that means communicating about communicating! 

Girl with a backpack walking through busy streets
You can’t go with them everywhere, but you can and should keep up with them on the reg!

3. If Possible, Keep in Touch with their Program Organizer

Nowadays, many programs abroad are actively involved with documenting participants when in-program and involving parents with what is going on with their children abroad. Parents can now stay in touch with a child’s in-country activity via email newsletters, Facebook pages, Twitter, or even instant photo and video updates on Snapchat. When selecting a program, be sure to check out their current social media platforms to get a feel for how to stay updated once your child is abroad. 

Lisette Miranda, CEO of PINC International, started a program on Snapchat to give both parents and prospective program participants an up-close look at day-to-day life with a PINC program. According to Miranda,

It’s our primary job as program providers to ensure parents that their children are safe and this investment is worthwhile. Once parents are on board though, we’ve noticed how supportive and encouraging they are of their children to make the most of their time abroad.

Find unique ways to stay in-the-loop about what’s happening on the ground without overbearing your student!

4. Discuss Budgeting

It may be hard to connect with the experience your child is having across time and space, however one topic where a parent can provide practical guidance is regarding maintaining a healthy budget. With millions of new opportunities to travel in a new country and region, young adults may lose perspective of financial smarts, especially when navigating foreign currencies. 

In addition to setting strict limits on spending, parents can provide helpful reminders to spend wisely and choose economical experiences that balance cost and fun. Decide on a budget before your child goes overseas and then follow-up to check on this agreement as your child continues with their program.

Have a prior plan in place for if (*cough* - when) your child asks for a bit more cash to cover their end-of-semester expenses. What are expectations? Will it need to be repaid? Will it come out of their normal allowance? Establishing clarity of consequences (good and bad) will also motivate your child to stay on top of their travel funds.

Piggy bank
Discuss budgeting with your child, and make sure they stick to it as closely as they can.

5. Be Supportive

Living, studying, and working overseas presents an enormous challenge that both you and your child will be confronting in different ways throughout the duration of their time abroad. While every moment provides an opportunity for adventure, learning and wonder, your child may also experience culture shock, homesickness, or loneliness in new forms, as they navigate an entirely new environment. It may be hard to bear the separation during these spells, when distance makes rushing in to “fix” the problem impossible. Do your best to balance emotional support and creative problem solving without providing solutions or suggesting they hop on the next plane home.

On the other hand, it may also be hard to remain engaged as your child shares their enthusiasm about their numerous novel and exciting experiences. Stories of elephant sightings and missed train connections might seem ridiculously exciting as you stir the bowl of pasta on the stove. While comparison is no one’s friend, it’s okay to have these feelings and a little FOMO, acknowledge them, and to explore them, too.

Remember: this is a learning experience for all involved!

Through the bad and the good, your child will appreciate your unconditional support as they navigate new highs and lows overseas. 

6. Listen

There are many ways to be supportive, however one key way that your child will be sure to appreciate is if their parents listen. Living abroad is an amazing opportunity that in some way, big or small, will have a lasting effect on your child. As they process each experience, accompanied by people who they have not known for much time, they may turn to you to talk out what is happening, what they are seeing and what they are feeling. Try not to disregard their experience or cut them off after hearing the 100th story of what food they ate or another tale about a weekend trip to a new city. Instead, listen and give them the space to talk it out. Your child may be embarking on a new journey without you, but you can still join them.

Passenger looking out the window of an airplane
A little separation anxiety is just part of the process of having a kid with wild wanderlust.

7. Have a Drink!

Okay, so you don’t technically need to imbibe if it’s not your go-to relaxation technique. As a parent with a kid abroad, especially in places you’ve never been or know little about, it can be stressful. You can’t spend the next few weeks (or months…or years!) squabbling in peril. So take a load off. Do some yoga, go for a run, delete all of the dumb shows your kid has recorded and replace them with your favorites. Try to find some “me” time amidst this stage of life, including healthy ways to deal with your stress or sadness at the situation. Empty nest syndrome is real, and is just as much a transition for you as is the transition your child is facing abroad.

The time may fly by, or the time your child is overseas may feel like a never-ending separation. No matter the distance, parents play an integral role in fostering a positive experience abroad for their children.

How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your child while they are overseas?

Let us know in the comments below!