10 Terrific Tips for When Your Child Is Studying Abroad
by Carol White Llewellyn
My twin daughters left for Europe in mid-January – one for Sweden, the other for Italy – and I already feel like a pro in knowing the “dos and don’ts” for parents.
Both of my daughters had travel “adventures” getting to their destinations, and within three days of landing, one of my daughters had had her new wallet stolen, including driver’s license, cash, credit card, and debit card. So the following advice comes with a dose of hard-won experience on both her and my part. I offer it, recognizing that you want to walk a fine line between encouraging your child's independence and making sure you're there to encourage and support them, should he or she need your assistance. I also include some ideas so you can share in their adventures as well!
- Host Family - If your chilid is staying with a host family and learns who they are, in advance. social media makes it easy to connect. Danielle's host Mother received her information in advance and reached out to us before she left. Over the two-week pre-departure time, we communicated through Facebook and email, and we even chatted through Facebook Messenger, so we all felt like friends even before my daughter left! Although we generally use Messenger for texting and calls, there are a number of other great apps, such as Whatsapp that uses the internet for communication, making it easy and no more expensive than cell service to communicate. Great gift ideas for the Host Family are "light and local." Consider a scarf or piece of jewelry made locally, a t-shirt from a favorite attraction, or the local team's baseball cap. My daughters, who left in January, each chose to take a calendar with local landmarks and one of their favorite card games to share with their family.
- Foreign Currency – With the advent of debit cards, it is no longer advised to take travelers checks or large sums of currency overseas. However, it is wise to have some currency when you debark the plane. Have your child order enough from your bank or currency exchange (some banks and credit unions don’t handle currency exchange) to have a bit to carry around, and about $50-$60 to store safely at the residence, in case of emergency.
- Debit Card/Bank Account – I had opened a joint account for each of my daughters years ago. For my daughter who went to Italy, in order to get her Italian Visa, only her name could be on her bank account, so I had to be taken off the account. Before she left, we put my name back on the account, and thank goodness we did! If the account had not been joint, I may not have been able to help her in closing the account or in getting a new card, which I expedited to her. I strongly recommend that a parent’s or guardian’s name also be on the account in case of emergency.
- Credit Card – Prior to departure, each of my daughters applied for and got a credit card in case of emergency. To make sure you can assist should an emergency arise, I advise having the parent as either a co-signer on the card, or making your child a designated user on one of your cards. Either way they are building their credit for the future, when they may want to buy a car or take out a loan.
- Health Insurance – Be sure your insurance carrier will cover your child’s claims while abroad. If they won’t, investigate what insurance company your child’s school recommends for overseas travel, and do so well in advance of the travel date.
- Medications – Medications cannot be shipped overseas, so in order to get your insurance company to cover a multi-month supply, get a letter from your child’s school to submit to the insurance company attesting to the dates your child will be abroad. Medications must be packed in their original containers, and your child will want to pack them in their carry-on luggage.
- Copies – Have your child make at least two copies of his/her passport, visa, and the front and back of his or her credit and debit cards. Retain one, and advise your child to leave one copy at his/her place of residence. In the event of an emergency, you'll each have access to the information to cancel cards or call the bank if there's an issue. In addition, scan the documents and turn them into pdfs that can be stored on a safe site, such as LastPass, so that you can access them or forward them from anywhere, at anytime.
- ATM – When withdrawing money from an ATM, remind your child to block the passcode from sight with his or her body or hand. Our bank office told of a client who had used an ATM, been “shoulder surfed” without his knowledge, and had then put the card into the pocket of his cargo pants. The thief lifted the card, and because he’d also gotten the code, was able to empty the account before the card could be cancelled.
- Carrying Cards and Cash – RFID (“radio-frequency identification” that can block the capture of digital data) wallets carried in a handbag with a lock or an inside pocket, fanny pack or front pouch are a wise way to carry cards and cash. There are a lot of great travel accessories on ebag.com and other travel sites, and they are well worth the investment, for peace of mind.
- Sharing in their Adventures - If it works out, a great way to share in their travels is to visit toward the end of the semester to experience the country and people through their eyes, with your son or daughter as expert tour guide. If the stars don't align for a visit, exchanging photos, video, Facebook, or Instagram posts, and instant messaging are great ways to feel part of their journey and for them to feel less far from home. You'd be surprised what a heartfelt response a short video or photo of your cute pet will elicit from them!
So, congratulations! As the parent of a student looking forward to overseas study, you should be proud that you’ve raised a child who is a global citizen with a sense of adventure and curiosity. This time studying abroad will probably be one of the most transformational times of his or her life, and you can take pride in the fact that you have given him or her the opportunity, the courage and the self-confidence to fly!
P.S. My daughters are both having the times of their lives!
Photos from Rochester's newly renovated airport: Top - Nicole on her way to Italy, Bottom - Danielle on her way to Sweden
Carol White Llewellyn is Editor of BeyondTheNest.com and the host and producer of Conversations with Creatives, a cable and online TV program that explores the arts and celebrates artists and their work.