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5 tips on how to prepare your kids for studying abroad

Julia Regul Singh, author and parent, shares 5 tips on how to inspire and prepare your kids to study abroad.
BY Julia Regul Singh |   14-10-2019

5 tips on how to prepare your kids for studying abroad

Do you want your children to study abroad one day? Here are 5 tips which will help you prepare them for this life-changing experience.

  1. Plant a Seed

    Even though my kids are only in Middle School, I keep talking about the possibility of them studying abroad in the future. When we vacation, I talk about how, one day, they might travel to study. At first, the conversations were pretty one sided. Questions like “Why don’t you consider spending some time in Spain next summer to improve your Spanish?” were answered with rolling eyes. But now I’m starting to see a slight change.

    Recently, when I mentioned a friend who, at thirteen, had moved to her aunt’s house in Mexico to learn Spanish, my son actually nodded and replied along the lines of “How cool!” That gave me a glimmer of hope.

    Food for thought: Your child might not be interested in spending time abroad - yet. Some kids might never feel the urge for it either. But, if you show that you are interested in sending them abroad, and bring up the topic now and then, it might spark curiosity about their options.

     
  2. Inspire your Child

    As a teenager, I thought I had no talent for learning languages. And, I was not eager to try, especially since I had a tough time excelling in my own language (German) in school. My teachers encouraged me to focus on science and advanced math to guarantee academic success. So, spending time abroad was not at all interesting to me.

    This changed when my parents travelled to the US with my brother and I. They took every opportunity to connect with the locals wherever we went. For example, they would invite campground neighbors over for a chat, seek help when our car broke down, chat with people at the grocery store, or ask for tips on the best restaurants, shops, etc.

    My dad made a valid point: “I have an accent and I constantly look up words, but to them it doesn’t matter because they don’t speak German and they are impressed that I am trying. You learn from each other, you connect. Even if I make mistakes, we still understand each other, laugh about it, and next time I will do better. That the best way to learn a language.”

    The point is, by being an example and not being afraid to use your language skills, respecting other cultures, and exposing them to all kinds of people, you might spark an interest in your child, that she/he didn’t know existed. 


    Food for thought: In a world where options are many, for students to do something that is not part of their usual academic path they might need motivation from you. It’s daring to make mistakes, to try something new outside one’s comfort zone, and go beyond one’s skill sets and talents; and that’s where parents can lead by example.

     
  3. Test it Out

    Sending your child abroad for an entire semester or schoolyear is daring, especially when they are still young. Maybe, a safe way to preview the experience is to consider a short-term program that is closer to home.

    When I was in the eighth grade my school organized a two-week class-trip to England. Unlike on other school trips, our class was not accommodated in one hostel or hotel. Instead we were matched with a student from our partner school. Although travels, sight-seeing and a few classes were organized during the trip, we also got to spend time alone with the host family and partner student. So instead of having to deal with language learning, culture shock, and managing my own affairs for the entire two-week trip, I had the safety net of my classmates, and teachers. This experience inspired me to apply for a one-year high school exchange program to the US two years later.

    Food for thought: As with many things - practice makes perfect! When you start small, big isn’t so scary! For your child, and for you, some ways to get study abroad ready could include the following:

    • Many schools nowadays offer trips abroad - as class trips organized by the school or in cooperation with a partner abroad. If your child is not eager to travel alone or you as a parent don’t want to fully let go yet, sending them in a group with classmates and under supervision of a trusted teacher is a great option. This will allow them to experience another culture, learn another language, and spark interest in study abroad programs later on.
       
    • Consider educational programs like camps, language classes, or internship for a few weeks during your child’s summer or school breaks before signing up for longer programs.
       
    • If this is an option, think about exposing your child to another culture by encouraging him/her to spend school breaks with relatives or friends abroad.

     
  4. Raise them to be independent

    Wanting your child to study abroad is one thing, but what happens when they actually go abroad? Some parents hope sending their kids abroad will nurture independence, while other parents worry that their kids will not know how to deal with it.

    It’s important to remember that you will not be there in person to see how your child manages - and that’s ok! Learning to function independently is just as important a part of the study abroad experience as language learning and cultural exposure.

    During a one-year study abroad program in graduate school, I found myself alone in NYC. Separated by a time difference, expensive phone calls (pre-internet calling), and an eight-hour flight to that familiar network of family and friends, I started the semester at Columbia University struggling with my newfound independence.

    I hated the fact that I couldn’t ask my parents what to do. I was frustrated that I lacked the right vocabulary to understand the class syllabus without a dictionary at hand.  I felt insecure doing things on my own that usually my parents took care of, like opening my own bank account, or making the right choices with regards to housing. Turns out, most of the things weren’t as difficult as I thought they would be. But, solving them by myself, gave me a huge amount of confidence.

    So, it is essential to slowly push your children to be independent by letting them take charge of their own matters. You can start with small steps: letting them organize their free time, packing their school bag, making them help around the house and so on.

     
  5. Trust them

    Times are different today, but when I was growing up, my parents trusted me to take public transportation to school by myself, leaving me in charge of my brother when they stepped out to run errands, or go to the local store for groceries. They gave me money to buy things and they trusted me to return with the correct change. The more they trusted me to take care of my business, the more confidence I gained to do my best. And if I got stuck, I wasn’t worried to ask for help.

    And it was knowing that I had my parents’ trust that inspired me to make the most of my study abroad experiences. Trust me that your faith in your child will inspire him or her too!

    Practical tips for parents:


    • Encourage your kids to take care of schoolwork independently - (e.g. packing own school bag, doing homework on time and without much help, scheduling work plan). Missing deadlines or forgetting a text book is part of the learning.
       
    • Let them organize their free time - as much as possible, e.g. scheduling time for homework, choosing and planning their afterschool programs, organizing play dates - whatever age appropriate. Involve them in their birthday party planning – e.g. write invitations, give them a budget to work within, let them choose the return gifts, help decorate and cook for the party.  If they choose a task and don’t like it, let them come up with a solution, and resolve it.
       
    • Make them help around the house -  e.g. assign age appropriate chores, engage them in meal preparations, and let them pack their own suitcases for vacation. Once they are older, they can take care of their own laundry and maybe run errands. 
       
    • Teach them about mental health - encourage them to spend time on their own (e.g. reading, listening to music, writing journals); connect with them about their thoughts, feelings, plans;  show them how you take care of yourself and share with them the importance of self-care and balance in life.
       
    • Teach them about failure -  Basically, to gain new skills, every child (and adults as well) will need to realize the road to success will include failure at some point of time. Instead of avoiding it, children should learn how to make the best out of it, learn from it, and take responsibility for it - but eventually overcome it. Studying in a new setting will include challenges – better to be prepared than to be scared off by them.


     

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Julia Regul Singh has a master’s degree in urban planning and urban design from the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (Germany) and a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Bayreuth (Germany). Julia attended Columbia University as part of her masters on a scholarship from the German government. After graduating, she worked as an Urban Planner and Urban Designer in Germany and New York City before turning her hand to writing.

In 2010, the Urban Crayon Press published her first book - Boris the Bench. In 2015, her novel Leap of Faith was published by Rupa Publications. Julia currently splits her time between New York City, New Delhi and Bielefeld.

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