By: Betsy McAlister
Preparing your son or daughter to study abroad is an exciting time. Vicariously, you get to imagine places they will visit, ponder how classes in a foreign country will be taught and think about practical items such as how will they eat and get around campus. You probably will have many discussions around safety, alcohol, money management, traveling and emergencies. You aren’t sending them off as a freshman and yet the experience may feel similar.
Watching our daughter board a plane to Glasgow, Scotland, I remember thinking hey she is going to a foreign country without me. We had a comfortable routine at Gonzaga when we would talk each week and touch base as needed in between times. But now that routine would change and I had to trust we were both ready; letting go further was a new experience for me. I do remember nervously placing my cell phone next to my bed, which I never do, waiting to receive texts when she arrived at her destination. After a text about 2 am letting me know she was in Iceland and on her way to Glasgow, I knew it was time to let go further.
Each family needs to set up communication and decide what makes them feel comfortable. For us, we decided to Skype every 2 weeks. If the time needed to change, we would text and figure out an alternate time. Smart phones were helpful, but I realized as I was getting up for my day, my daughter’s day was ending. We did at times need to reach her, and decided even difficult topics had to be managed over email. Not ideal but it worked for us. When our daughter needed to reach out to us, we let her take the lead and contact us. I clearly remember the emergency information card given to students from Gonzaga in which contact your family member was listed third. What call me third? Yet this helped me to realize my daughter would naturally turn to others for support. I was taking a new role in my daughter’s life and realized other people would be available should she need them.
At Christmas time when Maggie emerged from customs and was back in Washington State, we sighed a big sigh of relief. My husband and I looked at each other and said “we survived study abroad.” Even though we never left Washington, we too learned a lot.