STEP 3: HELPING YOUR CHILD MAKE THE MOST OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPEREINCE
Staying in Touch: Creating Your Family's Communications Plan
Many of today's students (and parents) are used to the wonderful convenience of 24/7, instant communications available through cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, etc. (And now there is VoIP that lets you make calls through your computer, sometimes for free.) While these forms of instant communication are invaluable, especially in emergency situations, allowing us to stay in touch with our children, they can have an unfortunate effect on students' ability to become fully immersed in a foreign culture.
It's important to talk with your child about how, and how often, you will communicate with each other while he is abroad so that you will not worry, and he will not be overly focused on matters at home. Most study abroad advisers encourage students to touch base with their parents as soon as possible after they have arrived in their new location, to assure them that they have safely arrived and are settled in. After that it's best to maintain regular but not overly frequent communication with them, and to find ways to use your communications to support and encourage their immersion into the culture rather than distracting them from it. It's not a bad idea to have a prearranged system for getting in touch with each other in the case of a national or international emergency or communications breakdown: for example. Designated relatives or close family friends to call in the U.S. and if possible, in the part of the world where she is staying in the event you have trouble contacting each other.
The cost of telephone communications is usually less expensive when calling from the U.S than from abroad. Check with your long-distance telephone provider to see if they have an international plan: you may want to have it activated during the period your child is abroad. (Ask if there are higher rates for making calls to a cell phone.) In most places, international calling cards purchased abroad offer the best value and greatest convenience for students calling home. Cell phones are a mixed blessing: some programs offer them to all student participants. In other programs, they are strongly discouraged and/or may be prohibitively expensive to use. In any case, overuse of cell phone communication with family and friends at home is one major way of undermining the intercultural experience your child is seeking to gain in studying abroad.
If your child is busy and fully engaged in the study abroad experience, he will have less time to spend e-mailing or calling you and his friends back home. (It may also be a fairly costly expense to be online while abroad, or the Internet may not be easily accessible.) This is a positive thing, and should be viewed as such by you. Encourage your child to communicate with you when she can, and to tell you about all the new sights she is seeing and things she is learning. This will help her make the most of her experience abroad.