For some students, one of the biggest challenges when you decide to study abroad isn’t getting accepted to the program of your dreams. Nope, it’s convincing your parents that your brilliant idea is in fact a good life decision. If your parent doesn’t have a lot of experience with this type of thing, the thought of seeing their little pumpkin head away from the homeland is a scary prospect. You need to be prepared for this and be ready to get them on board about how great of an idea this actually is. It’s your life, right? Prove to them that you’ve got it under control.
Be responsible in all aspects of your life
Ok, let’s be honest, if you’re trying to show your parents what a mature, young individual you are (who would no doubt thrive in an international setting), you’re going to need to demonstrate your basic competence on domestic soil. For example, getting good grades, helping your parents out, with chores, navigating from Point A to Point B successfully, and staying out of trouble with your RA are all a good place to start. If you can’t prove that you’re a capable human in your natural habitat, then odds are they won’t ever be thoroughly convinced that you can stay out of trouble during your time abroad. Show them that things like academic success, good budgeting, a nice, clean dorm room, and all of those other annoying aspects about their kids that adults like to brag about to their friends are visible. If you want them to treat you like a grown-up when you come to them all excited about studying abroad, then act like one.
Know your reasons why you want to go
Believe it or not, telling your parents you want to study abroad for reasons like “European accents are hot”, you “can’t wait to party every night in a Latin American discoteca”, or “because you want to pretend to be all ‘save-the-world-y’ like Angelina Jolie and ride elephants in Africa” are not in the top five reasons that parents like to see their kids go abroad. It’s important to make sure your parents know why your experience abroad will be beneficial for you and won’t just be a semester of partying. If we are to assume that your reasons run deeper, then you should really lay them all out for your parents. Why do you want to go on exchange? Is it to learn a new language (always a marketable quality), or to look better for future employers in this tough, tough economic climate? Tell them! If it’s about expanding your horizons; experiencing life, culture, and academia in a foreign country; and becoming a global citizen; tell them that too!
Having a sit-down, honest, and open conversation with the powers-that-be in your family will show them how serious you are. Explain to them why this country, or this language speaks to you (pun intended). And explain to them that, while this is obviously a great chance for you to really find yourself in this big, wide world, it’s also something that will make you stand out when you’re in the future job market. Don’t forget to tell them about all of the important skills you’ll acquire like independence, communication skills, and flexibility. Parents love that stuff!
Get a Job
Remember how we were just talking about acting like a grown-up? Well, here’s a great place to start. If you’re the one paying for this opportunity, it’s never too early to start figuring out all of those logistics. Even if you’re one of the very fortunate ones who have parents who are willing and able to help foot the cost of your time abroad, you should really consider pitching in. Getting a job (and/or keeping said job) is an excellent way to show you’re up for the commitment of a study abroad expedition. Of course, just working is not enough. Start saving that money for the various expenses you will undoubtedly encounter during your exchange. At the very least, if you’ve already know where the money for things like your ticket, tuition, and rent is coming from, then you’ll have some extra spending money for that quaint local restaurant or another trip to a new city when you’re abroad. Parents go gaga over their kids getting job and will start beaming at your newfound responsibility. They’ll also know that you’re willing to help contribute to the cost.
Present your parents with a financial plan
Speaking of those costs, you probably should have started considering them by now. If your parents are already skeptical about this whole thing, you are going to want to have a well thought-out plan of action before you approach them. Let’s talk budgets. First, how much will this all cost? This post has a nifty excel spreadsheet to help ya figure that out. And be honest. Factor in things like the flight, tuition, room and board. If you’re planning on doing some extra traveling, be sure to consider that now as well. While the number may be intimidating, you better face it now rather than later. Then figure out how you’re going to be paying for it. That job you just promised to get is a good start, but it’s also a great idea to apply for every scholarship you can find; never turn down money like that. If needed, students loans can be applied to study abroad as well. If you are fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to pitch in, be sure to include the part about how much you love them and how you’ll pay them back or make sure they know how eternally grateful you are.
Know Your Stuff
Make sure you know everything about the program that you plan on enrolling in, like:
• What types of classes will you be taking, and what language are the classes in?
• What type of university will you be attending, and in what type of housing will you be living?
• What is it about this country you’re heading to that you like, and how well do you need to know their language to succeed?
Parents like to freak out about the dangers in a foreign territory (especially if they’ve seen Taken) and must be reassured about your safety, so do your research and point them to this site so they can see what’s up. Explain to them the safety measures that you’ll take and prove that you’re smart enough to protect your belongings and avoid dangerous situations. Remind them that, just because you’ll be on the other side of the world, it is in fact going to be 2014 soon and it’s easier to keep in touch than ever. There’s Skype (which is free!), international phone plans, internet cafes, and countless other ways to assure them of your safety and prosperity.
If you don’t know something, show that you know who to speak to about it. This could be your program director, study abroad advisor, your current school’s or your new school’s website, and a plethora of online resources about your chosen country and just studying abroad in general. Parents can sense your weaknesses and tell if you’re bluffing, so make sure you have a solid plan. It’s not just for them; you’ll really want to know all of these things for your own benefit.
Some more points to work into your argument:
• Depending on the program and country you choose, studying in that country may be an equivalent, or ever lower, price as studying at your home institution.
• Emphasize that you’ll be studying abroad. That means that you’ll be receiving college credit that will be going towards your graduation requirements. If this isn’t going to be delaying your graduation date, throw that in too.
• Remind them again how great this is going to make you look in future job applications.
• Hey– your parents can come visit!
• Promise to Skype all of the time and that you’ll keep in touch way more than you ever did at your current college that’s only two hours away from home.
Set up a meeting with someone who’s been abroad
Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you have a family friend who is a bit older than you and who studied abroad, set up a meeting so your parents can ask them questions about their experience. It will help them feel better about things like safety, drinking, being a foreigner in a strange country, etc. Lay those success stories on thick and hopefully they’ll come around. Often colleges help set up meetings between you and other students from your school who have already done the program for which you’re applying. They also sometimes arrange them with a student from the country that you’re hoping to visit. Take advantage of these interactions to get all of your questions asked and answered.
What did you do to convince your parents to let you study abroad? Why are your parents worried about letting you go abroad? Give us some feedback in the comments!
Photo source: The LEAF Project via Flickr