Before you leave for study abroad, your friends and family will love to say that they’ll come visit you– and your parents will most certainly look into plane tickets to make the trip over. While that may sound heavenly as you’re thinking about how much you are going to miss them, you might feel differently once you’ve adjusted to your new culture abroad. There are many pros and cons to consider when deciding if you want anyone, particularly your parents, to visit you when you’re studying abroad, and it shouldn’t be an assumption that your parents will or will not come see you. Having your parents visit you can be awesome, but at what price does it come?
Why Your Parents SHOULD Visit While You’re Abroad
It can cure homesickness
Feeling homesick is natural for someone studying abroad and sometimes a few days with Mom and Dad is all you need to feel better. Exploring your new city and culture with the people you’re closest with can give you a boost of confidence and remind you that you CAN do this.
They will appreciate your accomplishments
There are many challenging elements of studying abroad and you shouldn’t hide all that you have achieved. By sharing experiences and having your parents live through the same challenges of adjusting to a new culture, they will gain an appreciation for what you have accomplished. Having your parents share what you’re experiencing is something you can talk about with them for the rest of your life.
It will erase your parents’ “fairy tales”
Every parent imagines what their child’s experience abroad will be like, from the great to the absolutely horrible. Put your parents’ fairy tales and nightmares to bed by showing them that your host city isn’t all that dirty or dangerous OR that living without electricity in the rainforest is much harder than they think. There is no way to make them understand better than having them experience first-hand how you’re living.
They will understand your reverse culture shock better
Reverse culture shock is an unavoidable (and debatably the worst) part of studying abroad. What makes it so rough is that most of your family and friends in your host country can’t relate to what you’re going through. However, if your parents have been to your host country and met your host family/new friends, they will better understand the sadness you will feel when you return home. Because of this, your parents can help you battle reverse culture shock better by doing things such as cooking you that awesome pasta dish you had together in Rome or by bumping that song you heard on the radio in Shanghai, as well as being there for you emotionally.
Why Your Parents SHOULDN’T Visit You Abroad
It will interrupt your cultural immersion
Being around English-speakers, even if it’s only for a few days, can set you back weeks in your language education. When you become immersed in a new language and culture, your brain becomes a sponge and soaks up anything and everything. For this reason, you could avoid English as much as possible. The point of going abroad is to become part of something new, and going back to your own culture part of the way through your experience can hurt your immersion.
It can make you feel homesick
While visiting with Mom and Dad can cure homesickness, it can also make it worse. You’ve spent a significant amount of time adjusting to a new culture and sometimes seeing your parents can make you miss home more than you would have if you had just continued on in your adjustment. Parents visiting can be a blatant reminder of everything you have back home and everything you don’t have in your new culture/city, and it can oftentimes hurt more than it does help.
It will interrupt your academics
Despite what most people like to believe, a large part of studying abroad is “studying”. Parents visiting can often lead to skipping classes or not studying as much for that French midterm as you probably should have. Even though most people like to avoid schoolwork while studying abroad, getting behind in your studies can ruin the rest of your time abroad as well as any chance of your credits transferring when you return to the US.
It can set you back in your purpose
Most people study abroad with a purpose: to learn a new language, to become immersed in a new culture, to challenge yourself, to find yourself, etc. Having an “interruption” can very easily throw you off your track. If you chose to study abroad so that you could live independently and become immersed in something new, having Mom and Dad around can really hurt your progress. How do you expect yourself to grow if your safety net is right there?
It could hurt your relationship with your parents
This tale is unfortunately all too common. You’ve been living independently and surviving in a foreign country without your parents around. Then when they come to visit, they act like they do when you’re at home: tell you to eat your veggies, keep the Commandments, and don’t drink Absinthe (which is just ridiculous!) When you’re studying abroad, the absolute last thing you are going to want is Mom bossing you around. This is your time to eat that third scoop of gelato, use that debatably sketchy taxi, and wear that outfit that is nowhere near Church appropriate. Having your parents around can not only put a serious damper on your time abroad but also potentially hurt your relationship for good.
So…When Is The Best Time For Your Parents To Visit?
If your parents are going to visit you, do not have them come during the first few weeks or the last few weeks of your program. You need time to adjust to your new city and culture as well as time to be with classmates and friends before your program ends. If schedules permit, try to have your parents visit in the middle of your program or after your program is over. That way, you can see your family without having to worry about school and you will already be very adjusted to the language, city, and culture by then. You can also turn it into a whole adventure: see your host city and travel to new places together. Maybe you can even convince a couple of your new friends to have their parents visit after your program ends as well!
What Parents Should Keep In Mind When Visiting Their Kids Abroad
Being away from your son or daughter is tough and it’s understandable that once you are in the same place with him or her, you’re going to want to have them all to yourself. However, when you’re visiting your child, his or her first priority will unlikely be you. With school and new friends and being immersed in a new culture, there are a lot of exciting things going on in his or her life. With that said, remember that while you are on vacation, your child is not. Their life abroad is just that: a life, not a trip. If this is your first time in the city you’re child is studying abroad in, be prepared for “role reversal”. It is highly unlikely that your child will be able to spend every minute of your visit with you, so he or she might have to teach you how to how to use the subway or order coffee. Lastly, your child needs to spend time with his or her classmates. They are all working through the same daily difficulties and adjustments, and they can support each other better than you can. Even though you might only be there for a few days, try not to limit the time your child spends with his or her new friends. Instead, find ways to incorporate your son or daughter’s new life into your vacation, such as going to a football game with them or eating dinner with them at their favorite restaurant.
Do your parents plan on coming to visit you while you’re studying abroad?
Photo sources: LeafLanguages via Flickr, LeafLanguages via Flickr, Vancouver Island University via Flickr
Having your parents visit you while you’re setting up a new relationship (that between yourself and a whole new and novel world) is a lot like inviting them along on your honeymoon. For some, maybe; for most of us, nope. Some things should be private, treasured, and secret….
Well put Tom!
Very good article. I’m in a somewhat similar situation, and I’ve told my parents that I prefer they not visit me while I’m abroad. Tough for them, and I myself feeling slightly guilty for it, but I guess it’s not a totally evil thing to do in the end, after reading this.
Oh well, emotional relationships are complicated.
In the end, you’ve saved them a ton of money John 🙂
I met up with my daughter where she is studying in Ireland and we are now touring Italy on her Spring break. Shes taken plenty of trips elsewhere with new friends and welcomed the idea of traveling to a new country with me. Its been a wonderful trip. She keeps telling me she can’t wait to show me her college, which it’s where i end my trip. So glad we’re doing this, building incredible memoirs.
I am about to go abroad and my parents want to go early with me, travel around and then set me up in my new host city. While it is an incredible opportunity to use the break to travel with my parents, (I wouldn’t be able to do that on my own as I get my apartment a few days before orientation and luggage would be difficult by myself) a big part of the experience is learning how to do a lot of this on my own and force me out of my comfort zone. Any advice?
Hi Olivia, can you recommend that they come during the middle of the semester instead?
I have a 20 year old son who is about to leave to study for a year in Germany. We are very excited for him and plan to go visit him in June (he leaves for Germany end of August) so my high school age son can come also and not worry about missing school. For a mom, 10 months is a LONG time to go w/o seeing my first born and I thought it would be fun to go see him over Christmas break. He will have been there for 4 months already. Is this excessive on top of the planned summer trip? I fear that if we ask him his opinion, he’ll say it is fine to avoid hurting my feelings. Advice please!
Hey Emma! To be honest, it will completely depend on how your family dynamic is. I’d recommend waiting until he gets to Germany to book your tickets. He may make a whole bunch of friends who will also be in Germany for Christmas and they may want to go travel over the Christmas break. I definitely think that’s a great thing for him to do. On the other hand he may love for you to visit. So wait it out and then ask him for his honest opinion once he’s in Germany for a few weeks.
Jess, that is excellent advice and I very much appreciate you taking the time to respond. He leaves in just a few days and I’ll wait a few weeks to ask him. I’m so excited for him but finding it a strange role to navigate as a parent. Thanks again!
hey so I’ve just been offered a study abroad place in Canada and am so psyched but my neighbour did the exact same thing and her mom is telling mine how it was the best thing she could have done to go with her daughter at the start – and so my mom wants to do the same. Thing is – i would rather she came after my semester there is done or in the middle of it (only have the money for one visit but obviously Canada = snow so I’d like her there around then, also when i wont have to balance seeing her with my studies). But she won’t have it. Any advice on how to convince her? i don’t want her there because i know myself and i will use her as a crutch & be unable to settle in as easy/ quickly.
That’s a terrible idea for her to come early! I bet your neighbour’s daughter wouldn’t honestly say she was glad her mom came lol. Tell her you need a chance to grow up and do this on your own at the beginning. And then repeat the last sentence of your comment!