Monday, September 22, 2014

Tip of the Day: Selecting a SAFE Foreign Study Abroad Program for Your Son or Daughter

Of all the jobs I have held in my life, I still find it humbling that of all the jobs I've held in my life, I continue to be in awe of the never-ending responsibilities of being a parent.

If there is any lesson to be learned, it is that as one's off-spring reach their early 40s, a parent's job becomes harder, not easier, largely because of increasing independence with two daughters that are now 43 and 40, respectively.

No greater responsibility exists than choosing a foreign study program for your son or daughter if they are of college age.

You have really only two choices. No, actually three:

1. You select the country and program they will attend, which is my least favorite, because you'll always be blamed if something goes wrong, which could easily be "not meeting the right boy";

2. Your imminent adult children selects the foreign study program and the country that they will attend, which is my second least favorite option, because if something really goes wrong (i.e., even a bad boy-girl relationship), you'll hear about until the cows come home; and

3. My preferred option is having parents and adult children work together in selecting a foreign study program appropriate for the student's career goals and a country that is a good fit.

Trust me! You don't want option 1 or 2!

For those of you who have much younger children…please enjoy these days because potentially it can get much, much worse:).

Being 70, in my frequent meetings with both daughters, either independently or together, I invariably omit "issues" that occur in the aging process, causing me to have the tables turned so that I end up in proverbial "short pants." 

Such opportunities I tend to avoid like a root canal.

The advice I'm getting ready to offer you is time-tested. In both cases, I was blessed in that both of my daughters had a foreign study program, although in differing durations.

Jen went to Québec because her language of choice was French. Vicki chose a longer program in Seville in España.

Vicki actually majored in both Italian and Spanish at William and Mary; while Jen selected psychology with a minor in criminal justice at James Madison in Virginia. 

Advice on Selecting a Foreign Study Abroad Program for Your Son or Daughter

1. My personal suggestion is that you select a foreign study program that does not have a history of VIOLENT crime;

That alone can be a tall order in an ever increasingly unpredictable and perilous world;

2. My wife and I selected French Québec and Spain, largely because both countries were relatively safe, at least insofar as violent crime was concerned.

Our country selections were also made on the basis that if there was a problem with either daughter, one of us could fly out to assist;

-- If you haven't selected a country or a foreign study program yet, that's a good thing, because you're at a critical stage in the collection of information;

-- A few thoughts about foreign study program directors:

-- Their primary objective is getting you to sign up your son or daughter to ANY foreign study program; the more expensive the better;

-- There are tons of questions you want to ask during your meeting with the foreign study program director: 

-- Ask them for a copy of the university's security briefing that they will use to educate your son or daughter on the risks they will face in the country they have selected;

-- Ask for a copy of any travel warnings or alerts on the country you have selected. If you're told there aren't any, GO to your government's website and check for yourself;

-- If you're based in the US, you can check on the security threats in any country by going to the below websites:

3. If you're not based in the US, send me an email as I have a database of all foreign affairs agencies worldwide, just send me an email at:

4. Ask questions about how your son or daughter will assimilate into the culture they have chosen. Understand how your son or daughter will assimilate into a foreign culture.  Ask about group activities, tips you can use to counter homesickness; how students will make friends, are their mixers for students, etc.;

5. If you receive no information on how you can learn about the risk factors that prevail in your country of choice, even though I'm a US citizen, I prefer the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website:

I prefer Australia's on-line presence because it gives travelers a definitive option to travel based upon four criteria:

a. Exercise normal safety precautions

b. Exercise a high degree of caution

c. Reconsider your need to travel

d. Do NOT travel

6. DON'T sign your son or daughter up for ANY program until you've had an opportunity to thoroughly corroborate what the university has told you and speak to the foreign study program director off-line as many times as necessary;

7. I don't recommend that you select a country FAR AWAY for two reasons:

-- You'll go broke paying for endless phone calls; and

-- If there is a behavioral or socialization problem, you'll have to mortgage your house to fly out to the country, depending how long the flight is;

8. Before your son or daughter departs for their foreign study program, engage in some serious discussions with your long-distance provider to get the most inexpensive plan that you can to regularly call your son or daughter; 

9. I suggest a weekly call to your son or daughter for the first few weeks to enable you to determine how your son or daughter is adapting, connecting with close friends, connecting with foreign professors, engaging in group activities, etc. and to identify any adaptation problems that your child may be having;

10. If you need the online website for a foreign affairs agency not based in the US, please send me an email as I have a database of all of them:


11. My suggestion is that depending upon how long your son or daughter will be abroad on a foreign study program, that you NOT send them abroad with a laptop computer!;

In most typical foreign study programs, college-age students may only be gone a few weeks or months, although there are longer programs that may require a laptop in which case I strongly suggest that you have all electronics insured by the below listed underwriter:

Note: SAFEWARE also insures MP-3-4 players, laptops, peripherals and even digital cameras;

12. Here's a tip you probably didn't think about! Before your son or daughter leaves your home country, make a point to visit any the US Customs Service office at an international airport and complete the below form;

These days, very few consumer gadgets that your kids need abroad are even produced at home, so completing this form is very important:;

13. Buy your son or daughter a copy of one of the excellent books in the Culture Shock! series:!+series

14. As a recovering alcoholic since 1986, I intimately am cognizant of the downsides of excessive drinking;

Regardless of whether you have a son or a daughter, insist on the following:

Have you son or daughter promise you that they will NEVER DRIVE abroad and:

-- That they consume alcoholic beverages in their assigned country ONLY if it is legal to do so. Honestly speaking, they'll ignore you on this, but have the chat just the same; 

-- Even though getting them an International Driving Permit (IDP) sounds like a great idea as it gives college-age students another form of identification, tell you son or daughter that you DON'T want them driving abroad. Period;  and

-- Even if you consume alcohol, have a serious chat with your adult children on the behavioral, social, sexual and legal implications of drinking to the excess in a foreign country;

15. If you have not yet discussed sexual interaction between men and women, this would be a PERFECT time to have such a discussion, preferably before your son and daughter of college-age actually travels abroad, as it is very likely that your son or daughter may no longer be a virgin when they return home, unless you've had a "no sex before marriage discussion," which young adults are unlikely to adhere to; and

Have a frank and open discussion about sex may not be easy or comfortable, but it is vitally necessary in a world where HIV/AIDS is ever-present and where socially-transmitted diseases (STDs) are a common concern. Insist that your son or daughter use condoms and know how to use them; and

Resources for talking  about sex include the following:


16. I could easily share with you all the bad things that can happen to your son or daughter abroad, but it would only scare you to the point that you would deny them the opportunity to have a cross-cultural experience that cannot be replicated;

I firmly believe that all young adults should see the world through other a prism unrelated to where they call home.

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