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When students go abroad, should parents visit?

Seeing your student function in a different culture can be one of the most gratifying experiences of raising a child. Knowing that your son has mastered the transportation system of London or your daughter can read a ferry schedule in Greek is heartwarming proof of your child’s intelligence, maturity, and independence.

If you decide to visit your student, however, keep in mind that his or her first priority is unlikely to be you. Study abroad programs require students to be in class or working on projects a large part of their time. Students also need to spend time with their classmates—they’re all working through the same issues, and the support they provide to each other is invaluable.

Do not visit during the first few weeks of the program. Give your student time to adjust. Also, do not visit the last week of the program. Students need to finish up projects and be with classmates. Even if the program is relatively short, they most likely have made very close friends and will want to spend this time with each other.

If possible, time your arrival for a weekend or a break period so your student won’t have to choose between you and classes. Be prepared for some “role reversal”while your child teaches you to get around and explains the monetary system to you.

Do not rely on your student to take care of you throughout your visit. Once you’ve learned a few basics and spent a couple of days with your student, set out on your own. Your student may have suggestions for nearby places to visit while he or she is in class. If possible, take a side trip for a few days to allow your student to get back to coursework and friends.

Keep in mind that you may be on vacation, but your student is not. Spend enough time with your student to appreciate his or her accomplishments, but not so much that you detract from the student’s program. By sharing the experience and living through the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture, you gain appreciation of what your student has achieved, and it’s something both of you can talk about in the months and years to come.