Time abroad often begins with a honeymoon period during which students are excited to finally be in the setting that they have dreamed of. After facing realities such as unfamiliar CYA procedures, difficulties communicating in the local language, and the absence of usual support groups, however, culture shock can set in. At the same time, students are away from on-campus medical, psychological and advisory services they may have come to rely on. Expect to hear some tales of frustration, though your son or daughter will certainly be experiencing many wonderful things as well (even if you are not the first to hear about them). In most cases he or she won't expect you to solve problems and is just looking for an understanding ear.
For many parents, sending a child to college begins the process of seeing him or her off into adulthood and true independence. Whereas some parents must cope with the emotional challenge of accepting that their child appears to be thriving in an environment of reduced parental supervision and control, others struggle to maintain a degree of distance when he or she seems to expect to solve problems via parental involvement or intervention. Sending a son or daughter abroad may intensify these issues for parents and children alike. It is by overcoming any difficulties that your son or daughter will quickly rise to a new level of independence and self-sufficiency, so avoid the temptation to become too involved. Remember that a call home to “vent” may not be a request to intervene—in fact, parents often find themselves engaging study abroad administrators about non-emergency situations that have already blown over or resolved themselves. On the other hand, if your son or daughter appears to want you to step in to fix a problem, encourage him or her to solve the matter, with a reminder that ultimately, this is his or her learning experience. The CYA administration and staff expect students to take their role as adults seriously and make every effort to support them during stressful times.
Also, it’s important for parents to remember that study abroad students are not on vacation. Skipping class or field trips in favor of independent travel can have major academic consequences. Attending class with your son or daughter during a visit—or taking him or her out of class to sightsee—will interrupt the educational process and immersion experience. If you want to visit, it’s best to do so during breaks or when the Program has finished so you can travel together. And it’s not usually wise to try to obtain permission for your son or daughter to return home early; the end of the semester is the most important part of his or her academic experience.
Living abroad often changes students in both obvious and subtle ways, from how they dress and eat to how they talk about politics, religion, and global affairs. Don’t worry too much: negative feelings usually last for a very short time, while a realistic view of America and its place in the world remains with most students for life.
Be prepared for him or her to experience some degree of reverse culture shock—most do—and to need some time to fully readjust to living at home again. In some cases, students who have recently returned from overseas may even experience a period of depression or longing to return abroad. Once again, your support, interest, and understanding will help your son or daughter during this life-altering experience. Observing and discussing changes like these is an excellent way to share in your son or daughter’s international experience, and you will probably want to hear more than most other people, which will be satisfying to your son or daughter. Most study abroad participants report years later that the time they spent overseas was the best part of their college years—and that it changed them for life.