Preparation Makes the Difference for Study Abroad Success

Does your student want to study abroad? The range of choices and the number of details that need to be considered are almost overwhelming at first; however, the UMass Study Abroad Website  offers some very useful information.

Here are some things we wrestled with as a family when our daughter wanted to go to Spain:

  • Choosing a program: There were SO many programs all offering something different. There were even several programs in the same city. We had to explore academics (were courses appropriate and credits acceptable for her course of study); whether classes were taught at the program’s school or local university and in what language; which city interested her more; cost and what did it include (free excursions); housing choices (dorm, apartment, living with native family); accessibility/ease for additional travel; and safety.
  • Deadlines and references: Because our daughter didn’t think she could afford to travel extensively in Europe (her requirement) she waited to discuss with us. That left her needing to complete an application, talk to advisors and get all the necessary paperwork within a few weeks.

So now the application has been accepted! What’s next?

  • Ensuring an active passport and obtaining a student visa: Because we live in a small state without a Spanish consulate, we had to arrange several trips to Boston. Check the dates and times available for office hours; they were limited. After applying on site, your student will need to return when the Visa is completed (ensure enough time).
  • Arranging flights: We found it very helpful to use a student abroad travel agency for good deals. Since our student had three connecting flights, we needed to ensure she had time to change terminals.
  • Understanding housing logistics: Our student chose a ‘homestay’; she learned about her ‘Spanish mom’ a few weeks before she left.  Very helpful in many ways – no linens had to be sent, meals were included, and she had another mom to watch out for her (helped me!!!).
  • Miscellaneous needs: We had to figure out how to pack two seasons worth of clothes in two suitcases and a backpack, arrange an ATM card, credit card and phone that could be used in Spain.
  • What we had not accounted for: Extreme homesickness! Our daughter surprised us by wanting to come home. She missed her friends and even us! For most of her stay, we skyped and texted daily (sometimes multiple times per day) and eventually contacted the study abroad program for assistance. They were wonderful! An advisor reached out, suggested transitional activities and let her know how common this was.  The program had a parent chat page and I posted about her experience. I ‘met’ another mom with a daughter also in Seville who also wanted to come home; we moms exchanged Spanish phone numbers and the students met a few days later.
  • Transitions: Activities enjoyed at home/school are activities encouraged when abroad. At the suggestion of the program advisor, our daughter began running again, got involved in a few group activities, met friends, and began to travel. Once she got in a routine, she felt a little better. She ended up traveling to nine countries – not including Spain!

Our daughter is home now and happy to be back in New England.  I believe that she will look back (at some point) on her experience with positive memories – she demonstrated independence and resiliency and she clearly learned more about herself.  All in all – a very good thing.

Seena Franklin is the proud mom of a senior in the Honors College and a proud UMASS Amherst alumni (class of 1980). She and her family live in Tiverton RI.