Dr Asha Pemberton
For many families, university or other tertiary-level education overseas represents opportunities for young people that would be otherwise less available locally. Although a bittersweet time of excitement and fear, parents play an important role in the final preparations for studying abroad. While the emotions surrounding the actual departure can be overwhelming, parents need to take time and active steps to make the moving process smooth, efficient and safe. During these final weeks of August, university-bound students will make their way from our shores. With planning and support, this difficult process can made easier for young adults and their parents.
Review and check all documents
Overseas travel requires various visa, insurance, banking and other documents. In the lead up to university acceptance and continuing through until actual arrival, there are endless papers to fill, submit, collect, and print. It can be overwhelming unless a system of filing and storage is created. Although we should all attempt to be more environmentally aware and aim to use less paper, some documents need to be printed and stored in plastic files for ease of retrieval. It is useful to also keep electronic copies on files within your e-mail account, so they can be quickly accessed. Take pictures of identification card and other necessary information, so that in the event of loss there is an image readily available.
Get a full medical and dental check-up
Accessing healthcare overseas is not always as straightforward as it is on our islands. Take the time to ensure your young adult has a full medical check-up, dental visit and review their immunisations before departure. Universities in general will insist on reviewing childhood vaccines, so be sure to check that they are up to date. Additionally, check that there are no special vaccine requirements for the country they are headed to. For young people diagnosed with a chronic medical or mental illness, ensure that they travel with an adequate supply of medications to last a few weeks or months. Beyond that, it is of critical importance to ensure that they are connected with the healthcare system of their school for continuing follow up. Prepare a small first-aid kit with over the counter medications for nausea, headaches, congestion and minor injuries so that they can manage smaller matters on their own.
Although your young adult will require help, parents are advised to consciously allow them to take the lead on this transitional stage. This is likely the first time that young people have to be fully responsible for themselves, and certainly while overseas they will be forced to manage their schedules, banking, immigration and other details. Allow them the space to be self-motivated and accountable for everything to be done. Provide support but give them space to rise to these adulthood tasks.
Remind them of their goals
Studying abroad can be overwhelming; both during the preparation process and once the student embarks on that journey. Dealing with such a big change can lead to students to be doubtful of their decisions and want to return home or change their minds. If you send a negative mindset looming, remind them of why they wanted it to begin with. Sometimes all a young adult needs is to help them put their focus back on their goals. All change comes with some measure of discomfort. Keep them focused on their “why” and challenge them to face new experiences with an open mind, sound judgment and adventurous heart.
Prepare them for challenges and provide resources
Older adolescents and young adults require constant reminders that they challenges, fears and uncertainty they experience are all part of this developmental stage. For parents, it is useful to gently support young people by helping them anticipate some expected issues. Missing friends and family, feeling home-sick and even craving local food are all par for the course. Instead of allowing them to dive headlong into despair, discuss these expected challenges and brainstorm potential solutions.
Take time to discuss safety planning while on campus. We live in a time when we can immediately communicate with anyone, anywhere. Let your young adult children know that if they are ever in trouble or in a precarious situation that they can call you. Even from afar, parents can activate security or other systems to assist youth in distress. Keep all lines of communication open, so that as they navigate these exciting life changes they can rely on your wisdom and experience to support them.