Preparing Your Teen for a Great Foreign Exchange Experience

Your Baby’s Going Abroad … Or not?

Before you help prepare your teen for a foreign exchange experience, everyone needs to take a deep breath and pause for a moment. The imminent departure date may feel as if it is bearing down on both you and your teen like a train as you both prepare him for the journey. This is when you, your teen and perhaps a member of the exchange program need to sit down and ensure that he’s ready for the hard work of learning a language and encountering a different culture.
Back in the “I’m Thinking About” phase, the idea of three or six or nine months away from home seemed like a daydream. Now that the preparations seem like work and most of the talk is of school and transportation, it no longer sounds like 24/7 fun. Does he understand that his host family will expect him to participate in meals and dishes that will unfamiliar to him? Does the student that requires several reminders to get started on homework understand that the trip they are about to take is about learning the language and attaining some fluency in it?
Probably not entirely, but there’s no harm in reemphasizing the facts. But a serious sit down with a program member can help determine whether this is still an appropriate idea for your teen at this time. Every parent wants a simple list to check off each chore as accomplished instead of the instructions: talk to your teen regularly about the trip, his feelings about it, your feelings about it and whether he’s prepared for the changes he’ll face.

And the Other Stuff

If you’ve spoken with your teen about the upcoming trip and you’ve explored different aspects of the country, its customs and the work expected of him, most of the other stuff is easy. In addition to his regular insurance policy, you should also purchase a special health insurance policy for students studying abroad in addition to F1 Visa Insurance. Copies of his medical records, school transcripts, passport, visa, health insurance card, birth certificate and Social Security card should all be copied so he can take the documents with him. You get the first set, one set should be mailed to the host family, and your son should carry one set.

Bon Voyage

Yes, your teen will be in a foreign country, but he won’t be too far away. In this day and age, Skype, email and Facebook and other social networking tools can make it easier for you and your kid to stay in touch while he’s abroad. The hope is, however, that he’ll be so busy with school and fitting into the life of the host family that he won’t have much time for Facebook.