Amy Kelly is the CEO of Parent eSource, the global resource, community, and social media trending firm she founded in 2010 to transform the communication between parents and their children. Parent eSource has achieved stunning results by helping countless parents better understand the changing world their teens live in and providing innovative resources to help parents connect with their connected teens Amy has established her revolutionary perspective, resources and technology and is a sought after expert in sharing her insight and parental connection advice.
This week, our interview series delves into the great world of study abroad programs. A special thank you goes out to Henry van Wagenberg at Rate Your Study Abroad www.rateyourstudyabroad.com for “virtually” sitting down with us to chat.
RateYourStudyAbroad.com is the beloved mindmeld of John Henry and Henry van Wagenberg, two bros (not literally bros, but bros as in friends) who studied abroad and had very different experiences on very different study abroad programs.
John “loved the Davidson Classics Trip,” (check out John’s Classics program) but Henry “didn’t love as much” the program he went on in Germany. (According to some people, he, like, really, really didn’t love it). But both noticed that there was no place on the internet to learn what other kids had thought about their abroad programs — and whether those kids had loved their programs or, you know, really, really not loved them as much.
Without further adieu, our Q&A with Henry:
1. From your website, I read that the whole premise behind creating your site, was so that other kids could learn from their peers about their abroad programs and experiences. What advice do you give parents when looking at study abroad programs.
My advice for parents is to consider the option of sending their kids abroad without an American study abroad program, especially if they are studying in Europe. In most countries, it’s possible for students to enroll in a local university on their own for a semester or a summer. There are several benefits to this:
- Save money. foreign universities typically charge a fraction of the cost that an American study abroad company, or university, will charge.
- Richer experience. It will be a much more immersive and serious academic & cultural experience for your child if he enrolls on his own at a foreign university.
- Get out of the American bubble. Many study abroad programs pack students together in dorms, on field trips, and so on. The Americans party together, and cling to their group of college friends. Pretty soon that group of American students might as well be back on campus in… America.
- Learn the language. If your child is looking to learn a foreign language, nothing teaches like full immersion. On a study abroad program with many other American students, it will be English time all the time.
The downside is that it will be much more challenging for your child to navigate everything on her own. But — she can probably handle it. Keep in mind there are plenty of countries where it makes sense to go on a program. My sister studied and volunteered in Tanzania, and felt that her program, CCS, was very helpful to her experience. Europe is a good example, though, of a place where your child might be able to handle going on her own. After all, when, say, German or Chinese students study in the US, they don’t come here on study abroad programs! They just enroll in our universities. Your kid can take it, too.
The second piece of advice I’d give is to dig into costs. If a study abroad office tells you that a program costs full tuition for a semester, see what other options are on the table. There may be other essentially identical programs that your child’s school will accept credits from. Part of the reason that I started the website is that my year-long Davidson College program at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany cost $30,000. While at Wuerzburg, I met students from New York’s SUNY-Downstate program; their study abroad program (at the same university as me!) only cost them $14,000.
2.What tips do you give parents in helping them prepare their t(w)een for a study abroad program?
A big piece of advice that I’d give to students is to link into networks of people ASAP when you get in-country. Find clubs to join at your school, go couchsurfing in nearby cities and meet people, and so on. One of the biggest challenges students face abroad is loneliness..
3. How do parents assist their adolescents in finding the perfect fit.
Like most things in life, a study abroad trip is probably as much about making the best of your situation as it is finding a perfect fit. That being said, I would encourage parents to read student (and parent) reviews on review websites like RateMyStudyAbroad.com, and to speak with their study abroad counselor to find out the reputation of a study abroad provider and their experiences they’ve had with them over the years. Another big factor is, who is leading the trip? If it’s a university program, is it a professor? Has your child met that professor or spoken with her on the phone?
4. If a kiddo is having a bad experience; how can they get out of the program? What should parents do? Who do they notify?
Although this varies from program to program, one answer is to contact your study abroad office and find out.
One note I’d make here is that it might be worth jumping to a different program in the same country or the same city. Don’t let the trip turn into a failure. Heck, they’re already in Madrid, you might as well see what other options there are! Give up on the program, not on study abroad.
5. How can we get families talking about study abroad programs and how do you encourage parents to support their teens desire to study abroad?
I’m not sure about this one. I view my job at RateMyStudyAbroad as less evangelizing for study abroad (lots of people do this) and more bringing a degree of critical thoughtfulness to all these different programs that are already out there.
6. Do you notice a shift in your efforts on getting the word out about “rate” your experience abroad? Does Social Media play a big role in that?
Yes, although mostly for us it’s about Google. Every day thousands of college students google individual study abroad programs along with the word “reviews.” They’re researching their trips! And we’re here to help. RateMyStudyAbroad.com comes up 1st in google for many such google searches.
7. Any last gold, nuggets you can offer my readers?
A lot of American study abroad trips are vacations. There’s nothing wrong with vacations. If you want your child to have a more serious academic and cultural experience, though, you might consider getting her to enroll in a university on her own. Again, it will be much more challenging for her than the experience her peers will have. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Lastly, I’d say consider whether your kid should study abroad in college at all. Yale University, for example, offers fellowships to its students to study abroad after they graduate, and many options exist like the Fulbrights and the Watson fellowship to fund a post-graduation year abroad. American universities offer the best education in the world (routinely topping world rankings) and missing a semester, or a year of that, might be a big loss to your child. Why not study abroad during the summer, or during a Gap Year after high school, or for a year after college? This is a growing trend. In 2008, Princeton University, for example, instituted a new policy to encourage 10% of incoming freshman to defer for one year and take a gap year abroad.
We would love to hear from you…are your kids considering a study abroad program or are they currently overseas.
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