Monday, March 31, 2014

Semester Abroad

He's off! Our youngest just headed off to Europe! 
I know I've said this before, "we want to come back as one of our kids."   :)
Each of our kids have enjoyed "experiential learning" abroad in several different ways, programs and places. They've come back truly enriched. This may sound cliche, but I mean it.
What sorts of programs? Each of them incredibly different from one another, just as our kids are:
The Island School: a wonderful high school semester program, that truly takes them out of the traditional high school setting and curriculum and immerses them in a culture and experience that they've never had before. This has influenced their education decisions, their college selection, their choice of major and their decisions about careers. 
Semester at Sea: a study abroad program around the world! My siblings went on this many moons ago and I always had SAS envy, so when the opportunity presented itself to our eldest, she seized it. I don't think a week goes by that she doesn't refer to some aspect of the program, and she was Spring '05 to boot. (You Tube it). She's incredibly grateful that she's traveled to all of the places in the world that she's been to and had the experiences she's had. I think travel and adventure are now embedded in her.
London School of Economics and Political Science Summer Schools: This son couldn't figure out a way to leave college during the year so he "T'd" up summer school, and this turned out to be a very valuable experience. It enhanced his college experience in a fundamental way, forcing him to take a serious look at the world of business with a financial eye. Now that he's been out of school for awhile, I think he'd say it broadened his horizon for the working world.
Brown in Italy: A full immersion program that requires a 300 level of Italian or better, B average and the opportunity to live and take final exams with Italian peers. It's great!
As for logistics and packing pointers:
Luggage, the Osprey Sojourn has been the "go to" bag for three out of four kids! The goal is to pack lightly. Not any easy feat when you're going from summer to winter or vice versa.  More and more airlines are charging for luggage and because your student has to carry all of their belongings on the other end, less is more. A Sojourn-type bag, a back pack (their "book/laptop" type they've been carrying for years in school). (Note: Be sure their laptop is in a protective sleeve)  and a small "overnighter," slung over the shoulder. This last one is important for those weekend excursions they'll be going on.
Pack by rolling items/use the packing organizers, Eagle Creek makes some good ones.
Be sure to pack the hostel "sleeping bags/liner", these are really sacks made of sheets, either cotton or silk. A good idea in general, this bed bug thing is a problem. Converters for charging their laptop, phone, hairdryer, etc. A travel clock (these 20somethings are used to their cell phone being their alarm).
As for phones, this is well worth research and a conversation. Don't assume that they can take their current cell phone, unless you're willing to float a loan! In most European airports you can buy a prepaid phone that can be used or you can get a sim card that will work in your existing phone. One of my kids has had good luck with PicCell Wireless.. He set it all up well before he left.
Drill home, keeping their passport on them, separating their money, using that money belt, making a copy of their passport and keeping it separately, all of those things that you were told, still applies.
Strongly suggest that they take care of as much as possible here in the U.S. ie., international student card (this has cost savings advantages for them as they travel). An international driver's license if that's a comfort level, purchasing the Eurail pass, AAA makes this easy.
Each of these semester programs have pretty good websites that have packing lists and suggestions. Some programs are more "hands on" than others regarding visas that they'll need. Visas require time, so be sure that's one of the first things they figure out, once they've been accepted into the program. 
Money: The various programs have suggested amounts and thoughts about spending money. Have conversations about this. A credit card or Debit/Visa card is a must. ATMs are plentiful but so are fees, talk about that, research the bank to find out, but know that your Gen Yer can have access to cash (in the local currency) if they have a debit card.
Shots: Be sure this is looked into with plenty of time. Your kid may or may not require them for their travel.
Toiletries: Yes, there are stores abroad, but there are also some "favorites" so pack them.
semester abroad: Such a terrific opportunity for our kids in this global community we live in! Have fun! (cuz they sure will.)

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