Tips and Advice: Traveling Abroad as a Parent

​Our students come from many backgrounds and our programs are open to all backgrounds. But there are some backgrounds that can make traveling abroad tough, like being a student and parent.

We gathered advice from some of our past program participants who are also parents to see how they were able to go abroad as a parent.

Sam Baker was an Ecampus student who participated in our Malaysian Borneo program during the summer of 2018. She had a 5-year-old son at the time. Rose Green was a Corvallis-based student with a 12-year-old daughter and participated in the Borneo program in 2019.

How did you decide that traveling abroad was something you wanted to do and could do as a parent?

Sam: I hadn’t really given much consideration to traveling abroad since I honestly wasn’t sure that as an Ecampus student it was something that was available to us. After finding out it was available, I began to question if it was something I could do being a parent. I also learned that to really have any success at finding permanent employment, hands-on experience is crucial. This seemed like really one of the few possibilities I had associated with OSU to get this hands-on experience and have legit professor interactions. 

As an Ecampus student, most courses you only talk with TAs and you lack all real-time feedback that you would normally get in lectures on campus. You also don’t get any of the side discussions that professors may bring up through student questions or just off the top ideas. I have yet to find anything remotely close to me that would have afforded me the opportunities that we experienced through the study abroad program. The question to leave my son was one that I wrestled with for a long time, but being that the program was only two weeks I felt it was something I could plan for and actually do versus other hands-on opportunities that were six months or longer away from home.   

Rose: I always knew that going abroad was something that I wanted to do during my college career. As a parent it has been very difficult to find a situation that would accommodate my needs, however, OSU offers the short-term courses which made it possible for me to go. 

How did you prepare yourself to go abroad without your child?

Sam: The key thing I needed to do was to make sure my son had all the support he needed here at home. Making sure he was taken care of and that my spouse had help and that he was also prepared was really all I needed to do to prepare myself. I had to know things were going to be okay at home for me to even consider leaving.  

Rose: We talked a lot about where I was going, where I would be, what I would be doing, where she would be, etc. 

How did you prepare your child for you being gone for a while?

Sam: This was actually priority number one. My son has emotional disabilities and separation anxiety was a battle we were dealing with at the time that really made me question if this was something I should do or not. I wasn’t sure if this program was going to emotionally destroy my child or not – yes, destroy may seem drastic but for our family, his emotional health at the time was a very big challenge. 

My son was in therapy for a while and he had those supports available to him at the time so that was one of the layers that we had in place for him but the biggest thing I had to do was to explain to him well in advance what was happening constantly reassure him it was going to be okay. 

Rose: Thankfully my daughter is already pretty independent, however, she honestly did not like the idea of me being gone for 2 weeks. So, we would just watch YouTube videos about Borneo so that she could see where I was going.

Photo credit: Athirah Baharuddin

How did you work to communicate what you learned and did while you were gone to your child?

Sam: Since my son was five at the time, to share with him what I learned and did was just to keep things simple and relate it to topics he could associate with himself. I actually found a really great book at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre that told the story of deforestation and the impacts it was having on native species. I then got stuffed animals of all the key animals in the book at local markets to go with the story (so basically through storytelling and toys).   

How was it actually being gone? Did you worry about your child? Did you contact them while you were gone? Did you have fun taking a break for you?

Sam: It was actually a very welcome break being away from my mom/wife responsibilities. It also gave me the opportunity to form relationships with other students that you simply do not make as an Ecampus student. Of course, I worried about my son but making sure he had all the support he needed prior to leaving reassured me that he would be okay. I did contact my family while away, when we had WiFi I was able to video chat with my family and when we didn’t have WiFi I had a Garmin InReach that I was able to share my location and send text messages to my family. 

This was something that I also went in knowing that if I communicated too much it could have a negative impact on my son’s emotional health. It would have reminded him that I was away and not with him whereas not communicating with him meant he could stay busy and have fun without a direct reminder that I was away, so I also had to be prepared to know that I might not be able to talk to him even if I had the opportunity. 

Rose: Being gone was really hard. I was constantly worried about my daughter. I think part of what was hard was just the cumulative effects of long travel, new people, completely unfamiliar surroundings, and not feeling like myself most of the time, plus being unable to contact her because of the lack of phone service. In the end I have NO REGRETS about going and even though it was the hardest thing I have ever done, it was beyond worth it. 

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