Parents all across the country are moving their college students into the dorm and saying that inevitable goodbye. Parents' tears will be flowing and students will experience their first night away from home. It’s an emotional time for both. Of course, each year a new crop of parents make that emotional trip to their son or daughter's campus to begin their new college adventure.
But how do parents face their student’s choice to take a gap year away from home—not just in another state, but also often in another country or multiple countries?
Questioning A Gap Year? Trust Your Instincts
Just before you say goodbye, you may question your judgment. Did you make the right decision to allow your student to take a gap year? Will they come back and go to college as promised? Will they be able to survive on their own without your constant supervision and parental advice?
You can relax. A gap year is often a hard decision for parents, but always a good decision for students who want to explore and experience more than the average college experience. Trust that being away from home will teach them maturity and self-reliance—attributes they'll learn quickly. The absolute plus is that gap year students return home ready to pursue academics with focus.
Provide Parental Words of Advice
Create a Communication plan: Before your student leaves, discuss communication: how often, when, and how you will you hear from—and connect with—your son or daughter. Discuss your communication plan ahead of time, so you won’t fret if days go by without a word. Scheduling a phone call once a week (if possible) will assure a regular time to connect. Communication via Skype or apps like WhatsApp makes it easy to keep in touch, as well.
Discuss irresponsible behavior and its consequences. More than the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, gap year students traveling abroad face other dangers. Over emphasize the importance of traveling in groups, avoiding areas that the locals avoid, and engaging in risky behavior like accepting invitations from strangers. This advice may be common sense to you, but having a short conversation before your son or daughter leaves will make precautions top-of-mind—helping to alleviate your uneasiness. Also, keep in mind that structured programs, like Winterline, are led by extremely qualified and trained Field Advisors who travel and guide students and their group of peers while traveling.
It's an opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t forget to encourage your son or daughter to explore, experience new things, and have fun. For a gap year experience to be worth the investment, your student should take advantage of every opportunity available. This will include travel, getting to know people of different cultures, and being extremely open to new experiences.
Say Goodbye with Emotions in Tact
It’s a given that your goodbye will be emotional, but be careful not to completely fall apart in front of your student. The separation anxiety will be greater if you make this an emotionally charged goodbye. Give yourself permission to cry after they leave and allow yourself a short amount of time to feel concerned. Remind yourself that this gap year is an experience of a lifetime. In the long run, you will both come out of this journey enriched and stronger.
Look to the Future
Recognizing that when your student returns home from their gap year that they will be forever changed can soften the difficult goodbyes. They will be mature, independent, and most importantly focused. Taking a gap year will help them find their true-life course and cement their career aspirations. And remember, that gap year students tend to flourish academically and excel once in college.