“She was good about [keeping in touch] and it made me feel a lot better about her being halfway around the world from us. Never having been abroad myself, I took my other daughter and traveled to Paris, met up with Alicia (who was staying in Pau, France), and the three of us traveled in France and then Spain.” – Rita Williams, mother of a UI senior
There are a variety of ways to stay in touch, though not every country and/or program will offer the same services. It’s probably best to remain flexible about methods & timing, and take your cue from your son or daughter. It’s also important to be patient: there’s often a gap, for instance, between arrival and finding a phone/figuring out how to use it! Also, don’t be surprised if your child expresses bitter unhappiness two weeks into the program. Culture shock can be intense. Reassure her that things will get better, encourage him to stick it out. It will, on balance, prove to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.
Prior to departure, ask your son or daughter for all the contact information they’ve received. In addition to their coordinates, copy the program director’s or other contact person’s telephone & fax numbers and e-mail addresses just in case there’s a family emergency and you can’t reach your son/daughter directly.
All international calls from the U.S. start with 011 and are followed by a country code (e.g. 52 for Mexico, 34 for Spain), then possibly a city code (e.g. 55 for Mexico City) before the actual phone number. International area codes should be printed in the front of your telephone book. While there have been dramatic improvements in telecommunications worldwide, service in some countries can still be unreliable.
Cell phones are a good idea for some destinations and a bad idea for others – do some research before your son or daughter’s departure about cell phone usage in their destination country. (It’s possible the program your child is on provides cell phones to all participants, so don’t buy one until the homework is done.)
Double check the cost for international calls in your current plan, then shop around as appropriate. It may be significantly cheaper for you to place a call overseas than for your son or daughter to call you.
E-mail is a great way, often the preferred way, to communicate. Access to computers worldwide has increased by leaps & bounds, but it’s not always immediately accessible everywhere (and sometimes the electricity doesn’t cooperate). Of course there’s a down side to this technology: we don’t want our students traveling abroad & spending the majority of their time interacting with a computer....
Don’t forget about letters! A hand-written letter from Mom can be a huge picker-upper. Packages can also deliver a small slice of home, but service can be slow and unreliable. If you send a package, keep it simple, small & inexpensive.
If you are thinking about visiting your son or daughter while they are abroad, ask them when it would be best for you to go. For obvious reasons, vacation breaks are generally preferable to times when classes are in session. Many visits are scheduled after the conclusion of the program, at the pinnacle of the students’ “I know my way around this place” power. (On the other hand, he/she may prefer to expand on his/her hard-won expertise by traveling independently or with friends.)