The decision to study abroad is a big one. Probably the biggest one since deciding where to go to college. And it is not just big for you, but typically for your parents as well. We know you will want to discuss it with them before you spend too much time researching programs, so below are some suggestions for how to bring it up with your parents and some questions you probably should be ready for. You will need to formulate your own answers to your parents' questions of course, but we have included some examples to get you thinking about what might come up.
So you are home for your sister's baby shower. Your mom has been running around all morning getting food together, cleaning the house, and worrying if there will be enough chairs. Now is NOT the time casually to bring up the idea that you plan to go to Kenya for 6 months. Think about when and how you might broach the topic of study abroad. Catch your parents in a good and/or relaxed mood. If you are thinking of going to Italy, maybe you start by cooking them a big Italian meal. Over dessert say, "The reason I've got Italian cooking on my mind…" You know your parents best. Think about what will work for them.
Keep calm and have a discussion, not an argument. Listen and acknowledge when they have objections, even if they don't at that moment seem reasonable to you. Don't expect them to make a multi-thousand-dollar decision (especially one that involves you traveling thousands of miles from them) casually or immediately. They will probably want to think it over. They will want to talk to each other about it without you around. Give them the space and the time to do that.
You want to go to South Africa for a year. Your parents say no way—how about somewhere in Europe for a semester? Part of being mature is knowing when it is time to compromise, especially if someone else is holding the purse strings. First, realize that they effectively are saying "yes" to you studying abroad, so you are moving in the right direction. Listen to their reasons for asking you to compromise, and be willing to have a discussion with them about your goals and why you want to go where you do. It is especially helpful to create a study abroad goals statement before talking with your parents. Perhaps discussing it openly and honestly will be enough for them to reconsider. If not, think about alternate locations where you could accomplish your goals. A Program Selection Adviser in the Learning Abroad Center can help you at this stage.
Call in some reinforcements. When your parents say they need to think about it, let them—but you also can email them a few things in the meantime to give them a jump on their own research and to let them know you're serious about all this. The Parents section of our website is a good place to start with this.
The UofM as an institution is actually quite risk averse. We do not send students to destinations that are inherently unsafe. Although it is true that no one can guarantee your personal safety abroad, it also cannot be guaranteed while you are at home, on campus, or driving a car. Most study abroad destinations are actually going to be statistically safer regarding violent crime than the United States. More importantly, safety has a lot more to do with how you conduct yourself than the location you are in. We would not consider it safe to walk through Buenos Aires at 3 in the morning alone and slightly inebriated, but we would not consider that safe in Minneapolis either. That doesn't mean we consider all of Buenos Aires or all of Minneapolis to be unsafe at all times. You can let your parents know that most programs have run for a very long time, with lots of students safely attending, and that there will be orientations for you, and often for them, prior to your departure.
Of course this varies widely by program, with some costing about the same as on campus tuition and others costing radically more. The important issue here, especially when faced with "sticker shock" on a program that costs more than staying on campus, is to remember to compare the cost of staying with the cost of going. Students often think of staying on campus as free and studying abroad as costing $15,000, and of course that is not the case. If you stay here you will still have to pay for tuition, books, rent, your bus pass, meals, and so on. The UofM annually publishes estimates for on-campus costs for incoming freshman. Use those costs and compare them to the cost of going abroad. Most study abroad programs wind up being within a few thousand dollars of the cost of staying on campus. Be sure that your parents are aware that the program fee for studying abroad is in place of the cost of your tuition on campus, not in addition to it.
A few thousand dollars of additional expense is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering college is already expensive and becoming more expensive. First, let your parents know that federal and state financial aid can be applied to the cost of study abroad. Often, campus or community scholarships will count too, but check to make sure. Also let them know that you may be eligible for more financial aid than you are presently receiving. A financial aid preview meeting will tell you more, and your parents are welcome to attend with you. There is a lot of scholarship money out there devoted to study abroad. Applying is easy, and many students get some assistance this way. Promise them you will apply and follow through on your promise. Study abroad is often a great time to hone your fundraising skills as well. Finally, do not just expect your parents to pay for it all. This is something you want to do and something that is important to you. So take some responsibility. For example, let them know you are willing to work full time or two jobs over summer and that you plan to save enough for your own spending money abroad. Show them your commitment.
You can assure your parents you'll be working very hard for the credit you will receive on a study abroad program. It will be as much work, often more work, than you expend per credit for classes on campus. You will likely have a great time, but it is in no way a vacation. And assuming you are choosing an appropriate program, you are concentrating on your studies. Programs with a good fit for your degree will allow you to complete liberal education as well as major and minor coursework while abroad.
Study abroad does not delay graduation for most UofM students. In fact, the Office of Institutional Research found students that went abroad graduated more quickly than those that stayed on campus. During semester programs, you will accrue as much credit as you do on campus. Over winter break, may, or summer sessions, you can earn credit you otherwise would not have. Some students are even able to double- or triple-dip their requirements by taking courses that are not available to them on campus. That translates to savings of both time and money.
Understand that you going off to college has already been a big life change for your parents. They care about you, they miss you, and they want you to be safe. Now you are asking for their help to go even farther. They may not have a lot of international experience themselves, and the initial unknowns involved in study abroad can be frightening for them. That's not particular to your parents, that is just human nature, so be patient with them. Let them know this is not something you are doing to them but something important you are doing for you—to better yourself and to enhance your education and future job prospects. Encourage them to get excited with you. Maybe they would like to visit you abroad. Help them plan that visit. Encourage them to get a passport if they do not have one. This is your adventure, but it does not mean you have to shut your parents out of it. Assure them you will be in touch while abroad and share your stories and pictures with them when you return. No matter how long you plan to be gone, trust us when we say it will go by very quickly and you will be home before you (or your parents) know it.