How do you prepare for your child’s first trip abroad?
By: Maggie Rougier-Chapman, Broadreach mom
When you sign up your child up for a summer program abroad, you’ll receive a ton of useful information on how to prepare them for their trip. There’s packing lists, immunization requirements, invitations for them to connect with other students in the program, required academic preparations and more. One thing you don’t receive, however, is how to prepare yourself for the task of putting your child on a plane and sending them out of the country, often for the first time.
It can be hard
I am a mother of three, and this past summer I sent my oldest child, now an eighth grader, on his first solo trip abroad with Broadreach. Prior to this, he regularly attended summer sleep away camps, sleepovers at friends’ houses and the occasional out-of-town soccer trip. I’m not a helicopter mom and I have always encouraged my children to be independent, but I must admit that when I said goodbye to my son at the airport, I felt scared and worried, and questioned whether this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
I forced myself to walk out of the terminal, doing my best to ignore the voice in my head telling me to go back and take my son home with me. On the drive home, I got sentimental and allowed myself to shed more than a few tears while thinking about how quickly my boy had grown up. I thought about holding his hand while I walked him to preschool and, not long after, watching him race off to join his middle school buddies with barely a glance back. And now, he was big enough to set out on an incredible overseas journey all by himself.
Accept that your child is ready
Like many other “ah-ha” moments I’ve experienced in the simultaneously painful and joyful experiences of motherhood, it soon dawned on me that my son was not only big enough to set out on an incredible journey all by himself, but he was ready enough…because of me (along with other important influences in life, like his wonderful father, dedicated teachers and inspiring coaches). My son’s childhood was filled with daily encouragements and lessons learned, along with opportunities that allowed him to grow on his own, resulting in a young man who, although shy and unsure at times, was brave and adventurous enough to join a group of unknown peers in a far-away place he’d never been to to take on new experiences and challenges. How wonderful is that?
No matter what, stay strong
Just as my son was beginning a new journey, I felt a renewed sense of purpose in my own life’s journey as his guide, his champion and the person most responsible for nurturing him toward becoming a confident, self-sufficient adult. During the three weeks he was away, I waited for him to call me, desperate for word of his grand adventures, but he was apparently having such a great time that he forgot! Thankfully, the detailed trip updates and photos posted on social media assured me that he was alive and well – wearing his rash guard.
When I finally picked my son back up from the airport, he was freckled and beaming. I could tell that he missed me, but even more so, I realized that I had made the right choice in letting him go. The drive home and the days that followed were filled with proud tales of underwater dives and summiting mountains, new friends and a few buddies for life. At dinner his first evening home, he asked if he could start making his own meals sometimes, and then he cleaned up his plate without any prompting. A few weeks later my “shy” boy, who was often uncomfortable introducing himself to new people and going places without a companion, asked to be dropped off at the climbing gym alone so he could meet up with a group of kids he met the day before.
In the end, it will all be worth it
In the weeks and months since his Broadreach trip, I noticed other subtle changes in my son’s attitude and outlook. He’s still himself, with all the sarcasm and eye rolling and sibling antagonism that is appropriate for his age. But there’s openness and confidence that wasn’t there before – I can sense a little more resilience bolstering him through his challenges. But the best part of the whole experience has not been seeing these changes from my point of view, but recognizing how differently he sees himself.
Being the parent on the other side of my son’s first trip abroad, I can unequivocally say that it was worthwhile. I would tell other parents getting ready for the same thing that it is absolutely normal to freak out a little, and there’s really no way to brace yourself for it. Try to remember that your child is going to take with them all of the skills and strengths that you’ve already instilled, and then keep your eye on the prize of what’s to come. There is truly nothing more rewarding than seeing your child successfully navigate a new challenge. It’s hard to let go sometimes, but those big steps toward independence are where our children discover for themselves how capable and amazing they really are.
Maggie Rougier-Chapman is a Broadreach mother who has sent both of her children on Broadreach summer trips.