Kate Woodruff interviews her mom, Lynne, about her experience sending a child on a high school abroad program. Read what Lynne has to say from a parents perspective:
Were you nervous about your student flying alone? How did this experience turn out?
Lynne: Yes, I was a little nervous because it was the first time she traveled alone, and so far away. I had every confidence that she would be okay and she was, but I was still nervous about her traveling alone, especially outside of the country. Before the trip I had contacted two other students’ parents from our area to let them know what flights my daughter was taking. It was a good idea because another student was able to book the same flights and make the trip with my daughter. They ended up sharing flights both there and on the way back, so they were able to stick together and find their way through both the airports in Japan and in Bangkok, despite the language barrier. We had also arranged for airport staff to help them find the trip director once they had gotten to Bangkok International Airport. As far as these things go, I don’t think we could have hoped for a better experience traveling.
What concerns did you have about sending your student on a GLA program? What happened with those concerns?
Lynne: Some of my concerns were infectious diseases, though we were told that no vaccinations were required. As a parent, it’s sort of my job to worry, especially concerning a trip so far away and with limited communications. She did not get a disposable cell phone, so we communicated mostly through e-mail. While we were expecting her to find a phone or get a phone card there, e-mail turned out to be sufficient communication for us. I was also worried that my child might get separated from the group or get lost. I had heard stories about kidnapping in foreign countries, which were disconcerting, but I didn’t want to let it affect my daughter’s excitement about the trip. I had faith in GLA’s 5-Point Safety System and the program staff and I knew my daughter had common sense and know-how enough to take care of herself if needed. Most of all, I was worried that my child wouldn’t have fun, but my fears were unnecessary because she ended up having an excellent time.
What were you hoping your student would gain from this experience? Were your expectations met, and if so, how?
Lynne: I was hoping that my daughter would be able to see and understand a new culture, and recognize some of the difficulties people face in other parts of the world. I was hoping that she might get an idea about what she might like to do in life, because she had been struggling to decide on possible majors for college. After the trip, and a few other related influences, she is seriously considering becoming a doctor or a chemical engineer to help those suffering both in America and abroad. She was so affected by the people she met in Thailand and decided that she may want to dedicate her time to helping those suffering who cannot assist themselves. Because of this trip, she hopes to return to Thailand and other countries to help those afflicted with disease, poverty, and other difficulties. My expectations were exceeded because my daughter loved the experience so much, she came back suggesting that the rest of the family visit Thailand and incredibly enthusiastic about the culture and all of her experiences.
Did you notice any differences in your student immediately after they returned home from their program? Two months after their program?
Lynne: My daughter seemed so much more confident upon returning, and much more mature. She was so enthusiastic about the food, especially the different spices she was able to sample and cook with—she started adding pepper to everything. I think this trip opened her mind to a whole new way of living, not only in the food, but the dress, the mannerisms, the attitude, the culture. She came back with a whole new perception of her own life. Imagine coming back to New Jersey from a place dubbed “the land of smiles”— it was a pretty stark contrast. A few days after she came back, I noticed she was very sad to have left such a place, among other emotions. Even a few months after the program ended, she seemed to miss the Thai culture and every part of it. One thing she does not deal well with is monotony, and this trip was an ideal break from a routine she had embraced for 16 years. Though she was happy to be back, I could see that she did miss Thailand and that she had developed a new desire to travel and experience other cultures first-hand.
Do you feel like this experience changed your student’s college choice or career path? How?
Lynne: Visiting Thailand definitely changed her plans for the future. I think it says a lot for someone her age to have the desire to visit a place so far out of her comfort zone, and that alone shows divergent thinking, but to have actually gone on a trip like this and gained the perspective she did definitely altered her aspiration to actually follow through with plans of philanthropy. She now has concrete ambitions and feels as though Thailand is a place she would love to return to. She definitely plans to take advantage of a study abroad program once she enters college; she has a new respect for travel and encountering cultures different from her own. She may decide to do work-study in a foreign country, if available through her school, and it would be even better if there were a job available in Thailand. I was so pleased with her experience on this trip and I am so grateful to GLA for giving her the experience of a lifetime and the perspective most people only get much later in their lives.