When we talk about studying abroad, we often focus on the student who will be going on a life-changing academic journey. Rarely do we talk about what the experience is like for parents and how they adapt after sending their child to a boarding school in a different country.
EF Academy understands the challenges families might face when trying to connect with their child from a distance, especially when it comes to staying involved in their education. EF Academy’s Head of Admissions, Irina Grinevskaya, and EF Academy New York’s Deputy Head, Sandra Comas, agree that when parents stay involved in their child’s education while they study abroad, it benefits not just their schoolwork, but also their confidence level and overall well-being.
“When a child feels well, supported and safe, then they are free to make the leaps and steps in his or her intellectual and academic life. It’s important to have some sense of adventure and take certain risks in your thinking in order to make the most out of your education, and students feel more comfortable taking these risks with their mind when their actual selves are supported,” Dr. Comas explains. “We can see when a parent is involved in a student’s education at EF Academy. When this is the case, the student is in a much better position to make EF Academy the best place it can be for them.”
Ms. Grinevskaya agrees: “I can think of several students whose parents are involved in their progress and well-being and this has had a great positive impact on the student’s performance. It is clear to us as educators when a parent is involved in their child’s education.”
EF Academy helps parents by giving them three channels they can use to check on their child: a competent team of local admissions consultants, a counselor who works with the child at school and PowerSchool. Parents can direct questions about their child’s performance or progress to the guidance counselors who can even help them get in touch with a particular teacher at the school if necessary. The local admissions consultants can speak to parents in their native language and help them make decisions about their child’s academic path. Finally, PowerSchool is a secure online platform that shows a student’s grades and attendance record.
“PowerSchool is a very valuable tool that parents have at their fingertips and it guides them to appropriate advice and encouragement,” Ms. Grinevskaya says. “Sometimes hearing this encouragement from their parent in their own language makes a bigger impact on a student than when they hear it in English.”
As the mother of a child who is abroad, Ms. Grinevskaya says that she recognizes how important it is to have daily or at least weekly contact with her child. She does this by speaking to him over Skype.
“Our regular Skype calls help reduce the feeling of missing each other,” she says. “During these calls, you can ask your child about their life at school – academics, friends, activities.”
Dr. Comas also recommends that parents maintain open communication with their child while they are abroad and believes that if this communication occurs on a regular basis, even if the conversations are brief, it will help children stay happy, healthy and connected to the values of their home.
“If a parent does not communicate at all with their child, that could, without intent, be perceived by some students as a lack of support from the family. It’s very important that students have a strong sense of family while they study abroad,” Dr. Comas said.
In a scenario where a child is performing poorly in school, communication and encouragement from parents could be the key to turning the situation around. The first step is ensuring communication is open – parents should ask how the student’s classes are going and if their child needs help. This will ensure their child feels supported and that they can trust their parents. Then, the parents and student should contact their guidance counselor. If there is an academic concern, this will be brought to the attention of the Deputy Head of Academics, who will meet with the counselor and the student to look for solutions to the problem.
Parental support and involvement affects not only a student’s academic performance and success, but also their level of happiness and how confident and comfortable they feel in their learning and living environment. However, it’s important to realize that there is a point where a parent can get too involved. Dr. Comas describes it perfectly, saying that a student benefits the most when they have regular communication with their family, but also space to be at the school and very involved in life there.
“This space allows the student greater learning and happiness, and a better chance for a successful transition to university study,” she says.
Too much involvement can be a hindrance to a student’s progress as they study abroad, just as too much pressure can also get in the way. Ms. Grinevskaya describes support as something that is encouraging and boosts a child’s confidence, while pressure can often lead to pushing a child to do something that is not necessarily in their best interest.
“Encourage your child and understand that they might be experiencing culture shock or that they have challenges that they need to overcome, especially at the beginning of their time abroad,” Ms. Grinevskaya says. “Trust your child and inspire them.”