Keeping in Touch With Your Gap Year Friends

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Leaving home to Gap Year for a semester or year is fertile ground for making new friends. Together, you trip and stumble and fall and giggle through the language barriers, conquer unexpected challenges, and actively explore your new sense of freedom. You quickly start to question your lifestyle back home, and get to shed your past and start fresh. You meet people from all different walks of life and challenge your conventional norms. Who wouldn’t want to do this hand in hand with a rad person who totally “GETS IT?”

Your bestie from abroad is a special gal/guy, and it’d be a shame to let your tight bond go to waste just because you’re in separate time zones. Here are some ideas for keeping in touch with your Gap Year BFF!

Share the mundane details of life

Since your Gap Year BFF is probably on the other side of the country, you will be tempted to limit your conversations to memories of your shared lives and adventures back on the other side of the pond. While it’s fun to reminisce, it isn’t a great foundation for the growth of a longterm friendship.

Gap Year BFF’s Jamie and Grey share: “Our joint love for Ghana was the cornerstone of our friendship, but it was important for us to continue building it beyond that.”

When telling stories, use the actual names of your friends and your professors. Talk to him/her about what’s really going on. Avoid generalizing or skipping over things because you’re busy or think he/she doesn’t care. Talk to him/her the same way you would talk to your BFFs at school – about EVERYTHING. He/she deserves to know, and probably wants to, too!

Kick it old school with snail mail and commit to phone dates

Who doesn’t just LOVE getting care packages?! Take the time to put a little lovin’ in a box/envelope and drop it in your local post box for your gal pal across the country.

While it will be tempting to back out every now and then, avoid falling into a habit of breaking your phone or Skype dates. Texting and snapchatting and giving them a little #TBT shout out every now and then is good and all, but is it enough?

Introduce your @home besties & him/her

We have a hunch that your besties in your hometown or at your university would be huge fans of your new friend, too. Take the time to get everyone involved in the lovefest!

For instance, Jamie’s other friend Meredith was pumped when BFF Grey posted a funny photo on him/her Facebook wall.

This step can look as simple as friending one another on social media or following each other on Instagram. Having the groundwork laid pre-tip #4 will only enrich him/her experience being welcomed into your home communities.

Invite your Gap Year BFF for a visit!

Step 1: Think about how AWESOME would it be to show your life back home to your Gap Year bestie?!

Step 2: Invite them over.

Step 3: Nag them until they buy their plane ticket!

Introducing your BFF to your life at school or your life back home will strengthen your relationship. Now, she’ll be able to put a face to all those names, totally “get” why you couldn’t get over that guy, and better understand why you called the gelato in Italy second-best to your favorite diner ice cream in your hometown.

Gap Year BFFs Madeline and Marley can’t wait to reunite in Seattle later this year. “We met while studying abroad and just clicked!” said Madeline,

Marley joked, “It’s hard to tell if me or my mom are more excited for him/her visit this summer! ….And I secretly want to set her up with my brother.”

Plan your next joint adventure abroad!

Before even leaving the hills of New Zealand, Gap Year BFF’s Karinne and Olivia were already scheming ways to return together. A few weeks later they had a full fledged plan to get jobs, save up money, attend community college, and then come back the following spring.

Having a common goal to work towards together and a loving buddy who can hold you accountable to your commitments is a surefire way to keep the travel stoke AND the BFF stoke alive.

Jamie agrees: “Grey and I couldn’t wait to get back to Ghana. We did some independent research, contacted a local NGO outside of Accra, booked our plane tickets and returned the following summer. It was amazing, especially to be able to do it with someone who ‘gets’ me.”

Did you hit the jackpot or WHAT? Not only did you get to travel abroad and check out life in amazing foreign countries, you also got to share your experience with a new BFF. You lucky thing, you!

Bridging Culture Gaps

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You don’t have to go overseas to experience a different culture – there are a variety of deep and wonderful cultures anywhere. Thus, the most important thing is the way in which you approach any different culture. For instance, traveling from North Carolina to Los Angeles is no doubt going to be a different experience and there’s often little need to go to the other side of the globe to push your comfort zone.

That being said, in the words of Holly Bull from the Center for Interim Programs, “Perhaps the most important aspect of a Gap Year is the student making their own decision.” In other words, whether you feel called to be in Hawaii working with dolphins, in Louisiana engaging in service-learning about environmental issues, or in India living in a yoga ashram, the fact that you as the student are making your own decision is the largest predictor of a “successful” Gap Year.

Here are a few tips that are important to remember when you’re thinking about visiting a foreign culture:

The bottom line

There are no excuses for “inappropriate.” No matter what, if you feel unsafe, threatened, of if you generally feel a bit off about what’s going on, then no amount of cultural norms make it okay. If, particularly as a woman, a man is touching your leg or neck, in almost every culture such behavior is unacceptable unless you’re at the least dating . . . no matter what the man may say. Please, for your and every other traveler’s sake, tell the man “no” firmly and leave.

Ease in

If you’re traveling for three months, spend the first months simply engaging and observing: try to see things from the local perspective and then, when you feel comfortable, venture into sharing some of your own opinions and cultural norms. This extends to simple things like taking pictures, or constantly asking “how much is that” . . . these are things that leave a big and stereotypical footprint that inevitably put you in a box and limits your experience as much as it shows your ignorance of the local cultures.

Remember to travel lightly

This is in reference to the environment as much as it’s in reference to the culture. But in general, traveling with an open mind rather than insisting on reinforcing your own opinions is the best way to make friends and experience the local cultures authentically. For instance, when traveling in a Muslim country, learning about Islam, cultural values as they are represented on the ground, and the state of the average family is going to be far more educational than watching the news about radical Islam. The reality is that the differences that divide us as a species are far less numerous than the similarities.

Be a good guest

It’s often said in other parts of the world that the “guest is god.” It’s a way of saying that when a guest comes in, that you’ll be treated as if you were royalty with all things shared and all invitations made. Oftentimes, in a more impoverished setting, the family may give you (a single person), the only bedroom while the entire family sleeps in the living room (where some of the rest of the family would sleep on any other night). Even though this may be uncomfortable, it’s probably rude in these circumstances to refuse.

However, Americans consume enough as it is . . . so don’t simply take everything without consideration for the rest of the family nor for the power of cross cultural communication.

Give back

One night, offer to cook your host family or friends or coworkers a traditional meal from your home as a thanks for their hospitality and to reduce their work for the evening. In the author’s experience, there was a time the family was making hot water so he could take a shower. They had gone out in the woods, cut down wood to burn simply so he could take a hot shower. He didn’t know about this, and so consumed three-quarters of the water from the bucket in a ‘new and exciting bucket-shower’ as the locals do. However, unknowingly, the entire family was now relegated to using only the final quarter of the bucket for their shower.

Dealing with food specialties

In most cases, it’s better to make excuses rather than refusals. It’s one of those understood issues of living culturally that if you don’t like a particular food, or if you’re a vegetarian for instance, then rather than saying that you “don’t eat meat,” say that you’re “allergic to meat,” or a vegetarian. Of course this is perhaps a bit misleading. However, it’s an understood way out from cultural expectations and half-truths are often understood culturally better in different countries than here in the States.

Traveling with expectations is overrated

It’s impossible to walk into an experience without expectations – they are usually subconscious and fed by media, friends, or your own American culture. However, being a good student in life means being open to being wrong. Walking in as an anthropologist in lieu of an “American” – inasmuch is possible – is invaluable. Keep your mind (and your eyes) open.

Keep a journal

We know . . . this sounds like homework, and who wants to spend countless hours writing in a journal? But perhaps one of the most important aspects of a structured Gap Year is keeping a journal. How often do you know how you really feel until you’ve thought about it a bit? How often do you just remember that really great insight without writing it down? The point of it, above all else, is to keep the reflective element of learning a daily practice rather than simply photographing the local people and ghosting through your experience.

In all, cultural travel at its best consists of two main ingredients: common sense and respect. Respect the local people, local traditions, local food and way of life, local authorities. Also be sure to respect yourself and fellow travelers. Keep an open mind and use a dash of humility and common sense, and you’re sure to have a pleasurable experience no matter where you travel.

How to Talk About Your Gap Year Without Annoying Everyone

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A nugget of wisdom from good ol’ Lorelai Gilmore:

“Hey, don’t you want to see it? Huh? The place where you’ll be living and studying and developing very naïve but pretentious world views that will come crashing down the minute you graduate?”

Whether you like it or not, your newly-enlightened worldview is still in some-ways idealistic. This is not a bad thing. I repeat. This is not a bad thing. But the reality is that even with the insane number of amazing experiences you now have under your belt, you still have a lot to learn, and humility will be your BFF as you navigate your post-Gap Year relationships and conversations.

Here are my best tips for talking about your Gap Year without everyone’s eyes glazing over.

How to NOT sound like an arrogant-annoyance

There’s no quicker movement from “0 to annoyed” than to constantly barrage your family and friends with the amazing stories you had while experiencing a much-cooler life than basically everyone else you know. Want to bypass this intersection?

 

Don’t be the one-upper

You know how you hear stories that instantly trigger memories about your own personal experiences? While it’s great to relate to others and communicate your empathy through sharing them, it can unfortunately devolve into a game of “my experience is more hardXXcore than yours.” Listen and react appropriately to others; don’t just wait for your chance to interject with something that’s all about YOU.

Cool it on the conversation policing, especially in public

Some of your friends and family might make comments that are inappropriate, inaccurate, or insensitive to other cultures. Instead of calling them out in the middle of a group, if you feel strongly about something they’ve said, take them aside independently and have a quick chat about it. Don’t embarrass them in front of others – but don’t let these false comments slide, either.

Integrate your experiences

If you are quick to tell others how much you support access to clean water or education equality in India, don’t let these interests lie solely in memories. Walk the talk and merge your newfound interests with your life back home. People will be more interested in hearing about your intensive Swahili course in Tanzania if you’re currently seeking opportunities in your home community (or heck, online) to continue developing that skill.

 

Mutual Interest is Key

While you were traipsing around the planet bringing new meaning to the word “globetrotter,” your family and friends were also having important experiences. They might have been ordinary or they might have been extraordinary. Regardless, they matter, and you need to let them know that.

Ask them questions, too

It’s called a dialogue, di-alogue, two. There’s not much fun if you’re the only one talking. Like a good ping pong match, toss questions back at them and inquire thoughtfully about their personal experiences while you were away.

Don’t minimize their experiences

Sometimes the things we say come off as a lot more harsher than we intend. For instance, “I could never live in <insert hometown> again” OR “Everyone here is so complacent. My greatest fear is to not really LIVE life and to just do the same thing day-in, day-out.” While you might feel all of these things, there are more sensitive (and less offensive) ways to say them. “I’m thankful for my experiences in <insert hometown>, but I want to try out living in other places” OR “One of my values is diversity of experience and staying active. This will manifest in my life in these ways: x, y, z.”

Tell them you love them and are thankful for them

It can be a little scary to see your best friend or your kid or your sibling jaunt off around the world to experience so much. Wouldn’t you feel a little insecure, too? Remind your closest friends and family that they matter to you, and that while you had a valuable experience striking off on your own, you couldn’t wait to come back to see them, hug them, hear how they’re doing, and start making more memories with them. Ah, love.

 

“How” to share versus “what” to share

We’ve already talked at length about how to answer the inevitable “How was it?” question after your travels. These tips are applicable even when responding to more detailed or specific questions. The secret is to know your audience and adapt your stories based on their expressed interest or their time availability.

The more conversations you have in the days, weeks, and yes – years – after your Gap Year will continuously illuminate new approaches to these discussions. You will stumble. You will annoy people. You will start to realize people avoid eye contact as they’re passing you on their way to class (okay, maybe that is extreme). But without a sincere effort to keep trying and to keep learning – not to mention that humility I alluded to earlier 😉 – you might stagnate.

Be transparent with your friends and family, maybe even going so far as to explain to them that you want to talk about your Gap Year but you don’t want to overwhelm or bore them with stories – asking them to be direct with you when you say something offensive offhand or are beating a dead horse.

Happy chatting and good luck!

“A Visitor, Not A Victim!” – Staying Safe Traveling Overseas on a Gap Year

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Before you go to college, or when you are there, are you planning to enjoy the intellectual and memorable experience of traveling abroad? Last year approximately 300,000 American students traveled overseas; the majority had a great time and returned home safely. However, a few did not! They became victims of accidents, petty or serious crime and, occasionally, terrorism. As a result, I’m sure you share our concern for your safety when you go abroad.

The majority of these problems are avoidable if you are aware of the risks when overseas. In fact, most victims of crime unwittingly put themselves into a vulnerable situation. No doubt you are already aware of some of the “do’s and don’ts” when traveling, but are you sure you have considered all the issues that could arise?

  • How should you be prepared for a traffic accident which results in your being taken to a hospital unconscious?
  • How should you evacuate from a smoke filled, burning building?
  • How can you stay out of trouble when you travel to other cities in the region beyond your initial destination?

Study Abroad Safely 101

Study Abroad Safely is a web based course designed to address these questions – and many more. It was developed to prepare you for the security challenges you will face abroad – and to reassure your parents and family that you will be thoroughly prepared to look after yourself during your trip.

This course was conceptualized and designed through the collaboration of a former British Intelligence Officer and his wife, both of whom have worked and traveled all over the world, a former executive leader of one of the largest and most respected international educational exchange programs in the U.S., and a defense contractor who is a mother of three children, all of whom have participated in study abroad programs.

In under two hours, you and your parents can consider how you should prepare for the trip, how you need to maintain situational awareness during your visit abroad and how you, and they, should respond in every imaginable emergency situation. The course addresses medical and health issues in detail, how to avoid accidents, your security when you arrive and at your accommodation, and staying out of trouble when out and about during the day – and at night. It will enable you to enjoy your trip – and stay safe.

The course is fun to watch and provides travel safety recommendations that will remain applicable for the rest of your life beyond this particular trip.

AGA Discount!

The course is available through the American Gap Association for only $49 and can be viewed repeatedly over a period of 3 days. It concludes with a list of useful websites to assist your further pre-travel research and a template for the preparation of your personal Communications and Action Plan.

Enter the discount code: AGA-2016

When you are overseas, only one person is responsible for your personal safety and that person is you!

Watch this course so you will be a “Visitor, not a Victim”!

Endorsements

“I have been organizing groups of high school students traveling to all corners of the world for years. Although designed for university age students, I believe this course contains invaluable advice for all student travelers. I strongly recommend it to students, parents and any trip supervisors.”
Melissa Brown, Director of Global Education, Holton-Arms School, Bethesda, MD

“What you have done with these videos and their message is amazing! I enjoyed every minute of the tutorials. They thoroughly covered every situation as well as various methods of preparation necessary for any study abroad opportunity. Your program is the first time I’ve really felt that every possible scenario has been discussed and I was learning something new. It actually taught me a couple of new tricks.

It was both very informative and fun to go through. I recommend it to anyone before their first trip abroad or their next study abroad experience. It was wonderful to see that this program not only presented common situations for students and parents involved in study abroad, but it also emphasized the importance of respecting foreign culture and societal customs.
This program is worth watching, and I cannot wait to tell my friends and classmates about it!”
Kali B – College student

“I would recommend this program to everyone who will be studying abroad in the future! Through the knowledge I gained from this program I felt I was well suited while traveling abroad in Europe. The lessons I learned allowed me to be the only student in my group in Barcelona to not have experiences with stolen property. I felt comfortable while traveling abroad and owe that to this program.”
Courtney E – College student

“I thoroughly enjoyed the course. I now realize the importance of preparation for my future trips abroad and how I can better look after myself while I’m away. I was also surprised to learn how the US Embassies overseas could help me in an emergency. I would recommend this course to all my friends who are traveling overseas.”
Megan S. – High school student and Summer Immersion Program participant

Student’s Guide to Voting From Abroad

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For most Gap Year travelers and study abroad participants this November’s Presidential election will be the first they’ve been eligible to vote in. Becoming a voting member of one’s country of citizenship is a rite of passage and an important step into participation in the adult community.

In spite of the growing disillusionment with the political process, voting remains the most significant way “we the people” have to make our voices heard and have a hand in the direction our country takes, both domestically and within the international community. It’s vital that every adult do their civil duty, become educated about the issues that matter most, the positions of the candidates, and vote their conscience on November 8th.

But what happens if you’re out of the country, either participating in a study abroad program, or on your Gap Year?

You can still vote, and you should make the effort to.

Voting ahead of time, from outside the country, involves voting by absentee ballot. What that means is that you apply, in advance, to have your ballot delivered to you abroad and you send it in by the deadline. The tricky part, of course, is that the deadlines for both applying for your absentee ballot and submitting your vote vary by state.

Check your state’s absentee ballot request and absentee ballot return deadlines here.

The Steps to Voting From Abroad

Voting from outside the USA is not difficult, but it does take some pre-planning. You can’t remember on the morning of the election and just stop by your local polling center before work, like you could at home. People who travel and who are living outside the USA have to go the extra mile to exercise their right to vote. It is worth the effort.
Here’s the process for voting from abroad:

  • Register to vote
  • Request your absentee ballot
  • Vote
  • Return your absentee ballot

Register to Vote

The first step is to know whether or not you are registered to vote. You can check your voter registration status online, easily.

If you ARE registered to vote, great! The next thing to do is request your absentee ballot.

If you ARE NOT registered to vote then you need to get registered.

31 states and the District of Colombia allow you to register online. The others require you to register in person (this may be a problem if you are already outside the USA and won’t return before the election.

Keep in mind that there will be a voter registration deadline and they vary by state.

If you need to register to vote, you can do so online, or in person, or by mail. This site will help you know which options your state allows.

Sometimes, you can register to vote AND request your absentee ballot at the same time, with the same form (that’s what I did, for New Hampshire) so you might have a look at the next step and see if you can roll two steps into one in your state.

Check out this 12 step explanation of how to register to vote that covers all of the variables.

How to Request Your Absentee Ballot

When requesting your absentee ballot you’ll find that there are lots of options and support services online. Here are three that are reputable and can help you get your ballot in time to vote:

Federal Voter’s Assistance Program

This is a tried and true federal organization that specializes in helping Service members and Americans living overseas to vote. They have step by step directions, printable forms and all the details you need.

Youth Vote

This is a non-partisan site dedicated to helping people vote. They’ve got a very handy Student’s Studying Abroad page with the links you need to get started and information specific to students abroad and voting.

They also provide a printable Study Abroad and Vote Toolkit that is perfect for program providers, teachers, or political organizers to hand out to students to help get them started on the process.

Overseas Vote 

Also non-partisan, Overseas Vote works specifically with Americans living abroad and Service members to facilitate voter registration and absentee voting. This site has all of the necessary forms and links to state by state information, as well as a candidate finder, in case you aren’t sure who is running in your state or district for a particular election.

Vote from Abroad

This is the site I used to print the forms for my own absentee ballot request. For the state of New Hampshire, I was also able to register to vote on the same form. Very handy! Use the drop down menu to determine which sort of voter you are (are you temporarily abroad, or out of the USA longer term?) and follow the step by step prompts until you’re instructed to print your forms. You’ll have a few things left to fill out by hand on the form, but much of it is auto filled based on the information you’ve entered. They even print out the envelope label for you so that there is no chance of an error in mailing!

Vote!

The next step is to wait for your absentee ballot to arrive. Depending on how you’ve requested to receive it, it might come by postal mail or email. You’ll then need to fill it out, voting for your candidates of choice in your local and federal elections, and mail it in by the deadline.

If your vote does not arrive by the deadline for your state, it may not be counted! Be sure to double check the absentee voting deadlines for your state and mark them on your calendar!

Return Your Absentee Ballot

Maybe it seems obvious, but this is the most important step. Even if you’re registered, even if you get your ballot, even if you fill it out… if you don’t mail it back to the right place at the right time, you haven’t voted!

Don’t forget to MAIL your absentee ballot!

Who Do I Vote For?

Voting is a civic duty and it’s serious business. Part of living in a democratic country is taking part of the responsibility for who is running the show. That’s what we do when we vote. As you begin to take your place as an adult in the community, becoming a thoughtful and informed voter is part of that responsibility. It’s not enough to listen to soundbite political commercials! You must do your homework. Understand the candidates positions on the issues that matter to you, and vote your conscience for the good of the country.

How do you get beyond the noise and learn more about the candidates policies?

Perhaps the most obvious way is to visit the websites of each of the candidates and read for yourself. Follow the debates, and educate yourself on the issues. This is a big job!

If you’re wondering how to compare the candidates, side by side, with what matters to you, there are several online tools to do that.

2016 Candidate Comparison
This site is a wealth of useful information. On the right, as you scroll down you’ll see a comparison of the Democratic and Republican candidates positions on all of the major issues. You can click on a particular candidate and get a detailed description as well as their positions on the issues and links to further information. Even the third party and minority candidates are thoroughly covered. They’ve also got a list of the scheduled debates (right at the top, on the right) so that you can mark your calendar and watch!

Inside Gov
This site compares all of the presidential candidates side by side. A handy drop down on the left side allows you to select your position on issues and then match candidates who share your views.

No matter where your research takes you, it’s important to remember the bias of the person or organization writing. Try to find sources that are non-partisan, and read as widely as you can, from a variety of perspectives (even those you might disagree with!) to educate yourself thoroughly on all sides of an issue.

Further Inspiration

Still not convinced that you should vote? Read on:

Guide to Voting Overseas by Nomadic Matt

10 Reasons to Vote as a Student

10 Reasons Why Students Should Vote

Let your voice be heard! Vote!

Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson

How to Support Your Traveling Student From Home

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Well done! Despite feeling nerves like never before and wanting nothing more than to squeeze your kid tight and never let go, you’ve managed to support your child as they’ve gone through the (admittedly-more-arduous-than-you-anticipated) process of preparing for a Gap Year. But now they’ve taken off from JFK/SFO/ATL, and are en-route to the learning experience of a lifetime. So, now what?

Even though you’re thousands of miles away, you, as a parent, will still play a critical role in the success of your child’s Gap Year. As per usual, you’ll wear many hats – friend, confidant, parent, cheerleader, soundboard. But new territory to navigate will also present itself: without the convenience of face-to-face interactions and a shared physical presence, finding ways to connect can be more challenging than expected.

So how can you support your child while they’re thousands of miles away on a Gap Year, anyway?

Encourage Making Good Decisions

Here’s the reality: you don’t know exactly what your kid is experiencing every day. And that’s pretty scary. Hopefully you’ve instilled some street smarts in your kid over the years that will allow them to handle their new day-to-day road bumps. In the end, the best you can do (both for your child and your own sanity), is to consistently encourage them to make good decisions.

Good decisions come in handy in a variety of circumstances. Coach your kid into thinking clearly through their actions, considering others throughout that decision-making process (especially in light of their role as a visitor in a foreign country), and ultimately making choices that aren’t always “easy” but are always “right.”

As a parent, it’s your moral obligation to be the (slightly) naggy reminder of all things safety. Gentle prompts to be travel-savvy, such as storing money in multiple places on your person, are not overbearing – they’re necessary. Be the voice of reason in case your child is getting caught up in all the fun.

Frame Conversations Appropriately

While it’s great to learn about their trip to Victoria Falls and (gulp) when they hung over the edge of somewhere called “The Devil’s Pool,” try to redirect conversations to focus more on what they’re learning and what they’re gaining from their overall experience. Fun and adventure will inevitably be a part of their Gap Year (and it should!), but ideally, your child has more robust goals for their trip than a couple of cool photos.

When you have your check in with your kid, ask them more pointed questions about things they’re learning about themselves or personal reactions to experiences they hadn’t anticipated. Don’t ask them to give you the play-by-play. Instead, challenge your kid (and yourself!) to avoid giving a chronological “report” of their experiences abroad. Ask them about their favorite “teacher” – even if it’s an unconventional one like their homestay mother – and if their goals have changed or adjusted throughout their experiences. What new insights do they have? New passions? New ideas for a sense of purpose?

Yes, you want to hear about toppling all over each other as your kid and their friends recreated the Tower of Pisa in Italy, but don’t allow these surface-level discussions to be the core of your check ins.

No Guilt Trips: None!

We know you miss them. We know it’s hard. We know that your spouse just isn’t as much fun without your kid around. We know that you have more free time now than you know what to do with. But do not – under ANY circumstances – guilt trip your child because you are heartsick for their company.

There’s a difference between communicating your love for them meaningfully without sliding into the “I wish you were here’s” and the “Well, if you hadn’t left us forever…” eyerolls. Now is not the time for being overly dramatic. Now is the time for you to find new avenues for personal emotional support healthily.

Guilt tripping your child can backfire in a major way.
You might get satisfaction in the short term but it’s harmful to the relationship in the long term. Why create feelings of regret or resentment for your kid when they should be focusing on learning all the lessons this great big beautiful world has to offer?

Develop a New Identity for Yourself

Having a child “fly the nest” isn’t an easy process for any parent. After years of investing time and energy and laundry detergent and love into a little person, you suddenly realize they’re all grown up and capable of making important decisions independently. They walk away and you’re left feeling less-than-whole.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and an identity crisis, look at the experience as an opportunity. It’s an invitation for you to explore new understandings of yourself. There’s a lot you can do with your newfound brain space; devote it to hobbies or activities that DON’T include memorizing your child’s extracurricular schedule.

Your child will only feel wholly supported when their parents are feeling stable and grounded.

Smile. Laugh. Be Interested.

By the 11th phone call of their epic trip, you might start feeling a little zoned out when your kid is giving you updates. Sure – your kid may drone on, and sure – you might not need every detail about that mango sticky rice, but it’s important that you are fully present for your long-distance conversations with your kid. It can be tempting to have one eye on your favorite reality TV show as you chat. But your kid needs you to listen, respond, engage in conversation, and treat them like their stories are as cool as they think they are.

Give Them Space

Whether you regularly Snapchat your kid goofy photos or are still LEARNING HOW NOT TO TEXT IN ALL CAPS, it’s safe to assume you have regular in-person and digital communication with your kid. While the ongoing daily conversations serve a purpose, they’re not realistic for your child’s stint abroad. They need to be fully present and actively participating in their experience (not to mention WIFI can be spotty in other places).

Instead of demanding daily check ins or four-hour-long gab seshes every weekend, invite your kid to propose a check in schedule that works for them. It may change over the course of their Gap Year, depending on their needs and their availability. Phone chats might happen once every three days for a period and then be separated by two to three week stints.

Remember: the underlying goal of a Gap Year is for your kid to develop some serious self-awareness, and this can be hindered by constantly disengaging through phone calls home.

Finding your groove as a long-distance-parent takes time. You might feel things you’ve never felt before. You might hit the ground running. You might flounder a bit. Just as your kid is learning in this new stage of life, so are you – practice patience and self-love. You’ll get there!

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