One of the greatest things I loved seeing while working with adult students was when they would take advantage of opportunities normally seen as only being for traditional-aged students. One of those opportunities was study abroad. I worked at a college that offered some study abroad options during a winter session, so the time spent overseas was no more than three weeks, at most. When people think of studying abroad, they often think of the twenty-year old staying away for a semester or a whole year and getting immersed in another culture, language, and world. However, I repeatedly waved goodbye to students in their mid-30s, 40s, and 50s as they took two to three-week stints overseas. Many of them were women with spouses and children at home. Some of them (men and women) were single parents of children as young as 10 years of age.
These scenarios of the adult student leaving their responsibilities (spouse, children, elderly parents, community obligations, work, etc.) could have been a disaster, but I never saw one. I saw happy and excited students leaving to explore a new world and coming home elated that they were given the chance to do something they never would have dreamed of doing. These weren’t all wealthy students or students who had spouses with high-paying jobs and nannies. The one thing these adult students had in common was that they planned, saved, and were determined to have a new experience. Being an adult student doesn’t mean one just goes to work, class, and home. Adult students are taking advantage of everything their institutions have to offer, and study abroad is one of them. So let’s look at some ways to enjoy this option as an adult student:
- Look at short-term options: Study abroad could be 10 days, 3 weeks, or a summer session (5 weeks) in length. No longer is study abroad a full semester or year-long stay in another country. Colleges are catching on to the fact that some students work and cannot take 15 weeks to a year away (and some students don’t want to). Take a look at what your college offers, and inquire about taking a short-term study abroad option. Also, check with your employer about supporting study abroad opportunities and discussed how long you’re allowed to be away.
- Discuss scheduling and duties with the family: If you’re leaving family for a certain amount of time, it’s also important to propose a schedule and duties with them while you’re away. The students who enjoyed their study abroad opportunities the most were the ones who did not have to worry about home. They knew the kids would be fed, taken to school, and kept safe. They arranged for parental care and other obligations. They knew that their spouse could function without them because they worked out all of the knots as a team before the student left for a time period.
- Enlist the support of friends and extended family: If you have family close by and trusted friends, enlist their support. Maybe you have a pet that needs care while you’re abroad. Maybe you’re a single parent to teenagers and they need to make it to school and back home safely. I once had a student hire a house-sitter (one she trusted) to stay at the house while she studied abroad for a few weeks. The house-sitter was simply there as a guardian to her teenage boys. They didn’t need a babysitter, but they didn’t need to be left alone either. Getting friends and extended family involved in your education makes them feel like they’re contributing to your success, and they are! Take advantage of this.
- Take the whole family: If you plan carefully and save wisely, your study abroad trip can be an entire family trip. How cool would it be to take classes and then explore Prague or Australia with your family? Look into study abroad options one to two years ahead of time to examine prices, places to stay, and any additional fees needed.
As you think about the ways you want to experience your education, consider talking with your adviser about study abroad options. Ask to speak to other adult students about their experiences and how they managed to make it happen (and enjoy it). Also, get estimated prices early. Don’t assume that just because prices are announced four months before the full deposit is needed that schools don’t know about the prices earlier. Just like anything else you’d pay for, do your research, ask around, and plan, plan, plan. Don’t let an experience like studying and traveling abroad pass you by.
Keep moving forward and enjoy the ride!