What you need to know:
Reassure them you will stay connected with them when they are away. Be realistic about what they should expect and do not fudge anything. Remind them that not everyone will be friendly or understand them
Gabriella is going to study in one of the universities in Malaysia in a couple of months. The opportunity is a good academic prospect, but she is nervous about the new environment she is going into. She has never been separated from her family and friends.
All her life, she has been only in day schools around her home and nothing comes close to a 7,000-kilometre flight and a three-year-long stay away from home she is about to endure.
Her mother is equally fearful for her only daughter because of some horrible stories she has read and heard. Some children fail to complete their courses, some are enrolled into drugs and sex trafficking goups, others commit suicide because of depression and some suffer the wrath of racism and discrimination.
While she trusts Gabriella’s maturity in judgment, she still holds the uncomfortable tinge that maybe, this might be too much to ask for an inexperienced 16-year-old. Questions that plague her mind are:
Will she be discriminated against because of her skin colour? Will she get around the food considering she has a stubbornly-sensitive stomach? Will she easily make new friends as an introvert? Will she find a church to go to or will she be skewed to the wrong side of morality and faith? Will she complete her course? Who will care for her when she gets sick?
Gabriella is not alone on the academic tourism train. According to Unesco Institute for Statistics, about 6,000 Ugandan students studied for a university degree internationally in 2017. Some parents prepared their children for college overseas and share their experiences.
Separation anxiety is a disturbing reality. Talk to your child and listen to their concerns. They may be as excited as they are fearful; fearful of the unknown and fear of leaving their friends.
Reassure them you will stay connected with them when they are away. Be realistic about what they should expect and do not fudge anything.
Remind them that not everyone they meet will be friendly towards them or understand them. They may attract some blank stares and queer sneers and even outright verbal abuses.
Daphne, 19, lived in France for a while and says, “I never understood why I was always asked if I were lost when I entered a supermarket. Some may have genuinely cared, but obviously, some were letting me know I was not welcome in that space.”
Gather enough information about the destination. Search the Internet and get to know about the food, language, culture, climate, laws, safety rules and key places such as hospitals, so you can acclimate them early on.
Find out if any Ugandans are living in the same area where your child’s school is, so they can get social support, otherwise it can get deeply lonely.
Also, the academic life of a university student is characterised by extensive research and self-teaching. Remind your child to concentrate on their studies lest they fail.
Kiiza Ibrahim Mugoya, currently a first-year bachelor’s student of Medical Micro-Biology at Mawardi University in India, wishes he knew about the currency before he left Uganda.
Talk budgeting with your child, get them the foreign currency of that country ahead of time, go through the exchange rates and teach them to be frugal. Agree with them on daily, weekly, and monthly expenditure and provisions for contingencies.
Rosanne, who sent her 16-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter to a South African high school, says, “I reminded them of the sacrifice we were making financially as a family. I reminded them that they needed to take this opportunity seriously. They graduated and got good grades.”
Socialisation is a process, not an event: If you have been “babying” your child, doing everything for them, not allowing them some independence and permission to fail, if you have not been enforcing some kind of discipline, you cannot possibly prepare them adequately for a life abroad in just a few weeks before they leave.
Sam and Julie who are preparing their son for life in a UK university soon, say, “We have raised him to be a good time manager and a hands-on person; he can cook, clean-up, wash and organise stuff.”
“We have inculcated in him Ubuntu social values such as sharing because he will be sharing space and facilities such as bathroom, kitchen, living room with other people who are not his immediate family. We are positive he will not struggle in these areas.”
Some countries that your child is going to, may be of a different faith. Your child may be radical about his faith, but his neighbours may be outright atheists.
It might be prudent to keep some views private, unless when asked, to avoid persecution or discrimination. Your child may also need to be sensitive to the manner of dressing of the citizens in that country. If they are Moslem and they veil, she too can veil to fit in.
Prepare your child for life in school abroad, but do not worry yourself sick about it. You will never exhaust everything they need to know.