Persuading Your Parents: You Want to Study Where?!
1. Show them your determination.
Each situation is unique, but what is most likely to turn your parents into allies is your unwavering commitment to your goals. It makes a difference if they've watched you coming to your decision over time. It may be harder to win them over when the idea of study abroad seems to arrive out of thin air.
Megan Schultz, a junior majoring in biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is headed to the Dominican Republic where she'll study Spanish, take some nursing and pre-med classes, and get hands-on experience in a medical clinic. Her mom first thought the trip was a typical daydream.
"Megan gets a lot of bizarre, grandiose ideas," Rebecca Schultz says,
smiling, "and so I said we’ll give this one a little bit of time, and see
if it passes the ‘two week’ test. But two weeks later, we were still
hearing about it.
"We had talked about these things in abstract ways, and I was encouraging, but when she said ‘I’ve gotten out of my lease for the fall,’ I freaked out about it."
Freak-outs are to be avoided. But your parents can usually be convinced by the slow, steady drumbeat of your not-to-be-deflected desire. Keep moving toward your goal. Show your parents how serious you are.
As the mother of Scott Kofmehl, a Boren scholar from Juniata College in Pennsylvania, said to us: "Once I saw how enthusiastic he was, I certainly went along with it."
2. Inevitably, your parents will have mixed feelings about your travel abroad.
Rebecca Schultz speaks for many of the parents we talked with when she says: "I guess the tough thing for me is that you raise children to be independent and have their own ideas, and when they do, it's very frightening."
Parents have always wanted their children to have the things they didn't have. But if your parents haven't studied overseas, or even gotten out of the country more than a few times on vacations, they won't have any direct experience of what you'll be undertaking. With the right spin, you can get that situation working for you.
"It gets a lot different as you get older," one mother laments, "you have so many other responsibilities. Those days of being able to study abroad get farther and farther away." Missing her own chance was sufficient reason for this mother to encourage her son on his global adventure.
"This is our oldest son," Eric Kofmehl says of Havana-bound Scott.
"I guess in the field that he's chosen — international politics and economics — these are the types of opportunities you need to take advantage of. It's his life and he needs to lead it, and we've always encouraged whatever he's wanted to go for."
3. Dispel myths and prejudices
Treat your parents' ideas respectfully, even if they seem out of date.
If your parents remember a time when the country you're visiting was a Cold War enemy, part of an "evil empire," gently remind them that the world is changing. Supply hard facts.
Their concerns about your safety and health will be amplified by what they see in the media. You can tell them that war, famine and genocide are horrible anomalies, not the status quo on the entire African continent, or in the nations of former Yugoslavia, to give just two examples.
Despite what we see on television, voters, and not troops, are more likely than ever to herald a change of government in the world's capitals. Tell your parents that going abroad gives you the opportunity to observe democracy in action - at a safe distance, when necessary.
Reprinted with the permission of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships.
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