Sending our children to study abroad

Sending our children to study abroad

Feb 12, 2014

I never experienced studying abroad. All three of my sons have.

My two older boys went to Xavier School for elementary and high school. Xavier values giving a global perspective to its students and its curriculum includes opportunities for study abroad. It started as a program called the Xavier China Experience (XCE), a six-week overseas cultural immersion for Grade 7 boys during the third quarter. The boys took more intensive Mandarin classes, martial arts, worked on multidisciplinary academic projects, went on field trips that exposed them to the Chinese culture and society. Some of their teachers went with them to conduct their regular subjects because they still had to fulfill their third quarter requirements so the load was quite heavy.

It started as a program with limited slots wherein the boys had to apply for. They had to have academic competence to carry the load, and a level of maturity to live away from home. Even the parents were prepared and regulated during the program, ”Parents may not initiate a call to their sons.” I was okay with that policy because some parents are really hard to wean away from their babies. I also felt secure because I had known Xavier to be a bit OC on matters of schedule, implementation of rules, timeliness of feedback to parents, etc. When the school saw the positive outcome of this program, they opened it up to all students and even added other overseas programs. Today students are required to attend at least one such program as a condition for graduation from high school.

My two older sons Martin and Enrique went to Xiamen – Hua Qiao University and Xiamen University, respectively. One of the best outcomes was their chance to really speak Mandarin out of necessity. They enjoyed the camaraderie with the other boys away from home that made them form special bonds. Experiencing another culture, being more independent, overcoming homesickness (which we were warned would happen after two weeks) made them come home as more responsible young men who value what they have even more.

My youngest son Anton is in Ateneo High School, which doesn’t offer structured programs for overseas studies. We also wanted him to experience what his older brothers experienced so we looked for a program that he could join. We found a program in Korea offered by Youth for Understanding (YFU) Philippines, an exchange program existing since 1967 (the head office since 1951).  There were two slots (one for each gender) available in May 2012. Fortunately, he got the slot for the male and was sent to Indeogwon High School. He found it difficult to communicate with the locals because he was on his own. Unlike his older brothers, he had no school buddies and Filipino teachers to go with and no years of studying the local language prior to his trip, just a crash course of Psy’s Gangnam tongue. Nonetheless, his experience turned out to be the most authentic. He lived with a Korean family, rode the bus on his own everyday, studied in a school with no other Filipino delegates (the other girl was sent to another school in Korea). He was shocked to see that students were still subjected to corporal punishment by their teacher. He said he had this magic term Kyowhan hakseng! (meaning Exchange Student) that protected him from any punishment for not observing school rules like wearing a certain kind of footwear in some areas of the school, etc. He enjoyed it when their American English teacher would pull him out of his regular class to bring him to other English classes where he presented something in English followed by a question and answer portion. This was the local students’ practice of communicating in English. In other words, he was their Language Laboratory!

College Abroad?

Because of the positive effect of overseas study experienced by our sons in grade school and high school, we also thought of sending our oldest son to study abroad for college. However, he was not very keen on it. He said he enjoyed his stint for a couple of months in Xiamen but he would rather spend his four years in college here.

When I interviewed Lianne Tiu, the mother of Christ Tiu for my book Raising Pinoy Boys she shared with me that they don’t want to send their children to study abroad for college, unless a parent or grandparent can live with them. She said, “ At this age they still get easily influenced by the environment, and usually, it is not very positive.” I was glad that Martin decided to stay home for college; otherwise, I would have missed quite a bit on his wonderful college journey including meeting his friends, not to mention the huge savings from that decision.

Despite Martin’s preference for a local university, he expressed interest in an overseas stint while in college. Ateneo de Manila University School of Management offers an exchange student program called Junior Term Abroad (JTA). When he attended the orientation for incoming freshmen, he asked the Dean if joining the program would delay his graduation. The answer was no, but would mean a heavier load. On top of the standard course curriculum, elective subjects equivalent to one semester taken in their JTA university are added. JTA students start their first semester earlier giving up their summer vacation. They leave in August then come back late December or January, then start their second semester right away, which will end during the Holy Week.  This third year load is quite heavy and you’re surely hear, “Toxic! I’m going to have a hell week next week!” which means sleep-deprived days ahead.

Martin went to ESC Rennes School of Business in France. (Just a trivia, Rennes is where crepe was invented, in the town of Bretagne.) He said JTA is probably the highlight of his college life. For someone who loves to travel, it sure was. Because it was easy and economical for him to go from one European country to another by train, he didn’t miss the chance of spending his weekends and school holidays moving around. Of course, I had to remind him to keep those grades high, even if they’re not included in the computation of his Quality Point Index (QPI). Fortunately, he did and actually ranked in the top 3% of in his class.

Younger brother Enrique also set his sights on JTA when he entered college in the same school. Of course, he wanted to go to a different country. He studied the choices and opted for Germany. He said that reading through their history made him admire the Germans because despite losing in the world war they emerged as an economic power. He went to Munich Business School. He recently concluded his JTA and was featured at ANC On The Money to discuss budgeting while studying abroad. (Click link to view episode).

Sending your children to study abroad may be costly not only on the purse but also on the emotional aspect. Having gone through this five times now, I wish to share some tips on how to make the experience more enjoyable for both the parents and children.

1. Make it clear to your children that sending them to study abroad is a privilege and gift, not an entitlement.

2. Be on the lookout for scholarships. YFU is a good source of scholarships for teenagers. It offers cost efficient experiences. We only paid for Anton’s airfare to Korea because tuition, board and lodging were all free. (Click to visit FB page)

3. Remind your children to do well in school. This will give them higher chances of getting scholarships, which are usually limited in number. In qualifying for JTA tuition-waived slots, students are ranked according to their academic and extra-curricular competence. The higher your rank, the greater your chances of getting your preferred university slot for free. When Enrique aimed at the Munich Business School his concern was there were only two free slots in said school. Fortunately, he ranked number 4 among all the JTA applicants and got his preferred slot for free.

4. Agree on a total budget based on your research of cost of living expenses, airfare and other costs. Note: If the cost is too much that it would hurt your retirement nest egg, maybe it’s not a good idea to proceed. 

5. Agree on the priorities of the experience. If shopping is not a priority (and it should not be), then make sure that it will not eat up your budget. My older boys both said that they wanted to explore Europe so their priority was to purchase the Eurail pass that allowed them to move around from country to country by train. They also searched for the best accommodation deals.

6. Agree on a regular and detailed expense reporting. They recorded all their expenses to the last cent/centavo starting from the time they applied for their visa up to the time they landed back in Manila. The monthly report also had a running balance, a one-glance reminder of their lifeline. They emailed this to us on a monthly basis.

7. On the emotional side and in order to manage expectations, schedule chats and skype/facetime. We learned this lesson when Enrique went to Xiamen while he was still in Grade 7. We didn’t have any agreed upon call schedule and remember, we could not initiate the call as part of the XCE rules. There were days when we, especially Marvin, felt bad not having heard from him on days we expected him to call. 

8. Have an agreement that they should get in touch with you if they undergo any crisis while they are away. Thank God for Skype, Facetime and Viber, calls are now virtually free, you can have unhurried conversations to discuss important matters, unlike a few years back when overseas phone calls would cost you an arm and a leg.

9. The role of Short Videos and Slide Presentations. I’m happy that even if I did not ask them to, they made short videos that would make Jason Magbanua insecure. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, Jason Magbanua is the most sought after videographer who pioneered in on-site wedding videos.) They posted these short videos every so often that showed how much fun it is to travel while you’re young doing crazy stuff that you can only do with your equally crazy friends. I lived the life of an exchange student vicariously through my sons’ videos! Adding a keynote presentation complete with music to his first monthly expense report was Enrique’s style of easing the blow when he realized that he might go a bit higher than his brother’s budget because of the higher rent in Munich. His opening slide, “Thank you very much for allowing me to have this amazing experience. I don’t need a Christmas gift when I get back home.” followed by a disclaimer: “Di kaya budget ni Kuya Martin, rent pa lang doble na!” Fortunately, at the end of the term he was just off by a few thousand pesos.

10. Other cost saving tips from my sons: Don’t have a haircut during your entire stint; the long hair will help keep you warm come winter months. Do your laundry at a lower rate during “Happy Hours” early in the morning. Cook your own meals. Schedule your grocery visits to avoid unnecessary purchases. Bringing home pasalubongs is optional.

I hope you got valuable tips and insights from the above. Sending children to study abroad at the right time with the right circumstances brings happiness to both parents and children. It gives the children valuable experiences, memorable education, opportunities to develop self-reliance, responsibility, and an openness characteristic of the mindset of a global citizen.