Study Abroad

I’m writing from the train today. This morning, my niece Roxcy and I took the 6:00am to Paris, and then a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport, where Roxcy boarded a non-stop flight to Salt Lake City. (I snapped the photo above while we were on the train. Even when she hasn’t had enough sleep, Roxcy is as lovely as can be.) Sending an unaccompanied child off on a Transatlantic flight is nerve-wracking. There’s such an instinct to stay with her, to make sure she’s fed and comfortable and entertained on the long journey. And mostly, to make sure she arrives home safe and sound. I will be holding my breath until I hear she’s back in her parents’ care.

Roxcy’s flight today marked 3 months of staying with us — 3 months is as long as a U.S. visitor can stay in France without applying for special visas. While she was here, we enrolled her in the local school with her Blair cousins, she helped out like any member of the family, and she traveled around with us on our adventures. She’s a great kid — kind and smart and helpful. We loved having her around and Ben Blair reported lots of tears this morning as the little ones woke up and realized she was really gone.

Tell me, did you ever have an adventure like Roxcy’s when you were a kid? Maybe stayed with a cousin far from home? Or traveled with a study abroad group? How long were you gone? And If you had the chance, would you offer this sort of experience to your own child? Have your kids ever taken a solo flight? (I think it’s so brave!)

P.S. — My train back to Normandy left at 1:55 in the afternoon, so I had a couple of hours to run errands in Paris. I bought scissors from Muji, party banners from Hema, and macarons for Ben Blair from Ladurée. It was very multicultural shopping. : )

69 thoughts on “Study Abroad”

  1. What a wonderful opportunity for your neice (how old is she, by the way) to experience France and learn some french. I’d be interested to know how much french she learned in 3 months. It was also a wonderful bonding time for your children and their cousin. I can imagine there were tears.

    1. Hi Grace! Great questions. Roxcy is 13 years old. Which is wonderful, because so is Maude.

      In 3 months she didn’t learn to speak too much French, but she did learn a bunch of vocabulary, and learned all sorts of cultural nuances you get from living in a new place. If we were a French family, and she had stayed with us for 3 months, I’ll bet she’d know quite a bit more French. : )

      1. ok so my mom and i have had some relationship problems and i think since im planning to go visit my dad in the philippines that i could do a year of school there not only to have the experience, grow with my family, learn somethings but also give my mom time to straighten out her life and make the right decisions.she is an alchoholic so i have to take care of her. its only me my brother and her and shes making me move schools in the 8th grade this year and im 13, 14 in january and i feel i could be very responsible over there but i will stay in contact.

        so what do you think??good idea to give my mom some space and see my dad whom i havent seen in 5 years?? plus i already know some of the lang.!! just the basics!

  2. Thanks for sharing the Hema site. I kept replaying the page. Very clever promotion of their products. Put a smile on my face this morning.
    I sent my daughter abroad when she was only 15 with our church teen group. When she was getting on the plane, I think I had a panic attack, and thought what the h… was I thinking. She had the time of her life. No regrets.

  3. How great to have your niece stay with you for three months!!! I’m sure you all made memories that will last a lifetime. :)

    I first studied abroad at the age of 12 when I was an exchange student in Spain for a month and I’m convinced that that one trip changed the entire course of my life. I grew up raised by my single mom with an older sister who is 8.5 years older than me and we were QUITE the opposite of well-to-do… my mom saved for years and I fundraised like nobody’s business to be able to go on that trip. It was a miracle that I was able to go and one of the best gifts of my life.

    I just got back last week from a week visiting one of my exchange students from Spain (that trip was the first of many international trips for me, as it turned out) and being there reminded me, again, of the sacrifices my mom made for me and my sister so that we could have a TRULY rich and well-rounded life. Needless to say, I’m a big proponent of travel. :)

  4. Rocxy is beautiful (not only on this photo) , nice, sweet, a little shy with a lovely smile and she’s been very brave to leave her family for 3 long month… BUT she had A LOT of wonderful, unforgetable experiences with all your family and I bet there will have tears in Salt Lake City this evening… but “joy” tears’s from Mum and Dad !

  5. I stayed with my aunt & uncle and cousins in southern Louisiana for an entire summer before I started middle school. My aunt even took me school shopping and we tried to convince my mom to let me start school down there, but I had to come back home. It’s still one of the best summers of my life. :)


  6. This is so lovely. I’ believe that children grow greatly from these experiences. I have an 11 year old that has been travelling on her own since she was 5 to visit her dad. She is so strong and brave I’m always in awe of her independence. As we are waiting for her luggage, people from the flight always stop by to mention how friendly and delight my daughter was. She’ll begin studying Italian this fall and we plan on sending her to spend the 2013 summer in Southern Italy with a dear friend.

  7. I never did, but what an exciting opportunity for a kid! The closest for me is when I was 13 I stayed with my aunt and grandmother for a week across the country (in Philidelphia) to help my grandma get her house ready to sell. I’m not sure how much help I actually was, but I was thrilled by the independence of being that far from my parents. The fact that I was “helping” just made me feel more like an adult. Still very memorable and that was only a week!

  8. I studied abroad twice at high school – one in Marseille at 14 and another one in Chicago at 16. I loved it and recommend it thoroughly, I learnt loads and made me more independent, plus improved my language skills beyond belief!

  9. Yes, yes, yes! How fun and so important for a child. I went for a month of French exchange to La Rochelle when I was 13 years old. It was a great experience. When I was 15 I lived with my grandparents in Miami for a year to get the US experience (I grew up in Switzerland) and that also defined a lot of my choices growing up. And then I decided to go to university in Paris – again, needed a change. I have this bug that makes me want to move countries all the time. 9 years ago I sold everything and moved from Europe to Canada, I’m still here, but I might pack up the kids and husband and move again soon ;) Because my kids are Swiss citizens they will most likely take part in the Swiss Expat exchanges offered, which allows them to spend summers or winters with Swiss families.

  10. What a wonderful experience! I can only imagine how that will shape her as she continues to grow.
    I used to spend several weeks with my cousins in Milwaukee during the summers when I was that age. My cousins were boys, so it was a chance for my aunt to have a daughter to go shopping with and do girlie stuff with. And I was as closer to my cousins than I was to my own brother. I helped them clean up their run-down college apartments (discovering how to clean mold off of shower walls, how to patch holes in kitchen ceilings) and the fact that they let me tag around with them was priceless.

  11. What a beautiful photo of your niece! I hope my children will have opportunities like this. My older daughter’s godmother is a member of the diplomatic corps and I’ve always imagined I would send the kids off to her for some international adventures. (Although the idea of them flying alone does make me hyperventilate a little!)

    The closest we’ve come to an international adventure like this was when we traveled as a family to China to bring our youngest daughter home. People thought we were crazy for bringing the kids (2, 4, and 6 at the time), but it’s the best thing we ever did. I really believe that seeing the world changes their perspective, and makes everything seem possible. As we tell them, “If you can climb the Great Wall, you can climb anything.”

  12. My mom sent all of us kids to CISV camps when we were 11, she even let us skip school for a month to do it since most camps happen from June- August which isn’t summer where we are. CISV is one of the world’s largest peace organizations and I lived in a camp with kids and adult leaders from 8 different countries. I loved it so much that 10 years later I volunteered staff a camp again. It’s still one of the best experiences of my life.

  13. mom in mendon

    I’m happy for all of you. Happy that cousins got to spend time together, happy happy that she had a great time, and happy that Roxcy’s parents get to welcome her home.

  14. Funny, we were just discussing this last night, on the way home from dinner. We have friends in France and a 10-year-old daughter who’d like to spend her summer with them. I’m not sure I’m ready to put her on a plane alone, but she says she’s ready. Next summer, maybe?

  15. I always wanted to go abroad as a child (teen) but never had the means or opportunity. Part of me prays that one, or both, of my daughters will have the desire to, because I would love to see a fragment of my dream live on in them! :)

  16. I went abroad every summer for immersion from 12 through 18 and while part of me missed being at home for the summer things everyone else got to do, i still got to do those thing but somewhere else, all while learning a language or volunteering. In the end they were some of my most formative experiences and really shaped who I am and I’ll always be grateful to my parents for making those opportunities happen for me.

  17. At 16 1/2 I spent a summer abroad with a French family in southern France — it was wild now that I think how many parts of the trip I was totally on my own — I would be VERY nervous about it if my daughter chose to do a trip like that! I also flew back and forth from Hawaii to the mainland as an unaccompanied minor to visit relatives many times during childhood. Starting at a pretty young age. I would NEVER do that now with a kid under 12! Not sure why, I’m just too paranoid. I also went to a summer camp for a month when I was 7. Looking back, I feel like parents must have been waaaaaay relaxed about these things. I am not relaxed. It’ll be a struggle for me if my kiddo wants to travel around on her own when she gets older…..

  18. When I was 12, I flew by myself from Seattle to New Delhi, India, to go to a boarding school up in the Himalayas. I made this same trip by myself numerous times as I got older. I had no fear of flying alone, and LOVED my boarding school. I’m sure it was much harder for my parents to put me on that plane than it was for me to get on it.

    I never really thought twice about the experience, or how it might have felt for my parents, but now that I’m a mother I can’t imagine putting my 12 year old on a transcontinental flight (with connecting flights!). This was before the days of email, too, and phone communication with the school was spotty. My mom said that it was like dropping me off into a black hole. They were never sure if I’d arrived safely, until they got my weekly letter. I am definitely not brave or relaxed enough to do that!

  19. I studied abroad in Paris in college (granted, I was 20/21 at the time – not as young as your niece!) and it was an amazing, life-changing event. I’m so glad I was able to be there for the full school year (which, yes, required special visas and doctor visits to prove I was in good health).

    My classes were in French, and I learned so much about not being so hard on myself. I’d been speaking French for 8 years by the time I got there, but I still made errors almost constantly. There’s slang to learn and sometimes I’d get flustered… I really had to 1) relax! and 2) not beat myself up when I said something goofy.

    I also had to grow up a lot and handle my French bank account and lease (I spent forever reading that thing before I signed it – figures my first lease is in my second language!). I also got to travel all over and meet people I still keep in touch with ten years later (thanks, Facebook!).

    I’d recommend study abroad to ANYONE. I hope my children have the same opportunities I had (either in college or through a program when they are younger).

  20. Hi ,

    I made international flights all “by myself” as young as 6 years old on… It was sort of funny to read about your concerns… When you are a minor flying solo, you are never left alone (not even to go to the bathroom at the airport) and all the crew is super attentive, cute and delicate with you. It’s like having lots of lovely nannys from both genders! And passengers tend to be nicer too… It was never a problem for me… except that you feel like a queen, and when you land, you are back to your “normal life”, just one more kid at your family… lol!
    I am glad to know she couls saty 3 months with you. Was she being home schooled? Dommage, she couldn’t go to the french school to have a little taste of that too…
    Tell us when she arrives safe… : )

  21. I was 12 or 13 when I did a German Exchange. We got on so well, that we visited each other several times a year after that (during school holidays) – and then I eventually went to Germany to work. So I was fairly used to solo travel, by then, but I’d be nervous about packing my kids off on their own…

  22. I was an exchange student in the US at 15…

    But before that I went to England for 4 weeks twice…I was 11 and 13. That’s young:) Seemed like 3 months;)

    But my trip to the US really sparked a life of living abroad. I went back to Germany, then to Spain for a year, then back to the US for a year, back to Spain, then settled in Hawaii for College and Grad school, more US living….just became a US Citizen (Dual with my European citizenship) and will go to the UK this year for a couple of years. Good stuff!

  23. Sweet picture!

    Our 18 year old daughter is currently on a 5 week missions trip to Japan. She went there last year too. It is such a strange feeling to know that she is on the other side to the world 13 hours ahead of us. We enjoy Facetiming and Skyping with her.

  24. Your niece is lovely! What a wonderful experience for her to live abroad for awhile, and at the same time to have the comfort of family all around her. You can’t get better than that :-).

    I was extremely blessed at age 16 to spend the summer in Finland, as an exchange student with Youth for Understanding (YFU). I wanted to go for a year, but my single-mom (and I’m an only child, too), wouldn’t allow it. It took almost my whole 11th grade school year for me to convince my mom to allow me to submit an application for the summer. She finally agreed in March, a couple of weeks before the application was due!

    I worked a part-time job and raised $500.00, which served as my spending money; my mom and my church (which sponsored a concert on my behalf, where the donations went toward my travel, as a gift) covered the rest. It was a sacrifice for all involved, but at the time (1981) it was a very unique thing to do, and everyone was excited to help.

    After the church concert, when I stood up to thank everyone, my godmother started to cry, and made a comment about how hard it would be for my mother to let me go so far away to a country and family we knew nothing about…Being a self-absorbed teenager, that was the first time I had even considered how difficult this would be for my mother!

    Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful experience, and learned so much about others, Finland, but mostly myself. I stayed with a lovely family, who were wonderful to me (to my mom’s relief!). I even got to visit communist U.S.S.R–what an experience! My life was forever changed and I always encourage young people to consider studying abroad.

    1. I forgot to say that I am forever grateful to everyone that made this happen for me–my church, family and friends, but especially to my mother who, despite her fears, recognized the value in the experience, and with faith, let me go.

  25. When I was 7, and again at 8, my older sister and I flew unaccompanied to England. Of course, I have very few memories of my time there. But I distinctly remember getting to ride on one of those golf carts in the airport (with the siren going!) and after our arrival, the flight attendants settled us on the second floor of the plain in the first class area so we would be the last ones off the plane (we felt pretty fancy!). I’m sure your niece will remember more of her trip than I did mine!

  26. The past few years my son (16) traveled to Denmark by himself. It was a huge learning experience for all of us. Traveling alone has given him a confidence I don’t think he would have for years otherwise. Truly a grand adventure!

  27. What a wonderful experience this must have been for your niece and your family, too! Even better that she was there during the spring, so she could attend school and get to see “everyday France” – not just holiday France.

    I have been an exchange student myself at 17. So many life changing experiences! Traveling half way around the world, but most importantly, the lesson that being home-sick taught: I can do anything if I set my mind to it. And boy, has that carried me!

    Reading this post reminded me of my Finnish mother-in-law, who at 13 in the late 1950’s used to spend her summers in England. Very unsual then, I’m sure!

  28. I spend a gap year between high school and college as a Rotary Youth Exchange student to Belgium. I lived with 4 host families, attended a Belgian school, and learned french my immersion I was there for a full year and it was the best year of my life. This summer makes 10 years and while I can not make it back to Belgium for our 10 reunion, I send bisous to all of my friends that can. The experience changed my life. And besides travel expenses its super cheap compared to any other program. We will be hosting exchange students once our children get older and will be encouraging them to travel and do the same. The world becomes so much smaller once you start exploring it. I now have friends all over the world.

  29. The first adventure I thought of was a short road trip I took. I can’t remember why, but some family friends drove me to my grandma’s house, where the rest of my family already was. It would have been an overnight stay and then a 3 hour drive, and I would have been less than 9 years old. It was a big deal. I’ll have to ask my mom to fill in some details for me. :)

  30. Wow! What an amazing adventure for your niece. My mom was able to let me go to England for 2 weeks when I was a senior in high school. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done up to that point! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I wish it’d been a bit longer.

  31. That is such an interesting question. When we were young, my mom would put my sister and I (probably 7 and 4) on a flight from Seattle to Boston to see my dad. I guess when you are divorced and working, you make decisions that I’m not sure how comfortable she was. She would put is in matching dresses and hand us off to the stewardess, who would always take really good care of us. We get a chance to sit in the cockpit, get little wings for our dresses (back then they were pins, not the cheap stick on ones kids get today) get seats up front (not first class, but the first row in coach) and felt that we were taken good care of. Since it was always a non stop flight, my dad would meet us on the other end. I honestly don’t think I could do that with my 5 and 7 year old girls. Maybe times have changed? Not sure, but it would be a really big deal to me!

  32. Hi Gabrielle! How wonderful that you hosted Roxcy for 3 months! and so wonderful that you are spending this time in France with your family. Your kids will be better for it! I lived several places as a kid, though am originally from CA (Venezuela, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico). And I conned my parents into letting me be an exchange student the summer between jr and sr years in HS. I got placed in Liege, Belgium, with a nice woman and her 10 year old son. It was a fabulous experience, and continued to open my mind (just as living in the other places did). I was fortunate to get to take a few trips with her. We stayed with her friends in Thury Harcourt, France (near you!), and spent a week in the Swiss alps in Villars. Really loved every minute. Learned tons, including bettering my French. My parents must have trusted my 17 year old self. They let me free in NYC for a few days (though I stayed with friends in CT) prior to the orientation for AFS on Long Island (it was everyone headed to Europe for the summer). I will be forever grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me. I look at my kids, and one is close in age to what I was. She’s finishing 10th grade. Not sure I can imagine sending her off by herself for that long. Then again, she hasn’t expressed the interest. She’d rather spend the summer lifeguarding and vacationing at our usual haunts. :)

  33. Claudia from Rio

    Hi Gabrielle! When I was about your niece’s age I left my home in Brazil to stay for 2 months at my uncle’s home in San Diego, CA. I truly believe this trip changed my life in so many ways. First of all, I came back almost fluent in English (it is amazing how quick kids learn a second language), and secondly, and most importantly, I gained a level of self confidence and love for travel that have molded my entire life. The feeling that I got was that I could do whatever I wanted with my life — all I had to do was go after it, because I already believed in myself. The sense of independence and being a citizen of the world is also quite amazing. The people you meet, the clash of cultures, the differences and similarities despite the borders, all are lessons that you carry for life. But another important and very precious thing you learn is to appreciate that place you call home. I certainly hope to offer the same opportunities for my children in the future, but I have to admit that I feel a little worried about the world today compared to when I was younger. In the meantime, we take them everywhere we go! But my son, already knowing about my story, is counting on some form of a trip by the time he turns 11! Oh my… I hope by then I come to terms with how the world has become!

    By the way, I did check out your article in the Brazilian magazine and I was so excited to see you. Very cool!

    By the way 2 – I was in France in the beginning of the month and got to visit Alsace and Champaigne – you guys need to go there! Beautiful countryside!



  34. Very ironically, I visited my Aunts in Europe when I was 13 – one of them still lives in Normandy not far from you. At the time she lived in Caen, but now lives in Maiziers. Like many others have said, it was a transformative trip. Likewise, all of my Scottish and French cousins came and spent long stays with us in the states. We are all so close even though we only see each other once every 4-5 years. I hope I can send my children on similar journeys. Your niece is lovely and the photo reminded me of my 13 year-old self making that journey on my own. It was an important part of becoming my own person.

  35. Argh! :(( This made my cry, and cry, and cry. One of the hardest, saddest things about living so far away from family is the fun time children get to have with their cousins. It’s really hard to match that kind of friendship. :(

  36. My first airplane ride was a trans-atlantic flight to Paris when I was 17 and went with a group of people I had only been pen-pals with before. It was very exciting and I consider it to be one of the biggest turning points in my life. Our group was in Europe for 3 weeks and visited 5 different countries (Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and a home-stay for 4 days in Austria). Experiencing all those different cultures while being young was a gift. I have a broader sense of people and respect. I also have more confidence in my decisions. Plus now every summer reminds me of that first summer that I went to Europe and I just want to go and explore the whole world! :) I’ve only been back once (to Ireland) but I’m planning a trip for myself and my husband for the future, because I want to show him how magical being in another country can be. It’s breathtaking and very freeing.

  37. Beautiful photo of your niece. Such a lovely age. And so generous of you to have her there – I’m sure she’ll never forget it!

  38. What a wonderful experience for her! And for your kids to spend time with their cousin :) When I was 15 I got to go with a friend to live her family for 9-months in Mongolia. There is just so much that you learn by visiting another country for an extended time.

  39. I’ve been waiting for this story! I can only imagine the memories she will have her whole life!

    I used go stay with my aunt and uncle when I was her exact age. Those were the best times! My daughter is with my aunt and cousin this very minute. I am sure they are lounging by the pool talking about hair do’s or painting their nails. Ahh to be 13 again!

  40. I am putting my 5.5 year old on a plane by himself this summer. It is only a 2 hour flight, and he is an excellent and seasoned traveller. But still! I am much more nervous than he is.

  41. What a wonderful experience for Roxcy! She’s such a lucky girl to have such a generous family living in what has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Can I be your niece too? :)
    When I was 15 I won a scholarship to travel to Germany to study for a month. Coming from a small country town in Australia it was certainly a culture shock when I arrived in Europe. I remember being completely homesick the first few days but that may have been jet lag messing with my head! Almost 24 hours of flying is a pretty long trip. The homesickness didn’t last long though and once I was out and about experiencing the beautiful sights of Germany I was in love with the place. Over my month in Germany I made many friends from all over the world (other scholarship winners in my group), visited some amazing destinations and greatly improved my German skills. I have so many wonderful memories from my trip and I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to go. Travelling without my parents really helped me to become independent and so much more confident. It also opened up my eyes to a world of opportunities and instilled a love of travel.
    I’d love to give my young daughters a similar experience when they’re a little older. I really feel that experiencing another culture is a great learning experience for kids. Travel is such a great character builder. My husband and I took our oldest daughter to India when she was 2 years old and although it was only a short trip (and she probably doesn’t remember much of it) she was left wanting to experience more of the world outside of her home. Last year we moved from Australia to San Francisco with our two daughters. They haven’t had the culture shock involved with moving to a country with a different language and customs, but they have had the chance to experience many new things.
    Maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to live in Europe as well. We’re slowly making our way there :)

  42. We have had one niece stay with us, and can expect lots more cousins. It is a challenging thing, I found, to blend someone into your family. It helps a great deal if the child is easy, or more challenging.

  43. Didn’t really read that before I posted! What I wanted to say was that it makes all the difference if the child is trying to be helpful and fit into your family. It’s more challenging if the child is more complicated.

  44. What a special gift to your niece — and to your kids. My husband’s rural high school was a hard match for a creative kid from a hippy family, so at some point his mother sent him off to small-town Sweden to live with her cousin’s family. More than 20 years later, my husband still shares a special relationship with his Swedish cousins. In the absence of his own mother, who died much too young, our children have two wonderful extra “grandparents” to follow their progress and watch them grow up, special “aunts” and “uncles” to visit, and even a new baby cousin they can’t wait to meet. I hope we can perpetuate the exchange with our kids in a few years.

  45. yes! I studied abroad in Florence Italy for a semester when I was 16. It was terrifying and thrilling and I remember boarding that plane like it was yesterday (though I had no idea, at the time, what it must have been like for my parents!)

    what a wonderful experience for her!

  46. When I was 8, my English parents sent me and my 6 yr old brother unaccompanied to the UK to stay with our maternal grandparents for a year from Australia. We had the most delightful experience and I can still vividly recall it being exciting, meeting all our English relatives and making lots of new friends whilst attending school there.

    Fast forward 25+ years, my father, currently residing in Florida, U.S.A had been suggesting for several years, that I send my 2 eldest children (of 7) on a 3 week holiday there, unaccompanied and I had been reluctant in the past, due to the distance and the enormous body of water that they would fly over (yeah I know pathetic really eh?)
    However, last year I shifted my focus to the marvellous experiences that they would have and allowed them to go (son almost 13 and daughter was almost 11).
    It was the perfect age for them both, as they were old enough and tall enough for all the rides at Universal Studios and Disney World.
    It was a great bonding experience and fostered independence in each of them.

    I have no doubt that we will send our 3rd and 4th child on the same adventure when they also reach similar ages too and so on with the rest of my brood.

  47. Beth Longtine

    When I was 14, I flew to Munich by myself. My best friend had been living there for 9 months, and I was to join her family for the last month of their stay. Her father was a German Dramatics professor, and was there on a Fulbright. I attended school with the family, traveled the region, saw operas and plays, and had a wonderful time. It didn’t occur to me until much later how brave my parents were to let me go, WAY before cell phones.
    Two weeks ago my daughter left for a study abroad in Copenhagen, and I was nervous until she got there safe and sound. Of course, she is having a wonderful time!

  48. I spent a summer in Germany when I was 15/16 and stayed with the family of a girl we had hosted during the winter. It was a fabulous experience. I spoke little German but I learned all sorts of new-to-me skills such as riding public transit and navigating new towns and cities on my own. This was a big learning experience for a girl from a small farming town.

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