After postponing this trip last fall, Dregen finally took off to Spain for a spring semester! While he is busy making new friends and exploring his new home, we exchanged with his father to get his perspective on this experience.
What prompted your son to study abroad, especially in such unique circumstances?
First off, Dregen loves traveling. My wife and I have been in rock bands for decades and Dregen first learned to walk in Rotterdam on a tour. He visited 5 countries that trip though he complains to us when we mention it, saying, "It's not fair if I cannot remember it!" Since then he's been to Mexico twice (once was a school sponsored trip) and in 2016 we took both sons to Sweden, Denmark & Scotland. We also travel all around the USA, or at least we did prior to the pandemic. We've often hoped our sons would do college in Europe both for the experience and financial reasons. And yes, the pandemic was a large part of our decision to get him out of his room and laptop. He agrees 100%. Dregen is a social person and has been missing his friends greatly since March 2020. He makes friends easily and from all groups.
How did you get involved in the program search and planning?
My wife, Laurian, simply did a 'high school study abroad' online search and found CIEE. So she instigated it and got the ball rolling back in January 2020. We sent in Dregen's passport to be renewed and signed him up for Fall 2020 in Spain. Then the pandemic hit and that stopped all progress with his passport and then we opted to not send him in the fall but wait for Spring semester 2021 hoping the virus would be more under control by then. I would end up doing the lion's share of the paperwork required to make this happen and I have to admit to it almost driving me crazy; there was a ton of it and working with the San Francisco Spanish Consulate was tortuous. I own a small business in San Francisco and have had to learn the art of being courteous but persistent. I don't enjoy doing that as it can feel entitled and I tried every angle I could think of to not come across as that, but communication with them was limited to somewhere between nothing for weeks to one sentence. We ended up obtaining Dregen's Student Visa one week before his departure.
Why did your son pick Spain as the destination?
Dregen decided on Spain for a few reasons; #1 he'd been taking Spanish for the last 6 years, he'd been to Mexico twice and he enjoys charting new territory. He's a confident young man (he had to grow up a little fast when his younger brother battled Leukemia for 4 years (his brother is fine now thankfully) and for example flew across the US by himself at age 8) who enjoys meeting people, seeing new places and eating all kinds of food.
How supportive was your son's high school?
His high school, Oakland Tech, was OK with Dregen's decision but has asked that he be dropped as a student there and re-enroll next year. We're assuming that will not be a problem. He will also have to make up some credits this summer. Times are so screwy now, I'm not sure if this is their standard policy or Covid-related...
How did you discuss the COVID-19 risk as a family?
Yes, we discuss it often; reminding both our sons to continue being vigilant and cognizant of their surroundings. They wear masks at all times in public and keep their distance.
How's your son’s experience so far?
CIEE forwarded Dregen a letter from his Spanish host family and both he and my wife wrote letters back. In Spanish. Dregen likes them very much and from what we gather, this family has taken in kids from other countries a few times before. In a video conference with our son, he stepped out of his room to show us around the house and we 'met' his host Mom. She was all smiles and said that Dregen is a good communicator! Dregen likes the food they serve - he said its not very spicy but good.
Our family uses a group chat on WhatsApp which we text, send photos and video conference with as often as we can. The time difference makes it a little challenging of course, but is overall very effective.
Can you describe the support you received from CIEE to both plan this experience and since you arrived?
We've been impressed with the folks we deal with at CIEE the entire time; they answer questions/concerns promptly and have been nothing but supportive. When I was having my difficulties with the SF Spanish Consulate I often asked CIEE for advice and they even reached out to people in Spain to see what help those people could provide. As Dregen's departure neared our communications increased and CIEE stayed right with us, even including Dregen getting denied a flight on his original date of departure. I by denied I mean he & I at the American Airline desk at SFO being told that he did not have all the myriad requirements to get on. Spain requires a 72 hour time period between taking a test for Covid and landing on its soil and we had miscalculated slightly and Dregen would've landed in Madrid about 3 hours after the 72 ran out. CIEE then readjusted his flights to two days later, rerouting him through Amsterdam. It worked though that flight required a second Covid test to be applied 4 hours before boarding a flight to the Netherlands! And of course, Dregen had had to get another 72 hour Covid test. He was not flumoxxed by this at all. I was, but he made it successfully and the day after he arrived he wrote us, "I'm sooooo happy to be here, its beautiful!"
How do think this experience will shape your son’s future plans?
I think this experience will have a great positive influence and help our son with many things; confidence in himself and his abilities, maturity in terms of dealing with things himself, speaking another language or two & just general worldliness which I strongly believe all humans on this planet could use. Although yes, I realize that we are very fortunate to have this opportunity for travel.
Would you recommend this program to a friend? Why?
Yes, I'd recommend it very much. Traveling to new places, meeting and interacting with new people cannot be underestimated in value.
What advice could you give to a family looking into studying abroad right now?
To be prepared for a lot of paperwork and hoops to jump through. Patience & perseverance will be required but ultimately rewarded.