Studying Abroad in a COVID-19 World: A mom's perspective.

Aedan, 17,  is studying abroad in Sweden this fall with CIEE. Making this decision and planning the trip was no small feat for his family at a time where the world still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, Aedan's mom shares her insights into that planning process and what her aspirations are for her son.

"We feel that the experience he gets there is priceless."

We lived in Florida when we enrolled in the program but moved to Alaska between being accepted and actually leaving the US. We have always talked about the kids going abroad for a year. I have three kids and they all know they are going abroad for a year. It is very important for young people to connect with different cultures and realize the world is more than an Anglocentric society.

Aedan showed interest in studying Physics like my father. He was investigating universities in Europe and fell in love with Lund University. Since he wants to go to Sweden for university, he also decided to go to Sweden for a high school year. This way he can learn more about the language and culture, before being there as an adult! He is going as a senior. He is a very hard working student and he probably could have graduated in 11th grade. So even if this year abroad does not "count" for US graduation, we feel that the experience he gets there is priceless. In the grand scheme of things, even if he has to be "held back" a year, this is really not significant when he is 40 or 50 years old! The experience he gains from living with a Swedish family, participating in daily chores, helping with his younger brothers, fending for himself in a foreign land (with support of a family that is interested in having American students) will be very important for him as a person. 

"Covid added an extra layer of stress for our family [...] but thanks to CIEE we always felt supported and informed."

Covid added an extra layer of stress for our family. We moved from Florida to Alaska in April 2020, in the middle of the school year. Planning for an international trip with all of the changes that we were going through in our personal lives was also very hard, but thanks to CIEE we always felt supported and informed. Aedan was the one really deciding he wanted to go despite Covid-19. We were uncertain until the moment he arrived in Sweden if being from the USA would be a hindrance, due to the border closures with the US. CIEE was very professional discussing risks and possibility that things could not go as planned with the program due to covid.

"Aedan will be going to a brick and mortar school in Sweden, while here in Alaska, we have online school."

Aedan and I are convinced we made the right decision in continuing with the travel arrangements. Aedan school was very supportive of his idea of going to Sweden although they did lose a good student for 12th grade. Had he stayed here I am sure he would have gotten an achievement scholarship. Since he wants to study in a Swedish university, I hope that the transition will be easier. Whatever the future brings, he is not worried about the acceptance of Swedish school year into the American system. If worse comes to worse , he will do 12th grade in Alaska. 

The year abroad is well worth it, especially now with the current state of affairs in our country. I am happy he will have another angle in life and history as well. Another important difference is that Aedan will be going to a  brick and mortar school in Sweden, while here in Alaska , we have online school. I am not a fan of online school, especially for children. You really have to be extremely highly motivated and organized to actually learn online. Had he stayed here, he would not make any friends. Socialization is extremely important in this age group. I am happy he is attending a school, making friends and learning a new language. My two children that remain in the US are at a great disadvantage. Next year, my second child will also go via CIEE for an year abroad, in her senior year as well. I would like her to have the opportunity to have in person education as well. 

"I felt supported in whichever decision I made."

Throughout this process CIEE was always very informative. I felt supported in whichever decision I made: to continue with the program despite the pandemic or to withdraw Aedan this year and send him for a gap year. All the options were laid out to me. Having up to date information on what was going on in Europe made me feel very confident about our decision. The kids go with health insurance which is also very reassuring in times of pandemic! The receiving families are screened  and throughout the whole process. CIEE and [the receiving organization] were in contact all the time. His Swedish family also knew exactly what was going on and was in communication with me. To go to Sweden you need a resident permit, not a Visa. The requirements are quite strict and the teen needs to have a bank account in his/her name for over 3 months with enough money to prove financial ability to survive in Sweden. We had to apply twice for the permit. Initially we had in his account enough money for the option of having free room and board. For some reason we were denied the first permit. I had to put more money in his account and apply for the permit again and it was thanks to the communication between [the receiving organization] in Sweden and CIEE as well as the host family, we were able to get Aedan's resident permit in less than 2 weeks. He traveled one week later, but is now in Sweden for the start of the school year.  If it weren't for this professionalism, I doubt Aedan would be there today!  There are other exchange student organizations around, but I will continue with CIEE for my other two children. My  family felt encouraged and supported throughout the whole process.

At last, taking off for Sweden!

It is just one week since Aedan left. The trip from Alaska to Sweden was rough! Due to coronavirus, more direct flights were discontinued and despite all of the difficulties, CIEE arranged the fastest and most direct trip possible for him to get there. Nowadays it is much easier to let your child live abroad ! WE can communicate at any time via Messenger and Whatsapp. He will get his own Swedish phone in the next few weeks as it is cheaper than keeping an international line. This was his first trip alone, but I felt so reassured to know "I was in his pocket" at all times! We went through each leg of the trip and CIEE was also monitoring his progress. I am very thankful for their booking the trip and arranging for everything. That part was proving to be very difficult now with the pandemic!

Aedan started school in Sweden. Interestingly the principal in his school is American! Small world! If it weren't for programs like CIEE, our knowledge of other cultures and languages would be more limited. I am so proud of my son for being so confident in his ability to live abroad, learn new language and get ready for the future as a much more well-rounded young man. 

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