Parenting From a Distance and Visiting


Chinese students and parents visiting college recruitment booths at the 2011 Education Expo in Beijing

When your child is far from home, you will want to hear from them. The difference in time zones makes phone calls, texting, and video calls difficult, but establishing a routine schedule for connecting will help.

When the family only hears about their student’s experience from a distance, they might worry about what their student is telling them. They worry even more if they hear only complaints and problems, or if the student is not willing to tell them much. It can seem like the student is providing the same comments every day: “I’m fine. Classes are fine. My roommate is nice. I’m eating well. I’m studying hard. I’m very busy.”

Adjustment to university life, a new country, and new friends can be difficult. When the student seems unwilling to talk, parents wonder if the student is making enough effort in school. Worse, is he or she hiding something?

It is hard for students to explain all the new things they’re experiencing. Students worry that family members may not understand or approve of all the changes in the student’s life. When students are unhappy or unsure of what they should be doing, they may not want to tell family members. They don’t want to disappoint their parents. Sometimes it is easier for them to not mention problems

Family Transitions

Intergenerational family looking at laptop together

While the student is going through a transition in the U.S., the family back home is also going through changes. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives have been supporting the student for years. Families want a strong connection, but distance prevents the close contact they want. It is not unusual for family members to feel sad or anxious while they are adjusting to new ways of communicating with their student.

For younger brothers and sisters, the loss of the older sibling can be very difficult. In some cases, younger children can feel like too much attention is now being directed to them. The attention that was previously divided between children, is now all focused on the younger child. If there is a significant age difference between the student and a younger child, the child may feel as though he or she has lost a key caregiver. It’s important for all family members to be alert to how others are adjusting.

Finding Information for Parents

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Many U.S. universities have developed websites, listservs, and social media sites specifically for the parents and families of their students. These resources describe typical college concerns, and they invite parents to attend programming and events on campus. Many universities encourage parents to attend student performances, recognition programs, or athletic events, and it’s not possible for overseas  families to participate. In nearly all cases, though, the information is posted in English. International parents can feel left out when they cannot participate in these activities.

Read the e-newsletters and messages sent to parents for the information that you can use. The information will provide conversation starters with your student. For example: “I see that students can get free tickets to volleyball games. Do you go to those?”

Parent information announces school break periods, information about how students find housing for the next year, and information on career planning. Ask your student about those topics.

Parents may find it difficult to get information about their student directly from the college or university. By law, students who attend a higher education institution in the U.S. are considered adults. They are the owners of their educational and medical records. Students can give permission for their parents to see their records, but this requires the student to sign a form allowing you to see them. Students can also obtain a copy of their records and give it directly to their parent. (See FERPA definition in vocabulary.)



Visiting Your Student

To visit the United States, family members of international students may need to apply for a visa. Requirements are different depending on the family member’s home country. Parents should work with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to determine the process. Family visitors may need a letter of invitation from their student’s university. Contact the international student office for assistance in obtaining an invitation. More information is available online here.

 Attending Graduation

Family congratulating and hugging student at graduation

Parents and family members are encouraged to attend their student’s graduation ceremony when the student completes his or her academic program. In the United States, completing college is an important rite of passage, and graduation ceremonies are a chance to celebrate all the work that students have dedicated to their education.

Be sure your student lets you know when he or she will graduate. If you must have tickets to attend the ceremony, ask your student to obtain the tickets. The student’s academic adviser will be able to help.