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Parenting on an "Adult Gap Year"

The writer's daughter, Andrea Mitchell (left) with her stepfather, Patrick Moore, enjoy a day in Florence, Italy. Diane Moore

Parenting abroad and across the ocean requires strong family communication.

At 17, your friends are everything. So when your parents announce that they’re taking you 5,000 kilometres away from home for a year, it’s exciting—and dreadful.

That’s how my daughter, Andrea, felt about our move from Texas to Germany.

“I had graduated from high school one year early, but I wasn’t quite ready for college,” remembers Andrea. “I still wanted to hang out with my friends, though, and to participate in my high school’s social events. So, at first I dug my heels in. I didn’t want to go.”

Because Andrea is pretty independent, I wasn’t going to force her to go, if she had an alternate plan. After discussions and research, we offered Andrea these options: 

When your parents announce that they’re taking you 5,000 kilometres away from home for a year, it’s exciting—and dreadful.

A) She could stay in San Antonio and live with her older brother and his wife. There, she could attend community college (and prepare for college), enter cosmetology school, work and save money, or a combination of any of those.

Or B) She could join us on our “gap year” in Germany, travel throughout Europe with us, and perhaps take online college courses.

Andrea decided to join us in Germany.

“I was still in my ‘what do I want to do in life,’ stage,” she said. “I wanted to go to cosmetology school, and I wanted to explore college options, but I had time. Plus, the opportunity to live in Germany and travel throughout Europe made me seriously consider my future as a European History teacher.”

Although leaving her friends—and especially her boyfriend—was difficult, social media makes it easier to fulfill your promises to keep in touch. 

However, as we would learn, Internet access in Germany can be expensive. Each household has a monthly usage limit. Exceeding that limit increases the monthly bill about 30 per cent, and slows the connection for that time period.

Once in Germany, I also researched overseas college programs. Germany has an excellent university program, and if you’re accepted the costs are just a few hundred dollars—much different than the near hundred thousand we pay in the United States.

Since my husband, Andrea’s stepfather, is a retired veteran, she was eligible to take her college entrance exams (ACT and SAT) at Vilseck High School, located at the Vilseck Military Base. Within two months of arrival in Germany, she had taken both college entrance exams, as well as  applied to and was accepted to several U.S. colleges.

Another option we discovered was offered through the American Red Cross, located on the military base. Andrea attended orientation for a tuition-free, six-month dental assistant certification program. This full-time program included classroom instruction and hands-on training. Schools in North America charge about $50,000 for this program.

“I seriously considered the dental assistant program because I had previously worked in an orthodontic office, and I liked it,” Andrea said. “But, I wasn’t ready to make that commitment. Besides, it would keep me from travelling throughout Europe, which is more in line with my interests and my future.”

With Andrea’s future path defined, we also parent across the ocean with two of our six other adult children, who depend on us to invest in and shape their futures.

Parenting overseas and across the ocean has its unique challenges, but computer applications combined with strong family support are critically important. For instance, when my daughter who attends college had tonsillitis and bronchitis-like symptoms, we were able to view her sore throat via social media, and advise her towards next steps. And, when our son had appendicitis, we could keep in touch with him to ensure he made it to the hospital, was checked and ultimately he did undergo a successful appendectomy.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Diane Moore

Diane Moore is an award-winning journalist and skincare specialist, living in Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Germany, with her husband, practicing orthodontist Col. Patrick H. Moore USA (ret.) They have six children and four grandchildren, who enjoy following their elders' adventures throughout Europe. Read on to learn about her grown-up gap year.

Website: www.dianemoorewriter.com

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