If you are worried about how you are going to survive studying abroad while taking care of your child(ren) since they’ll be coming with you, well, you don’t have to.
it’s completely doable. I’ve done it, and in this post, I will share my experience of surviving study abroad as an international student and student mom, so let’s dig in!!!
For many students, being able to study abroad is a dream. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can change their life forever. It’s amazing and enriching in so many ways.
You’ll have the chance to discover a new culture, learn a new language, travel and explore beautiful places, and most importantly, make friends and network from all over the globe.
But what if, for one reason or another, you never got the chance to do it when you were younger? Because let’s be honest here, studying abroad is not cheap.
Moreover, if you want to study at a good university located in a popular study-abroad destination, the competition will be fierce. They receive plenty of applications but don’t have many spots available.
But, you never give up chasing your dream, and now the opportunity comes knocking on your door (e.g you win a scholarship, are eligible to get loans from your office or bank, finally save enough money to study abroad et cetera) when you are already an adult and a parent.
So what should you do? Should you give up your dream of continuing your study abroad now that you have a family? If you want to pursue the endeavor, should you go by yourself or bring your family with you? Only you can answer that, think carefully before making any decision.
Being able to study abroad had always been my dream, but I knew my parents couldn’t afford it, so I pushed aside the dream and continued on with my life, focused on my career, got married, and had a baby.
But I never forget my dream, finally, back in 2014, I finally got the chance to study abroad in Italy, my dream country. I decided that I wanted to bring my family with me (my husband and my -then- 4 yo daughter)
As soon as we got here, I started studying and my husband started working. Obviously, being just the three of us in a foreign country, we had no families or friends who could help us take care of our daughter while we were busy, and had to do everything by ourselves.
In retrospect, whenever I looked back on that period, I couldn’t even imagine how did I survived trying to balance my responsibilities as a student and a mom.
On top of that, throughout my study period, I have also attended an Italian language course, did some freelance work, volunteered in my professor’s projects, tried to socialize and expand my network by going out with my friends, and attended ex-pat forums or events, and yes, of course…countless playdate with my daughter’s friends.
It was crazy but totally doable. Here’s what I did:
1. Manage Time and Prioritize
It goes without saying, when we have so many things on our plate, we should manage our time well and prioritize which ones are the most important and need to be done soon and which ones could wait a bit longer.
But it’s easier said than done, at least for me. Unfortunately (or in my case, fortunately) I got to the point where I had no choice other than to organize to the point where my life depends on it (because if I didn’t, I would collapse and get sick, most likely).
Make a plan and stick to them! Write down the things you need to do or figure out your plan for the next day every day before you go to bed.
Allocate a specific time for you to do each of them. Therefore, you’ll always be reminded that you have tight schedules and won’t get tempted to procrastinate. Check carefully and see what the things you should do and what their due dates are.
Where do you need to be and when? What to prepare for each occasion; books, assignment papers, files for your presentation, your child(ren) swimming suits, and all related stuff for their swimming lesson that day and so on.
I also used to spend some time during the weekends to review my schedule from the past week, as well as my plan for the next week.
This helped me prioritize and be prepared. I looked at each of them and made notes about things that could possibly go wrong or delayed and what to do should anything happen. A good planner will be a good help. You can use the paper one or a digital one, whichever works for you.
2. Study Smart and Effectively
One of the keys to success in balancing study and family, especially if you study abroad as an adult student and a non-traditional student mom or dad, and bring your family with you, is to study smart and effectively.
Every student has their own study methods and techniques. We must know what works for us and use it well. I personally like to prepare everything before I start studying, such as the books, stationaries and other things that I might need all on my desk, ready to use, so that I won’t get distracted and waste time by going up and down from my seat looking for my things.
I used the Pomodoro techniques to force myself to sit and finish some work, silence my phone or even turn it off.
Unfortunately, as a student mom, I rarely got the luxury to have the time to quietly study and work at home. My daughter would come and ask for my attention every five minutes or so.
To avoid this from happening often, I usually let her play near me with something similar, such as her toy laptop, books, papers, and pen. Therefore, she knew that we both were “working” and not to disturb each other.
if you consider going back to school as a student parent, please don’t lock yourself in a room while you study and work on your school projects.
Instead, talk to your child(ren) that you’ll be busy for the next few hours and give them options, whether they want to play somewhere else or near you but not disturb you.
If you can, you can study and read while waiting for the bus or wait for your child to finish her music lesson, for example. If you need a calm and noiseless environment, wait until they were asleep before you start studying.
During my study abroad period, I went to bed at 2 AM every day. Not ideal at all but I didn’t have much choice back then. There were so many things to do. So, do your best to manage your time, and do whatever works for you to be able to study smart and effectively.
3. Find Great Organization Systems.
Find a quick and efficient organization system. It can be something that works as a recurring checklist, a reminder of your appointments and class schedule, that you can edit to fit your daily chores/routines/assignments, and one that you can access from your mobile phone.
This is important to maximize your productivity because not only you are managing your own schedule, but also your child(ren) schedule as well, such as their after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, PTA meetings, playdates, birthday invitations, and so on.
These tools allow you to stay connected with your group mate, communicate with each other, submit each other’s work on the platform, make last minutes changes to projects, and so on.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic confined people to their homes, virtual group meeting apps like Zoom became super popular.
You are most definitely not the only one who juggles many responsibilities, which makes it difficult for all of you to get together in one location often to work on the projects.
This app allowed you to hold group meetings virtually even though you are all in the same city. Thus, you won’t need to go out often, and able to stay at home with your child(ren) while still being able to finish your work.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Before you start to tackle any tasks from your to-do list, eliminate the possible distractions first, including your own family. Ask for their understanding to give you some undisturbed time to finish your work or study for your exams.
If possible, ask your spouse to go out with the kids for several hours so that you could have some peaceful time, get yourself a quiet place, and have the whole house to yourself.
Promise them that as soon as you are done, you’ll be spending time with them. Turn off your phone notifications, or go to the library or a café to work if you prefer to work and study in a public place.
Whatever your methods are, the most important thing to do is to find out what your biggest distractions are and do your best to eliminate them.
Find the best way for you to study, to get maximum results. Put your goals where you can see them. It’s a good way to keep you motivated.
I know it’s heartbreaking to say “no” when your child(ren) wants to spend time with you but you have deadlines, that’s why it’s imperative that you have some kind of reminder about why are you doing it in the first place.
It will also remind you that this too shall pass. That all the hardships you put on yourself right now are only temporary, that you are doing it for your family (e.g to boost your career and give a better life for your family) and these sacrifices will all be worth it someday.
5. Learn to Trust Others More
As an adult and a parent, you are used to taking charge and being in control. Because if you don’t, everything could fall apart. But now, with many responsibilities and million things to do, you need to learn to trust others more.
Start delegating your tasks instead of trying to do everything by yourself and make sure all is perfect and up to your standard.
Higher education such as Graduate School consists of many group projects (too much for my liking, if I can be honest). You’ll find that other people work differently than you and have different kinds of responsibilities.
Although as a mom you can’t afford to procrastinate, because who knows some emergency might happen at home and cause you to miss your deadline, others might not think that way.
So, try your best to respect other people and find a way to compromise. For example, during group projects, I always informed my group mates that I could only stay for several hours, then I had to go to pick up my daughter at school or something.
Therefore, as much as I would like to stay to make sure we produce the best work, I needed to let go and trusted them more with the rest of it, besides, we were all equals anyway. Plus, I could always take a look and reviewed them before the due dates.
The same thing also applied at home. I learned to trust my husband more with the household chores and with things related to our daughter’s well-being.
Although sometimes the work was not up to my standard, I needed to accept that for now, the most important thing was that all was done.
The sooner you learn to let go and accept that things will not always go your way and learn to trust others more, the more you’ll get work done and the better you will feel.
Use this printable workbook to record your Back to School Research. Don’t make all that Campus Visits, Virtual Tours, Webinars, and Q&A with the school’s admission personnel go to waste !! Write down the information you have collected in this workbook.
Study them later carefully to help you weigh in the pros and cons of each university and decide the best place for you to continue your study.
6. Ask for Help If You Need It
Juggling responsibilities such as work, school and family is a difficult task, and sometimes, you are going to need more help than just help from your spouse or relying on your classmates and colleagues to do their job well.
Ask for help when you need it. Allocate some budget to hire a nanny for some particular time when you and your spouse are both busy when you have your final exams or final presentation when you have to participate in a study tour and need to spend some days away from outside the city, and so on.
Or, if you’ve been putting something off for some time because you don’t know what to do or how to do it, ask for help. Your professors are there to help you when you have problems related to your subjects.
Ask for help from your classmates and colleagues, and find solutions online written by professionals in the area. Go to discussion forums and ask your questions and describe your problems et cetera.
In this era, there will be no problems that you can’t find someone or something who could help you with it.
7. Allocate time for your friends, family, and yourself
When you go back to school as an adult student, a non-traditional student mom, and dad, you might find yourself in a situation where you could barely even breathe, trying to stay afloat with all those never-ending tasks and responsibilities.
Therefore, finding time for your family, friends, and most importantly, yourself, will be difficult. But try your best to squeeze in some time to relax with your family and friends, and have some Me time for yourself in your busy schedule.
Say “yes” once in a while to your younger classmate’s invitation to hang out after classes. Blocked specific time in the weekend to spend with your family and make it your family’s rituals, such as biking together across the city, picnicking in the park, baking together on Sundays, and so on.
Don’t forget to also allocate some time for yourself. Find some time to read books, listen to music, walk around exploring the city…anything that will help you relax.
Set yourself mourning routines, do some exercise, take shower, make your favorite breakfast, and so on, to start your day full of energy to tackle whatever comes your way. Give yourself proper sleep.
Schedule vacations with your family, go camping or hiking with your friends and explore the city and neighboring countries. You are studying abroad anyway, see as much as you can. Do your best to balance your hectic life.
Over to You…
Studying abroad and bringing your young child(ren) with you sounds like a crazy idea. After all, studying abroad itself already presents many challenges.
Adding the responsibilities of being a parent into the equation is madness, but it’s not impossible at all. I did it, as well as many other adult students and student moms or dads.
Even though those 18 months of my Master’s Program were a major roller coaster journey, I’m happy I made the choice to continue my education and pursue my dream of studying abroad, despite being an older student and a student parent.
I tried my best to survive studying abroad even though I had my (then) 4 years old to take care of. I managed to get through it by managing my time and prioritizing my tasks, studying smart and effectively, and finding good organizational systems.
I also tried to eliminate distractions as much as I could before start studying and work learned to trust others more, and ask for help when I needed it, while not forgetting to spend some time with my friends and family and allocate some time just for myself, to help me rejuvenated and relaxed.
So, if studying abroad has always been your dream but you thought it was impossible now that you are an adult and a parent and you don’t want to leave your family behind for studying, then BRING THEM with you!
With those little tips, you’ll manage to balance everything and fulfill your dream of continuing your education abroad while having an adventure of a lifetime with your family.
What do you think? Ready to enroll and start to pack your bag? Share your thoughts down below, I’d like to hear from you…pin this for later and share them on social media ..thanks so much, and till next time!!!
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