The Tables Are Turned: An International Educator Sends Her Two Daughters Abroad!
By Julie Leitman, One of API’s Four Founders
Being part of the creation of API has been one of the defining decisions of my life. I have lived and breathed international travel for over thirty years. Philosophically, I couldn’t be happier that my daughters have absorbed my wanderlust and interest in other cultures. That said, when it was actually time to send them off on their own international adventures, the reality of letting go conflicted with my enthusiasm for exposing them to other cultures and lifestyles. My reflections below of sending my youngest daughter, Ella, abroad on a gap-year study program in Salamanca and my oldest daughter, Molly, on a short-term volunteer program in Spain may help parents who struggle with the idea of sending a beloved child abroad!
Pre-departure butterflies (one daughter in Spain and the next about to leave):
The reality of having both of my daughters away hit me today. I am so excited for my Ella and Molly, but it is so much harder to let go than I ever anticipated. I have been talking about kids leaving and calming other parents for almost two decades, but just like losing a parent, you don’t fully comprehend what this separation really means until it happens.
Even Ella is starting to get nervous since the reality of what she has done is setting in. She hadn’t really realized that choosing to go abroad for her first living out-of-the-house experience would make things feel that much harder. I need to remind myself that it may be the build-up to letting go and separating that is causing the tension between us…
Facing illness and homesickness
Molly is still sick in Spain but sounding mostly happy. All worry is magnified by the distance and not being easily able to comfort her by giving her a hug. Aside from the physical distance from me, the “not-being-able-to-really-picture-where-she-is” makes it even harder. Or maybe it is the fact that I know that every day is so intense for her. She is being changed in big ways and for the first time in her life, I can’t keep up or hold on to all she is doing! This experience will definitely change her life in ways we can’t even imagine.
I am happy that Molly shared her bout with homesickness– not happy that she had it, of course, but that she survived it! I know it is part of the experience, but it makes my anxiety increase. I try to say she will be fine even with the bumps she must encounter along the way. The fact you can’t protect your kid from hard things has got to be the most difficult part of parenting to accept.
Molly returns and Ella heads to Spain:
Ella made it on to the plane, through light security. I promised myself I wouldn’t text her, but she finally did text us, just as she got onto the plane. She had befriended a lovely Spanish biologist who was her seatmate. It made me happy to think she had already had one of those special experiences that you get with traveling and being open to talking to folks. He made her feel good about her Spanish and happy about “Spaniards and Spain.”
The first real hurdle (AKA being a co-founder doesn’t even stop the ups and downs!):
Ella had to change host families because her host mom with three kids got a job in another city. She is now going to be living with a widow (without a roomie or Spanish children) but with a dog.
Two months in for Ella…
I can’t believe how much Ella has grown! I don’t think there would be half the amount of growth if she were at college in the U.S. right now. She is learning to cook (croquetas and tortilla francesa), she can successfully navigate her way around Salamanca due to her runs, she is learning about sexism, she is speaking lots of Spanish, learning to budget, doing lots of writing and thinking. I hate to think of it ending so soon.
A visit for Thanksgiving:
We arrived in Spain and had a lovely dinner with Ella’s Spanish mom! It is so obvious how important Ella has been to her this year and how hard it will be to have her leave. Tears came to her host mother’s eyes when she started to think about this. (Her husband died a year ago.) It has been lovely to see Ella in her “ella-ment”!
It is so lovely having the girls at home. It feels so right having them here. Dinner is complete with them and our laughter. In our family, we talk about roots and wings. I had no idea much I would learn from the wing part.
Before they went off on their adventures, I told my girls that I hoped they would learn the beauty of letting go, being in the moment, engaging more in the present and being less focused on the future, being open to new experiences but still being safe. Carpe diem moments.
Little did I know how much I would learn about the same things by letting them fly!
You can read about Julie’s daughter, Ella’s gap year experience in an earlier blog post here.