When you’re traveling abroad for any extended amount of time, you are inevitably going to miss some key friend and family events.
If you’re very close with your family like I am, that can be a difficult reality to come to grips with.
- Celebrating: long-distance
The biggest event I missed when I spent a semester in Australia was the birth of my nephew. Three years ago, I was sitting at a pub with friends, staring at my mobile phone waiting for it to ring telling me my sister had given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
It was torture.
I hated that I wasn’t there for it and that I wasn’t going to meet him until he was over a month old. But it was a sacrifice I made to have the best five months of my life.
This was a huge moment for my family: my parents’ first grandchild, my grandmothers’ first great-grandchild, not to mention, it made me an official aunt!
I coped with this several ways.
One was by celebrating at a pub full of strangers the day he was born. But that was temporary.
In this situation, the internet was my savior. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to see photos of my nephew within a couple hours of his birth.
My parents and sister kept me updated with new photos every couple of days so I didn’t feel like I’d missed out on anything. I also sent a care package home ahead of time with some gifts for my nephew so that it would be like I was there anyway.
So if you know (or find out) that a birth, a wedding or even a graduation is going to take place while you are away, send a gift or card in advance or leave something behind to be opened on the special day.
- Grieving from afar
Of course, the positive things aren’t the only events that might happen while you’re gone. You need to prepare for the fact that while you’re away, things may go wrong.
While no one wants to think about it, it is possible that family emergencies and deaths in the family could happen while you’re gone and you need to figure out how you’re going to deal with them.
When I was getting ready to go to Australia, I was still in college, so my parents were a big part of the planning for my trip. (Not to mention the funding – thanks, Mom and Dad!)
At the time, my grandmother was not in the best health. Part of the planning discussions we had was in relation to this fact.
What was I going to do if Mom-Mom passed away while I was gone? It would have been extremely expensive to fly back and it would be very difficult to do on short notice since it would mean a full day of traveling.
We decided that, God forbid, if my grandmother (or anyone else) passed away, I was not going to fly home for the funeral.
As much as that thought made me sick to my stomach – my grandmother being buried without being able to say goodbye to her – that was the decision we made. Luckily, it was not something we had to deal with while I was gone.
Have that discussion with your family members ahead of time if it’s something you are concerned about, and be honest about the realities of your options.
- Planning for emergencies
Of course you can’t always plan for emergencies, but there is some degree of preparation you can do ahead of time. If you are going abroad and none of your “emergency contacts” will be with you, there are some steps you should take to guard yourself.
Make sure that whomever you would want by your side in an extreme emergency has their passport and would be able to get to you.
My parents both got their passports before I left so that in case anything serious happened to me, they could get to me (without an even longer delay than the 24 hours it would take to fly there).
If possible, you should find your own local emergency contact fairly soon upon arriving at your destination.
I quickly made friends with a fellow student from my university, and we agreed to list each other as our emergency contacts on any forms we had to fill out so that if anything should happen, the other would know about it. This not only made me feel safe, but it made my family back home feel more secure in my well-being.
You are definitely going to miss out on some important events while you are away, but don’t let that detract from the life-changing journey you are going on.
As Julie wrote the other day, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch while you are abroad. Take advantage of those for these circumstances. Take your time to celebrate or grieve as necessary and then get back out there living your life.
What is the biggest event that you have missed while abroad? How did you and your family deal with not being there for it?
While we were in Thailand my grandmother’s health took a turn for the worse. She was hospitalized for a burst appendix and we didn’t know what we were going to do. Thankfully, she held on and I’m able to see her now that we’re back, but she is certainly not the same from the time I left. And we were only gone 6 weeks!
I photograph to see what thigns look like. I am trying to accept the fact that I do make a lot of images simply because I want to see what the world around me looks like, and photography provides me with an outlet and a way to interpret this world that we live in.
When I studied abroad in Spain, two grandparents died and one was hospitalized. The first death occurred two weeks into the semester and was completely unexpected. The second death happened the same night as the hospitalization (completely unrelated and touched both sides of the family). My family and I had not talked about the “what ifs” and unfortunately my grandmother’s death altered my experience. However, I did become VERY close to two-three people on the trip because I needed someone to talk to and cry on her shoulder. Unfortunately, I became known as the “girl whose grandparents died.” People tend to avoid a stranger who’s grieving. My family took a bunch of photos of the funerals, saved the sympathy cards, and a few dried flowers for me in a box. We went through the boxes when I returned home. Not being able to say “good-bye” was tough, but I got through it thanks to people who were willing to listen.