How To Manage Family Problems While Abroad

It was almost 11:30pm at night when I got the news. On the other side of the world, where my family stood mourning, it was 7:30pm. I lifted my head in the sticky, humid Senegal air as my phone began to ring. My mother was calling me. I knew what she was going to say.

My father had passed away peacefully in his sleep after a two-year-long battle with cancer. During this time, I made the difficult decision to study abroad with Semester at Sea, knowing full well that I when I return home, I would have one less person to welcome me back after the four-month voyage.

Managing family problems while studying abroad is a rarely discussed subject, despite the many students who find themselves in such situations. Often, issues at home can cause students to struggle emotionally due to the added stress it puts on their studies and, in some cases, it can even cause students to return home early.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to when tragedy strikes and things get tough at home.

The most important thing you can do to manage family problems abroad is to form a strong network of friends and people you trust. If you can’t make it home when something happens, then these are the people you can turn to for comfort, advice, reassurance or anything else. But don’t stop there. I found it incredibly helpful to talk to one of my deans about it too. He offered a great amount of comfort and support both before and after my father passed away.

Another helpful thing is to contact your family as often as possible, at least for a while.  When things happen at home, you will probably find yourself becoming more homesick than you ever thought possible, and that’s okay. Finding out what exactly is going on and what the fall out is may help ease your troubled mind. I know it certainly did for me.

When my father died, my dean insisted that I saw the counselor in my program, even though I did not think it was necessary. I decided to bite my tongue and saw the counselor anyway. While I did not think it was completely necessary for myself, it was nice to just sit down and speak to someone about my entire life. She asked a lot questions about my past and family that most people just don’t think to ask. No matter what happens in your life and at home, maybe you would find it helpful to seek professional help and tell them what is on your mind.

Sometimes life hits when you least expect it, and when you are away from your family and main support system, it can hit a lot harder. However, when you build a network of trustworthy people, stay in touch with your family and maybe even see a counselor, problems can become manageable. My friends became my best and strongest support when I lost my father while traveling. Without them and the support I received through my program, I do not know if I would have had the strength and courage to finish my voyage.

It was hard to come home knowing a person in my family was gone. But, I know that wherever he may be, my father is grateful and proud that I finished my voyage, and that I had so much support surrounding me during the time I was abroad.

Profile photo of Allyson



Allyson is a junior at the University of Akron in Ohio, USA. She is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in media production with a minor in anthropology. Allyson kicked off her dream of traveling around the world with Semester at Sea during the Fall 2016 Voyage. She visited 11 countries throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Some of her life goals include road-tripping the entire length of the Pan-American Highway and living on a kibbutz in Israel. Her dream career is to travel around the world making documentaries. To her, the best parts of traveling are learning new things from other people, and constantly hunting for the best cup of coffee in the entire world.

Leave a Reply