When college-age sons and daughters come asking parents to bless their plans to study or intern abroad, many moms and dads feel pushed beyond their comfort zone knowing a child will be so far away. If you’re one of these parents, you may be struggling to walk the fine line between pushing your child out of the nest and protecting your child from every potential fall.
With more information, however, most parents can work past fears and concerns to support a child’s decision to study abroad. It becomes even easier once parents discover how international study, internships and travel can reap lifelong benefits for their children in the form of increased independence and confidence. That said, it’s important both parents and students consider the “what-ifs” of illness, accidents or travel mishaps, and the role good communication and support services can play in ensuring the best possible outcomes.
Parent Perspectives: Denise Locknane
Communication and Support Services Vital When Something Goes Wrong For Student Interning Or Studying Abroad
By Stacey Hartmann
Denise Locknane isn’t the hovering sort of parent.
So in 2008 when her son, Cody, then an agricultural leadership major at Texas Tech University, told her he was interested in doing an internship on a remote cattle ranch in Western Australia, she stepped in to help with some travel planning but tried not to worry about what could go wrong.
“He’s pretty independent,” says Locknane, who lives in Pampa, Texas. “He’s a good kid. I’ve trusted him to make some pretty good decisions. But he also knows he can go to us.”
Quickly enough, plans fell into place, and Cody left for his internship arranged by GlobaLinks Learning Abroad at Consolidated Pastoral’s Carlton Hill ranch in Kununurra, Western Australia. Cody spent his first few days in Cairns at the GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Bridging Cultures orientation program where participants are given important health and safety information and where the emergency contact information is reviewed.
After arriving to his internship city, Cody unpacked and settled into his bungalow, had dinner, and met some of the ranch hands. The next morning, he was asked how comfortable he was on a horse, and although he had some reservations about his level of experience, decided to saddle up. It was at this point, however, when what could go wrong actually did go wrong.
As Cody began working cattle in a large penned-in area, his horse stepped into a hole and came down on Cody’s leg, breaking his tibia. Immediately after the accident, coordinators at the internship notified GlobaLinks Learning Abroad’s South Pacific Educational Support Centre (SPES), located in Australia, via an emergency number provided by GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
“That night, when I got home from work, Barbara [West, GlobaLinks Learning Abroad’s manager of internship programs] called,” Locknane recalls. “He’d already been in the hospital and confirmed it was broken.”
In that moment, Locknane faced the kind of situation a parent hopes never to face when a child is overseas.
“What do you do?” she says. “Your child is thousands of miles away.”
When West called Locknane, she had all of the pertinent information on Cody’s injury, a tentative plan, and contact information for the medical insurance provider arranged by AustraLearn. In addition, the SPES staff remained in constant communication with Cody and the internship site to ensure Cody was getting the support and medical attention he needed. The SPES staff also worked to gather important information it could continue to relay back to Cody’s family in the United States.
Still, Cod was at a small hospital near the ranch. It did not have an orthopedist on staff, so he was advised he would need to be transported to a larger hospital for surgery. Unable to have his leg cast at that point, he was put on a 2 ½-hour commercial flight to Perth. As the situation evolved, Cody used a calling card provided by GlobaLinks Learning Abroad to stay in touch with home, while his mother called direct to the hospitals. Once he arrived at the larger hospital, several orthopedists looked at his leg and said he had three options: cast the leg, put in a pin, or put in metal brace.
“I said to him, ‘you need to ask them, considering the break, what do they think is the best treatment for it?” Locknane says. “They come back, and the doctor says, ‘cast it.’”
At that point, Cody still hoped he could return to the ranch. But when doctors told him he’d have to stay at the hospital three weeks after the cast was put on, he became discouraged.
“He was pretty bummed by then,” Locknane says.
At that point, the insurance company and GlobaLinks Learning Abroad gave their recommendations that Cody get back to the United States.
“He thought about it a little bit,” Locknane says. “He said, ‘get me home.’”
Almost three weeks after the break and with his leg finally cast, he was on his way home to Texas to recuperate. To make the trip as comfortable as possible, doctors partially cut the cast and provided shots he could give himself to relieve swelling. His air travel was arranged to include several stopovers so he wasn’t in the air for especially long periods.
“When he arrived, he was swollen and in a little bit of discomfort,” Locknane says.
Cody's U.S. doctor determined the casting of the break was the proper course of action and was healing properly. When it was all said and done, three weeks had passed between the accident and his arrival back home. Medical bills and transportation costs totaled well over $12,000 (which was just for the first-class airfare home). All of the expenses were covered by medical and transportation insurance arranged through GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
“I was pleased,” Locknane says of the insurance coverage. “Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that the coverage was very good.”
Locknane advises other parents to make sure they think through how emergency situations might be handled when their child is studying abroad.
“One of our common mindsets is, ‘it’s not going to happen to me, so I don’t need to read this information,’” she says.
Despite Cody’s ordeal, Locknane says she is satisfied with how the circumstances were handled by GlobaLinks Learning Abroad’s staff. In Cody’s case, the internship involved more risk because of the tasks involved. But even students going abroad for study can get sick, she says.
“That’s my advice, to really understand what the program offers and make sure that coverage is nice, neat, tidy and complete - because it can happen to anybody.”
Cody has since graduated and is pursuing a job in the agricultural field. He still wishes he’d been able to complete his ranch internship in Australia, Locknane says. “He absolutely felt like he lost the opportunity,” Locknane says. “He would go back, and that says a lot.”