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Thinking of having your high schooler travel abroad?? Did you ever think about....
Eileen Lenz, 7/25/2010

Eileen Lenz is a homeschooling mother from the Greater Philadelphia region-- and her oldest son Isaac has taken part in many of our AP Online courses and is in our PHAA diploma program. Enjoy this look at the unexpected surprises that can happen when we send our kids off on summer adventures abroad-- I know these stories will help you avoid similar problems! And I hope many of you post about your own kids' summer experiences abroad on travel/study programs or missions programs, where unexpected 'surprises' came up-- and how you handled them. AND I know we'll all hope that Eileen posts a comment below to let us know if Isaac gets his box of nuts and seeds she mailed off! And for further info on this particular summer study program, see www.goabbeyroad.com

Several years ago at the PHAA High School at Home Conference in Carlisile, PA, I heard Peter Van Buskirk speak about college admissions. He said, 'Make the summers count'. Last April, as my oldest son completed his junior year of high school I urged him to do just that, make the summer count. After several weeks of research Isaac and I found the Abbey Road Program in Florence, Italy. At first I thought the program was too expensive but when I considered the costs of organizing a 5 week cultural immersion the expense seemed justified. Besides, the program looked amazing. Students and staff would live together in apartments overlooking the markets of San Lorenzo. Isaac could study studio art as a major and minor in film.

Also there would be weekend excursions to Siena, San Gimignano, and Cinque Terre. Isaac has been In Florence for 3 weeks. He's having a great experience but there have been surprises.

1. Clothes. We did not pack enough. Florence is hot. So hot that the kids change their clothes several times a day. By the end of his 4th day Isaac had worn all 8 of his T shirts. Packing lists suggested some long pants and some dressier attire. The only time Isaac has worn pants was on the plane and he could have just as easily worn shorts. He packed 3 pairs of shorts. He wishes he had packed more. As for the dressier attire, I've been assured that they will remain stubbornly in the bottom of the suitcase. In hindsight, a small bottle of laundry soap for hand wash would have been sensible.

2. Plugs. They are not same. Before the trip I purchased a multiple plug pack from Target. One of the plugs, had a triangular configuration. It was was labeled for Europe. Italy is in Europe therefore it was the right one. Nope, the correct plug had 3 prongs, but they were configured in a straight line. I hunted in Radio Shack and AAA for the correct plug. No luck. I guess I could have ordered the correct one on line but frankly, the plug issue began to look small compared to the food.

3. Food. Being vegan is difficult. Being vegan and avoiding white flour and sugar in Florence has been nearly impossible. Isaac packed a few rice cakes and nuts; not too many because he planned to shop in the markets of San Lorenzo. I imagined him moving among colorful market stalls, palming red tomatoes, asking round faced women and apple cheeked men how much. I imagined their broad faces breaking into large smiles as he dug for Euros. How he got the Euros is another reverie.

It turns out, San Lorenzo's stalls are famous for leather goods, gelato, candies, and sweets-not exactly vegan paradise. It seems most tourist don't go in for red ripe tomatoes. Besides, Isaac didn't have Euros to buy tomatoes, red, ripe or otherwise. The only ATM near the apartment residence was down. The kids didn't know where to look for another ATM and the staff was too busy controlling 49 kids to help.

In the meantime I endured lengthy telephone calls, " Mom, they're starving me."

After the third one of these calls, I filled a Federal Express box with nuts and seeds and sent it off next day air . Shipping cost over $300.00. I also e-mailed the Program Director to ask her to take Isaac to an ATM so he could pay duty. The package arrived in Florence on July 5th. It then went to Milan to determine if it was fit for human consumption. On July 8th Isaac and an Abbey Road teacher walked to the Florence post office to fill out paperwork affirming fitness for human consumption. The package was released from Milan on July 15th. It should arrive in Florence any day. Since the first week of July Isaac's food situation has improved dramatically. If I was sending another kid abroad I would send much more food. It would have been cheaper and more certain. Remember-- Isaac hasn't received his nuts and seeds yet.

4. Phone. I thought I had the phones figured out. First, I swapped my old cell phone for a new AT&T internationally enabled phone and gave it to Isaac for the trip. Then I signed up for international calling plans for our house phone and for the phone that was going to Italy. I also verified that I could use rollover minutes for international calls. Then I signed Isaac up for an Italian cell phone so that Abbey Road teachers could contact him without making an international call.

The first clue that I had cell phone problems was when AT&T called me to let me know that my cell phone bill was over $400.00. A few days later, while at the PHAA High School at Home Conference, AT&T called again. This time to let me know that my cell phone bill was over $1600.00. The customer Service representative was very sorry but, roll over minutes can never be used for international calls. The AT&T phone is now residing at to the bottom of Isaac's suitcase with the "dressier attire". Skype is the way to go.

Which brings up another matter, What technology should your kid bring?

5. Technology. Send a laptop. Abbey Road program materials are adamant-do not send expensive technology. To her credit, Jenny McCord (the director) was very honest about this when she skyped us before the trip. She said that this year more than other year she was being asked by students if they could bring their laptops. The Abbey Road position was officially no but, she couldn't promise that when Isaac's roommates opened their suitcases there wouldn't be laptops within. I should have listened closer. Thinking back, I believe she was telling us most kids would have laptops. I wasn't listening, I was too busy imagining my son sitting at a cafe, sipping espresso, nd sketching.

Isaac took a Nook and 2 sketch books. He decided not to pack a laptop because he didn't want it to be stolen. Besides, he could always Skype us from an Internet cafe. It turns out, students are not allowed to leave the apartment residence alone. Isaac was uncomfortable asking anyone to go along to Skype his parents. Most students brought an iPhone or an iPod Touch and a laptop. Some brought all three. Isaac could have used a laptop for his film class. More importantly, he could have been Skyping us rather than using the cell phone.

Like most decisions, the choice not to pack a laptop was fixable.

Again I went to Federal Express, only this time, with a small package, sent regular mail, sans food. I wanted to bypass the Milan food critic.


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