By Minha Khan
A recent university graduate who left home for the first time to study abroad
Your child is going to a foreign university. This is the first time they will be living away from you. You are nervous, proud, and a little sad. Most importantly, you’re worried. What is going to happen when they leave your nest? Who will they become? Will they remain the same child you raised with so much love and care? Will they leave behind their cultural and religious roots as soon as they land in a foreign country?
These questions are natural. You’ve spent twenty-some years sharing a home with your child and they are now suddenly off to a world you know little of. You’ve heard about foreign universities: the parties, the peer pressure, the pain. You’re afraid for them, but also know that a university education is worth investing in. But university isn’t just a degree, it’s a life-changing experience. So how can you prepare yourself and your child for the adventure that awaits them? Here are six tips for parents who are getting ready to send their child off to university in another country.
- Realize that most of your work is done.
You have spent years teaching, guiding, and mentoring your child. You’ve instilled values in them and taught them the best practices and manners. The past two decades of your life have been invested in preparing your child to become the best version of themselves possible. Realize that most of the work you needed to do is already done. While it might still be useful to share some tidbits of guidance or revise some basic rules with your child before they head off to university, you must trust that the years of work you’ve put into raising your child to be an upstanding individual, a responsible citizen, and a God-concious Muslim will have laid the foundation for them to make good decisions when they are on their own.
- Reminders can be helpful
Despite having a strong foundation, reminders of one’s roots can always be helpful. A small Dua book, a prayer mat from home, or a handwritten note can all serve as physical reminders of one’s Deen. Coming back to your dorm room and seeing your prayer mat laid out will immediately remind you of Salah. Similarly, texting your child a Dua you found useful, sharing a short video clip, or calling and reminding them to cut their nails on Friday can be very effective. While they’re balancing their education and adjusting to a new (and pre-dominantly non-Muslim) environment, sometimes they might forget practices and habits that came naturally to them back home. In such cases, reminders reconnect them with their roots.
- Don’t compulsively communicate
You might feel a need to constantly communicate with your child. You might want to remind them of each of the five prayers or send them multiple YouTube links to long sermons you found interesting. You might feel a sense of panic, as if you are responsible+ for constantly reminding them of their Deen and ensuring that they do not forget who they are.
Compulsive communication can feel overwhelming and exhausting for a child who is already away from home. They’re worried about midterms, making friends, doing laundry, and a constant array of messages and missed calls just adds to their existing worries.
Remember that a few reminders now and then might be helpful, but constantly trying to call or text can be perceived as nagging or suffocating. They cannot, and should not, always be on the phone with you. Give them space, time, and open doors. Decide upon mutually convenient times to talk, and encourage them to remain in touch using whatever medium they feel comfortable with, even if its short, random messages.
- Recognize that their reality is different from yours
Sometimes your kids will say “but you don’t understand!”. The truth is, their current reality is vastly different than yours, and sometimes you will not understand. They are experiencing issues that you may know nothing of. They are in an environment that you are not a part of. There is bound to be some disconnect simply because you are not sharing a space. This is normal. Do not try to understand their experiences through your reality. Things will be different and ‘different’ can be uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort. Ask questions. Try to understand. Trying to make them recreate their life at home while they are at university is a mistake. Do not reprimand them for adapting to their environment. They should hold true to their values, but they cannot live the life they had at home while they are abroad. Things will, but that’s expected.
- Just listen
When they call you, just listen. Let them share their experiences. Ask them about classes, about friends, about food, about fun. Be there to let them process their daily lives with you, to tell you stories about their day. Stay calm, do not pass immediate judgment, and just listen. By learning to listen, you are showing your child that they can talk to you about what matters to them. Over time, this practice will develop into a communication channel that will be a source of comfort, guidance, and friendship for both you and your child. This channel will be incredibly valuable for your child as they begin to face major decisions and confront the challenges of studying abroad. They will feel like they can come to you to discuss what is bothering them, and will trust that you will hear them out. Listening is the first step to developing that trust.
- Finally, make Dua
Dua can change destiny. Wake up for Tahajjud. Make Dua after every Salah. Ask Allah (swt) to take care of your child for you. Ask Allah (swt) to bring peace and contentment to your heart. Ask Allah (swt) to beautify and strengthen the bond you have with your child. There are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be problems that you cannot foresee. Ask Allah (swt) for help, and Help will come.
If you are a parent with a soon-to-be university student and you have read this article thus far, that means you’re already on the right track. You’re trying to prepare yourself for the change that is to come, and that is the very first step. University isn’t just life-changing for your child, it is a huge adjustment for you, too. But have faith that you have raised a good child. They will be just fine, In sha Allah.