I've been getting a lot of messages lately from NSLI-Y applicants for this year's cycle asking about how they can convince their parents to simply let them apply, much less go. I can't speak for all the programs, but here's my attempt to address most of the concerns I've heard.
- "Will you be safe there?": On the American Councils program in Jordan, each student was given a Jordanian cell phone, which was used to keep in contact with host families, other students, and the resident directors. They gave us literally every emergency number possible on a cute little laminated card to keep in our wallets - everything from the embassy to our apartment manager to the student services director at our school. Students are allowed to go around the city, but only in groups of three or more, or with at least one member of a host family or local friend. I felt safer walking around Amman at night than I do walking around American cities at night. There wasn't a single moment in Amman when I didn't feel completely safe.
- "The Middle East is dangerous, right?": Yes, there are protests. When I was in Jordan, it was the height of the "Arab Spring," and there were plenty of protests. The thing about protests is that they're planned, which means you can avoid them. the State Department registers all NSLI-Y students, knows they're in the country, and sends daily email updates on whether there are any planned protests, and therefore areas to avoid. While there are protests, and probably more than in the States, it's SO EASY to go weeks without ever seeing a protest. Also, remember, NSLI-Y is a State Department run program - they're in with the embassy. You can count on the fact that the security and safety of NSLI-Y kids is a priority. If a program starts to be unsafe because of protests and the like - THEY CANCEL IT, and the kids go home early. There's no chance of your kid being in a country where it's not safe.
- "Why don't you just study the language at home?": You just can't. You learn so much of the language by speaking it with everyone you meet, and speaking it all day, every day. You can't possibly do that at home. On exchange, you can't survive without learning. I don't know how to make this any clearer - exchange is THE BEST way to learn a language. Even with no prior language experience, studying on a NSLI-Y trip will have you conversant in the new language by the end of the program.
- "Sending a teenager to live on their own for a whole summer? No way.": To be honest, your kid is so much safer overseas than in America. In Jordan, alcohol wasn't even an option - in the culture, it just doesn't exist. I can't speak for the other programs, but in Jordan, we did ridiculous things, we had a wonderful time, but looking back on it, it was incredibly wholesome. Seriously - your kid will be fine. If you as a parent are simply not ready to send your kid away for a couple months (or a year, if that's what you're considering), take a step back, and please, please think about what this means to your kid, and what an amazing opportunity this is. And applicants, if you really want to go for a year, but haven't gone away ever before, consider applying for a summer for now, and a year later, maybe as a gap year. I promise, it's still an amazing experience, and it's smart to try it for a summer before committing to a year abroad. Plus, it makes it easier on your parents.
- "Is NSLI-Y actually entirely free?": YES - IT'S FREE! Free to apply, and everything paid on the program. You just need to pay for a passport if you don't already have one, and then spending money during the program. But they do give you a stipend, and what they gave us in Jordan was plenty to pay for food and souvenirs, so if you're worried about spending money, don't be. And yes, the international airfare is included as FREE!
If anybody has any other questions from parents, feel free to ask me in the comments- if you have country specific questions about programs other than Arabic, please join our Facebook group. We have alumni from almost every program and duration to answer questions, and plenty of applicants asking questions - http://www.facebook.com/groups/215777371826134/. (Yes, I know the year is wrong, it was created last year, and Facebook doesn't allow groups to change their names. It's been very active so far this year as well).