Ivy League Aspirations

What's it like when your child decides to study overseas? Paula Beaton tells of her experience.

By Paula Beaton

After surviving the adventure of having a teenage son from the Antipodes going to the other end of a world to an Ivy League college, I love sharing the benefits of the knowledge gained as part of this journey.

It is a journey and an adventure for the whole family which provides incalculable benefits and is definitely a win-win situation for all family members.

As an independent mum raising Jamie and having Jamie’s grandparents living with us [in New Zealand], I became convinced that when kids grow up outside a typical nuclear family they sometimes witness the fragility of life and it becomes an energising force.

If I had hints for mums in the early years of your child’s life, they would include making learning such an adventure that the art of active learning becomes intrinsic to their whole education experience. This meant that as a mum I did things such as create test questions or read the same book that Jamie was reading in order to have an enjoyable discussion.

I think that at any age children can start developing time management skills. There are always ‘windows’ of time which can be used for spelling, whether it be testing the spelling of your year 2 child while a meal is being prepared, or any other activity that can be done in those ‘windows’ of time.

Early on, I found it important to create the idea of ‘intentional’ use of time. It would mean that if one hour was going to be spent on computer games it was a conscious decision and concepts of time frames can be painlessly introduced.

I found Jamie grabbed very readily onto the concept of school and all activities being an adventure with a huge component being outright fun. This may have been because I was very cavalier about certain things that parents tend to worry about and so there was a carefree attitude about certain aspects of school.

One example was that Jamie had no idea what he wanted to do as he was growing up and I had no concerns about this.

Although Jamie participated actively in sport, his sporting achievements were done through sheer grit and determination.  That competitive spirit in sports, so encouraged in our culture was translated very intensely into competing to win for every assignment and test. This still meant being a co-operative class member and being collaborative with classmates. These skills helped to create fun in that very busy time later high school years.

In the later high school years, your child starts to make big decisions that affect the rest of their life. Jamie made these decisions with a real sense of confidence because he made them within a decision framework. If the decision was a disaster at least it had been made on a logical basis.

Of course, the mothering instinct is to make that decision for your child, but assisting in creating a decision framework is much more likely to set them up as a strong global citizen – although there will undoubtedly be some bumps along the way.

At that ‘light bulb’ moment when, in Year 11, Jamie became exhilarated with the idea of studying overseas, one of the first tasks which you can assist with is to encourage your child to ‘internationalise’ their CV.

There is a plethora of opportunities available that combine fun, challenge and create a point of differentiation for your child when they are applying for overseas colleges. When you are helping your child apply to study overseas the reality becomes such tasks as helping collate academic records and references and being a useful resource.

There are very few mums who do not want to cry buckets of tears when their child goes away to study for the first time at an overseas collage, but I felt enormously reassured that Jamie was on the path to becoming a global citizen and was in no doubt that he would harness those life skills learnt from early childhood. It made that initial parting easier.

Jamie graduated from Harvard University in 2016 and aside from the unsurpassed support system that has the risk of making mums redundant, the benefits of that Ivy League education continue to compound.

There are the inspirational professors such as Larry Summers (formerly Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton administration) and there are the awe-inspiring commencement (graduation) speakers, the endless top quality internships and the corporates who start recruiting  students from freshman year up.

But what is most special, as a close family friend laughingly said, is that the Ivy League experience has meant that a skinny little runt with braces achieved his dream and that has been the catalyst for him to achieve so much more.

While he was at Harvard, Jamie started Crimson Education, which helps students gain admission to US and UK universities. If you are interested, you can find out more here.

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