It is one thing to explain to a parent or a friend why you are going abroad, but another thing entirely to explain it to a younger sibling or a special-needs sibling. ¬They might understand or at least have an idea of where you are going (especially if you show them pictures), but they might not understand why. They might think that it’ll be like that last time that you left, but you know that it won’t be. This is different—you’re going borders away, sometimes an ocean or two away. Time-zones will be different. You won’t be able to make it to a special birthday or to certain holidays.
Take a deep breath, and know that it will be okay. You may have to put in more of an effort to keep in contact with your sibling, but know that it’s all part of the experience—for yourself, your sibling and your family as a whole.
Teach them how to FaceTime, use Facebook Messenger or Skype.
….unless, of course, they already know how to use it. If they don’t, sit down with them and teach them personally how to use it. Make them an account, write down their login information for you parents, and add your own account to their contact list.
Write down what time they can call you—and make sure that you are available at that time! — so they know when. If you are not sure beforehand, have your parents write it down for you after you arrive to your host country. If they are not yet able to read or understand written time, make sure that your parent lets your sibling know when it is time to call you.
If you are studying in a place with easy access to Wifi, the next time that you are out and about, video chat with them. They’ll enjoy seeing you and where you are. If WiFi is spotty, make them small videos that you can later message or email them.
Write them a lot of postcards, and buy them a place to put them.
Assuming that you will be studying abroad in a place with somewhat decent mail service, this is something that I highly recommend doing! Before I left to study abroad in Greece, I bought my brother a small photo storage box that had the world printed on it. He would place every single postcard in there, and still does to this day.
It’s a little reminder that you haven’t forgotten about them, and it also gives them something to look forward to when you are away. I would tell my brother the day after I put it in the mail to keep an eye out for it, and the day that he would get it, he would show it to me during our near-daily FaceTime sessions.
I wouldn’t write a lot on the postcard because we kept in contact almost every day and I wanted it to be easy for him to read on his own.
Put together a book of the two of you, as well as a map and pictures of where you are.
They may not ever fully understand where you are, or it might take some years for them to look back and understand, but you can make an effort. Open up a Word document and start putting together pictures from Google Search about your study abroad location. Include a map, a flag, a few pictures of the city and the university—giving them a visual idea of this new and exciting place you will be.
Also make a few pages of pictures of the two of you, whether they be silly selfies or photos from throughout the years. It’ll give them something to look at when they start to miss you. You may want to do the same for yourself, and hang it up in your dorm room/homestay room. Studying abroad is a wonderful experience, but it can be hard on yourself as well especially when you have a younger sibling or a special-needs sibling back home. You may think that you will be alright, but you never know. So make a memory book for yourself as well.
And most importantly—buy them a present or two.
No trip is complete without a present! Make sure to talk to them about what they want, and have them decide. Whether it be a hat, a shirt, or a toy, having them make the decision can be empowering to them. I would get them something that they want, then something that you want to give them, a sort of surprise.
Throughout my travels, I’ve acquired little things from each place and have done the same for my brother. Every time I go somewhere, he gets a little souvenir, whether it be a replica of a famous place or a mug, to add to his shelf of ‘things from around the world.’
Another thing to remember—place at least one of the presents for them on your carry-on bag. Because no matter how much they miss you, the first question is and will always be: “Where is my present?”