Conversation with Stan and Deb Harstine, parents of Ben Harstine, a 2013 GBI intern working in the Middle East
It can take parents out of their comfort zone to bless/support a college-age child’s decision to study or work overseas. So much can happen. Please describe how you felt “letting go” for a summer, especially for a project in the Middle East.
As parents we had two different feelings, one as a dad and one as a mom. As a dad, I was not concerned because I have always tried to raise my sons to leave and succeed. I knew this opportunity would be challenging, but that it would be incredibly worthwhile for Ben’s personal growth.
As a mom, it intensified my prayers for him; however, I was excited for him to have this opportunity to learn and grow. It was comforting to be in contact with him some via email, and FaceTime helped a lot in “letting go” …to know that he was well.
It was also important for us that Ben had already traveled abroad with FOCUS and the GBI opportunity came with an organization we had already learned about personally.
Were you concerned for Ben’s safety?
We were not overly concerned for Ben’s safety until there was an incident in a neighboring country and we needed to respond to others’ concerns that he was alright because of the distance between the two places. We also knew there were plans in place for emergency evacuations.
We can assume parental walls might be high if there is not clear understanding of the value of an internship, especially if the choice is between an unpaid overseas internship and a paid stateside internship. Did you struggle with the decision?
We personally did not struggle with this issue because we knew that the experience he was gaining far outweighed any dollars that might be earned.
How hard did Ben have to work to convince you the trip was a good thing with high value? Did he easily receive your permission/support, or did you need to be convinced? If the latter, what factors persuaded you to give your blessing?
Since Ben had traveled previously we had two years to learn about GBI and he began speaking to us about the opportunity as soon as he heard of it. We also had personal contact with GBI that helped us answer questions in the preliminary stages.
Please speak to the preparation Ben received for the Middle East trip, and how that influenced your feelings about the trip.
The GBI preparation is excellent for traveling safely overseas. In addition, Ben spent several days with an individual who had returned from that region to get country and internship-specific training.
What specifically did you see in GBI-guided preparation andtraining that made you believe Ben was ready to take the trip?
The report we received from Ben was that he received cultural awareness training and was placed in situations where he was challenged by situations that are possible abroad but rarely thought of in the USA. While Ben had previously been abroad with FOCUS his partner had not and the training helped both of them learn to communicate better with each other about the cultural issues they might encounter.
How and how often did you communicate with Ben while he was in Middle East? Did you have any contact with the GBI organization during that time?
Due to the office nature of his position, we had emails every week and video conferencing every two weeks. Our connections worked well, but the partner’s parents had more difficulty with the Skype connection. We spoke with the GBI organization toward the end regarding the international incident in the region.
The trip must surely have matured Ben in several ways. Did you see signs of intellectual, emotional, or character growth in Ben upon return?
Because of the situation that allowed him to lead in training others, he became more confident of his ability to do so and engaged in more training during the following fall semester.
Ben also learned socially about engaging another culture and how slow that process could be, but under guidance of the supervisor was encouraged to seriously consider participating in the Ramadan fasting. That was one of the best opportunities for him as he was able to break the wall of being a Westerner and be accepted by a group since he respected their traditions.
Ben also returned more confident in having deeper meaningful discussions with Americans as a result of the conversations he had abroad.
What might you say to other parents with college-age children who are considering a GBI trip?
This is a great learning and growing opportunity for your child. The GBI organization is ultimately concerned about the safety of the interns as well as the continued safety of those international partners.
The cultural and global awareness dividend is tremendously beneficial for their students as they graduate from college.
GBI is not necessarily for everyone, but it is for students who have already shown an interest in international students on their home campus and are already considering an international opportunity.
What might you say to other parents about GBI in general?
GBI is a great experience with well-planned training. GBI partners with companies of excellence who are focused on their long-term success in a region and ensuring a profitable internship for the student. GBI is not simply an international abroad agency that drops kids off at the airport and gives them a vacation experience abroad. GBI is looking at the long-term benefits, both for their partners and for those students they select and train to work abroad.