The Office of Study Abroad welcomes you back to the United States and to campus! You will want to tell people all about your experiences, and we want to help you do that! Please contact us if you are interested in being a student worker in our office (we have a limited number of paid positions), volunteering at events or serving as a peer advisor for prospective study abroad participants. We will also contact you when we have specific activities, such as pre-departure orientation, where we could use your perspectives.
Top 10 Re-Entry Challenges
There are lots of reasons to look forward to going home, but there are also a number of psychological, social and cultural aspects which can be difficult – often because they are unanticipated. The following list was generated by interviewing students like you who have been through the experience and survived nicely. However, they say you should take the process seriously by being realistic and thinking about it and your possible reactions. They offer the following thoughts on reentry for your consideration in the hope they will make your return both more enjoyable and more productive.
1. BOREDOM: After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges which characterize study in a foreign country, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome such negative reactions – remember, a bored person is also boring.
2. "NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR": One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else. Be brief.
3. YOU CAN'T EXPLAIN: Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your trip, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It’s okay.
4. REVERSE "HOMESICKNESS": Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it is just as natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student overseas. To an extent it can be reduced by writing letters, telephoning, and generally keeping in contact, but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
5. RELATIONSHIPS HAVE CHANGED: It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.
6. PEOPLE SEE “WRONG” CHANGES: Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe “bad” traits to the influence of your time abroad. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimize them it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.
7. PEOPLE MISUNDERSTAND: A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication is difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as humor (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc.) and ways to show affection or establish conversation may not be seen as wit, but aggression or “showing off.” Conversely, a silence that was seen as simply polite overseas might be interpreted at home, incorrectly, as signaling agreement or opposition. New clothing styles or mannerisms may be viewed as provocative, inappropriate, or as an affectation. Continually using references to foreign places or sprinkling foreign language expressions or words into an English conversation is often considered boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.
8. FEELINGS OF ALIENATION: Sometimes the reality of being back “home” is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image. When real daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation. Many returnees develop “critical eyes”, a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before. Some even become quite critical of everyone and everything for a time. This is no different than when you first left home. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural balance and a balanced perspective.
9. INABILITY TO APPLY NEW KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS: Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, technical, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all use the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.
10. LOSS/COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF EXPERIENCE (SHOEBOXING): Being home, coupled with the pressure of jobs, family, and friends, often combine to make returnees worried that somehow they will “lose” the experience. Many fear that it will somehow become compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen: maintain your contacts abroad; seek out and talk to people who have had experiences similar to yours; practice your cross-cultural skills; continue language learning. Remember and honor both your hard work and the fun you had while abroad.
Tips for Coming Home
Talk with others who have come back from abroad and share your experiences, frustration, and joys. These are the people who can help you though it. Almost everyone agrees.
Exercise. Endorphins kill reentry sadness.
Talk with family and friends about your semester.
Take some time to relax and decompress.
Maintain the relationships you built while away.
Focus on how you are now better off from the experiences you have had.
Rekindle the spirit of adventure you had abroad. Explore home.
Go out of your way to make new friends, just as you did abroad.
Find local physical supports. Go to the World Market and get German chocolate if you miss Germany, Japanese tea if you miss Japan. Everything is available on the Internet.
Continue language learning if that was a part of your study away experience.
Speak with a counselor if your readjustment to home is challenging.
Be a mentor to an International Student now that you know what its like to be a foreigner. Contact the Office of International Students & Scholars at Trinity or your home campus for more information.
Showcase Your Study Abroad Experience in a Professional Setting
The Career Office is a great resource to help you learn how to discuss your study away experience in a professional setting (job interviews, resume, etc.)
If you studied a language while abroad, you'll probably want to do everything you can, once you're back, to maintain the proficiency you've worked so hard to achieve. As difficult as it was to insist on speaking that other language on your program, even with other native English speakers, it will be that much more difficult once you're back stateside... but it can be done.
We list below a few strategies for attacking this problem:
- If it's a language taught at SEU, take upper-level courses in the language. If SEU doesn't teach it formally, contact the chair of the Languages Department for other options for additional Instruction or other resources.
- Contact the Director of Study Abroad and the Director of International Students Services, about social events involving other returnees and international students from countries where the target language is spoken. This gives you the added benefit of spending time with people who, like you, are dealing with "re-entry shock" and re-adjusting to SEU after studying abroad.
- Make a point of attending lectures, parties, and other events on campus related to the language and culture of your study abroad destination. Many language departments invite speakers not only to a lecture, but to a dinner with faculty and interested students. Some ask majors to give a presentation in the target language about their experience abroad (and others might be encouraged to do so). Several departments hire Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs), who are in much the same situation as you were while abroad. It is both their job and their pleasure to speak with you in their native language. And you will each find a natural ally in the battle for cross-cultural understanding!
- Rent videos and DVDs in the target language. If you're still struggling with the language, consider subtitled materials. If you can manage without subtitles, so much the better.
- Look for summer and on-campus jobs that will allow you to use the language.
- Consider selecting paper and thesis topics for which you will need to read or do research in the target language.
- Online newspapers and magazines are a good way to keep up with what's happening in your host country. Olin may well have fiction or other books in the target language, so allow for some time for pleasure reading too. You may well be able to order books from your host country online.
- Staying in touch with your homestay family, professors, local friends, your program director, and others you met abroad is a great opportunity not only to keep up with the language, but to maintain your sense of belonging to a community abroad. Many study abroad participants go back to their host countries to visit, work, or do research, and of course those visits are much nicer when you have people you care about to see!
- Especially if you have a car or access to transportation, find ways to connect to the expatriate community from your host country here. As one example, you may want to ask about connecting with public schools to help teach the language and culture of your host country to local students.
- Reverse Culture Shock by H.E. Rybol
- The Study Abroad Journal: Your Roadmap to an Epic Experience Abroad by Brooke Roberts & Natalie Garrett
- Returning from Study Abroad Feels like Starting Over by Mark Marino
- The Six Stages You Go Through After Returning from Study Abroad by Nicole Mormann
- Re-Entry: Returning Home from Studying Abroad by Jake Fischer
- 7 Ways to Cope with Re-Entry Shock after Studying Abroad by College Tourist
- 5 Years Later: What I Really Learned from Study Abroad by Mary Ellen Dingley
- Tips for Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock When You Return Home by Trixie Cordova