For some students, re-entry may be the most challenging part of the study abroad experience and cultural adjustment you will face. Students often report that returning home was more difficult than leaving. Prior to returning, it is easy to assume that life at home will be essentially the same as it was before you left, but it is not always as simple as that.
Re-entry adjustment can prove to be a state of disequilibrium:
- You have had a life-changing experience that has taught you many things about yourself and the world, but somehow the new things that you learned may not fit into your everyday world.
- You want to tell people about what you experienced but many friends may not be interested in listening, and would rather tell you what happened while you were away.
- People may see you as being more critical of things in your own culture and country and may not understand when you say you might want to go back to your host country someday.
- You prefer the company of those who shared your experience, and in some cases your international experience takes on ideal qualities that can't be matched at home.
Characteristics of Re-Entry Adjustment
Similar to your adjustment period when you went abroad, once you've passed through the "honeymoon stage" of your return home, you might experience symptoms of reverse cultural adjustment, such as:
- Difficulty talking about your experience
- Homesickness for your host country
- Critical view of your home culture
- Challenges with relationships with friends and family
- Feelings of alienation
- Fear of "losing" the experience
Rest assured that all of this is normal. Once you realize that these are symptoms of reverse cultural adjustment, you can work on finding your own coping mechanisms to feel comfortable once again at home.
You have most likely changed a lot since your return, and there are ways that you can embrace those changes. Your re-entry can provide opportunities for continued learning and personal growth:
- Take time to evaluate the two cultures and think about how you can incorporate parts of both into your lifestyle.
- Talk to family members and friends about how you think you have changed and listen to their ideas.
- Listen to the stories of what happened at home while you were away, and then share some of your own experiences. Try new things together with friends and family to establish new, common experiences.
- Seek out other students who have been abroad or are interested in international and intercultural matters.
- Talk to on-campus resources such as the Study Abroad Office, Wellbeing, or Academic Advising, about how you can take new classes or keep your experience alive back on campus.
- Reflect on your experience.
Reflection is a key component of the re-adjustment process. If you kept a journal or blog while abroad, keep writing when you return home. You might want to write about, discuss, or just think about the questions below:
- How have I changed?
- How may my friends and family have changed?
- What lessons did I learn while abroad?
- What skills or knowledge have I gained?
- What do I want to share about my experience with friends and family?
- Was there anything during my experience that surprised or shocked me? How did I feel about those experiences while abroad, and now back at home?
- What generalizations or stereotypes did I have about my host culture before I left? Have they changed since my return?
- Do I think any differently about the U.S./my home culture?
If you find yourself feeling sad that your experience has ended, remember that study abroad doesn't have to be a singular experience for you. Instead, look at it as the start of a lifetime of learning and exploration.
Additional Re-Entry Adjustment Resources: