Ten Top Immediate Re-entry Challenges
As Rated by University Students
Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific
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 prove 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.
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 pressures of job, 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.
Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific
Some Advice For You...
Suggestions on coming “home” from University of the Pacific students (Stockton, CA)
- Talk with others who have come back from abroad and share your experiences, frustration, and joys. These are the people who can help you through it. Almost everyone agrees.
- Accept that you have changed and that things are not going to be the same as when you left and that that's a good thing.
- Exercise. Endorphins kill reentry sadness.
- Read a lot about everything. It will get your brain working.
- Don't isolate.
- Don't brood. Self-pity is unattractive.
- Try new things. If you return to the same place a different person, redefine the place. Take up a new hobby, residence, sport, mode of transport.
- Don't dwell on the past.
- Keep your memories alive – don’t store them away in a shoe box. It wasn't a dream and it was important.
- Find local physical supports. Go to the World Market and get German chocolate if you miss Germany, Japanese tea if you miss Japan. And everything is available on the Internet.
- Write down what you thought was great about the US while you were abroad.
- Use your cross-cultural study-abroad skills to observe your own culture.
- Stay spontaneous.
- Don't let failures in your home culture be any less a learning experience than they would have been while you were abroad.
- Continue to reflect on what you learned abroad.
- Focus on how you are now better off from the experiences you have had.
- Look for the good in the present situation.
- Don't be upset if people seem indifferent to your experience abroad.
- Recognize that things at home have changed while you were away and respect those changes. No one's life went on hold just because you were gone, and their experiences are important to them.
- Don't talk about what happened abroad unless your listener wants to hear it. But find a confidant if you can.
- Rekindle the spirit of adventure you had abroad. Explore home.
- Go out of your way to make new friends, just as you did abroad.
- Try to apply what you learned abroad to your life here. What can be saved? What is useful?
- You will need to "rebuild" relationships, not merely "resume" them.
- Don't jump off a cliff: like culture shock, reentry shock passes in time.