Returning from abroad can be difficult for students as they reacclimatize to life back in their own country. You have changed during your time abroad, home has changed, and you will be seeing familiar people, places, and behaviors from new perspectives. These changes will lead to some new emotional and psychological responses as part of a process called re-entry.
Re-entry is a real and completely normal developmental step most students go through as they re-adjust to their home culture. Just as there were ups and downs to acclimating to life abroad, so too, should students anticipate similar reactions to readjusting back to life at home. While re-entry is experienced differently by every individual, there are several common challenges:
Boredom or Restlessness
While studying abroad daily task were represented exciting challenges that represented opportunities to experience something new and exciting. There may have been a dramatic shift in your living environment or academic tempo. Returning home, then, can seem rather dull, especially during periods of mandated social distancing and remote instruction.
No One Wants to Hear About Your Experience
You may want to share about your experience abroad only to find that people seem disinterested or ask superficial question. You may feel frustrated or even guilty that it is difficult for others to relate to your adventures and triumph. It’s important to keep in mind that their reactions shouldn’t impact the value of your achievements and time abroad. You were worthy of your experience.
It’s Hard to Explain
“How was it?” will become a bittersweet question. Even when given a platform to speak about your experience it can be difficult to convey, regardless of how sympathetic the listener is. There were undoubtedly ups and downs to your time abroad, especially if you spent weeks adjusting to the culture. You may feel frustrated or despondent that others keep seeming to miss what you’re trying to express. That’s okay! It is inevitable that some things may get lost in translation, especially if the audience can’t relate or reference a similar experience.
Relationships Have Change
Just as you transformed from your experience abroad, you will notice that your friends and family members have changed as well. Sometimes reconnecting is easy, but expecting everything to be as it was is unrealistic. Just as you would like patience and understanding as you may no longer fit the mold in your loved one’s mind, you should also approach your relationships with the same level flexibility, and tempered optimism. Show an interest in what others have been doing while you were away. Returnees are often characterized as being so anxious to tell their stories that they are not interested in listening to others.
Feelings of Alienation and the Critical Eye
Making comparisons between cultures and nations is natural, particularly after residence abroad. After intimately experiencing a different culture and different lifestyle, you may find yourself critical of certain aspects of your home culture and find yourself withdrawing from or conflicting with others. You may experience a shift in attitude towards the value, customs, or beliefs of your home culture. At times, one’s home culture may even feel unnatural to you and lead to rootlessness or reverse homesickness for the people, places, attitudes, and/or lifestyles of your host culture. This may cause misunderstandings with those around you who may feel you are being judgmental. Reflecting and processing you experience will lead to a more balanced perspective.
Overcoming Re-Entry Challenges
Many returnees expect adjusting back to life at home will be seamless and may feel surprised and isolated by their emotional and psychological responses. It is incredibly important to acknowledge that re-entry can be difficult. One’s reactions to it are also very natural, and no one is alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Difficulties related to re-entry usually alleviate over time as students process their experience and familiarize themselves to life back home, but there are several strategies students can use to conquer the re-entry process.
Give Yourself Time
Be patient with yourself as reentry is a process that will take time, just as adjusting to a new foreign culture required a period of acculturation. You’ve change, your relationships with other people have changed, and your perception and relationship with your home culture may have changed as well. It’s perfectly normally to be sensitive during this period. Give yourself time to relax and reflect upon what is going on around you, how you are reacting to it, and what you might like to change. Give yourself permission to ease into the transition and address what you are feeling.
Resist the natural impulse to make snap judgments about people and behaviors once back home. Mood swings are common at first, but recognize your most valuable and valid analysis will likely after allowing some time for thorough reflection and maturation. You will be able to recognize and celebrate the change in yourself and appreciate the differences in your home country, but usually only after allotting sufficient to processing your experience and self-analysis Most returnees report gaining major insights into themselves and their home countries during reentry, but only after allowing a sufficient period of time for reflection and self-analysis.
Find solidarity and support from others who are or have navigated similar experiences. Utilize University resources and reach out to others if you are having difficulties coping with re-entry. Stay in contact with those you connected with while abroad or reach out to other students returning from abroad. There are lots of people back home who have gone through their own reentry process and both understand and empathize with a returnee’s concerns. It may be beneficial to seek out people with international living experience such as academic faculty, exchange students, international development staff, diplomatic or military personnel, and those doing business internationally, or intercultural resources and organizations on campus. Students can find support and empathy as they go through the reentry process from the Office of Study Abroad.
Engage and Inspire Other
Consider becoming a Study Abroad Student Ambassador, or volunteering with the Office of Study Abroad. Inspire other students by participating in info sessions about your program, initiate a student panel on a topic you are passionate about, start a luncheon series, submit works to the Wes and the World Blog or spearhead an event during International Education Week or on Study Abroad Day. Partaking in such activities allows you to take command of your experience while sharing with interesting parties. Additionally, see if the provider you study abroad with has their own ambassadorship program. You’ll be able to connect to prospective sojourners and there are sometimes nifty perks associated with it.
Expand your Horizons
Remaining flexible and as open as possible to new experiences and change is an essential aspect of a successful return home. Attempting to re-socialize totally into old patterns and networks can be difficult if not detrimental to your growth, but remaining aloof is isolating and counterproductive. Seek to achieve a balance between resuming and maintaining earlier patterns and enhancing your social and intellectual life with new friends and interests. Integrate aspect of your personal development from abroad into your life and future. Join a new club, language table, student organization, or intramural team to continue with new passions you discovered abroad.