After the study abroad experience usually seems simple: students return home to family, friends and continue their studies at their home school. However, re-entry into your life with family and friends is a more significant challenge than students imagine. Exposure to a new way of living will likely have brought many unquestioned beliefs about so many different questions into evidence that it can sometimes be a bumpy reentry as students try to integrate their new experiences and perhaps changed ideas about the world into their old life.
It may seem obvious, but saying goodbye is an important part of returning home. You may experience a range of feelings and thoughts at the end of your abroad program–from the excitement and anticipation of returning home to the sadness and loss of leaving your host country. Although endings can be difficult and many of us would prefer to be distracted with last-minute adventures, it is important to think about how to experience a meaningful goodbye. Here are some suggestions:
Before your last week spend some time gathering up memories of your experience: photographs, postcards, journal entries, ticket stubs, recipes, addresses and any other meaningful mementos that will help you capture your time abroad. Exchange contact information with new friends and faculty members who you would like to keep in touch with. And think about what type of goodbyes you would like to have with those who have become important to you. Is a big going-away party your style? Or do you prefer quieter, one-on-one conversations?Be sure to ask your program director about local customs around departures as well. In some countries, small gifts to your hosts may be appropriate, while in other countries the reverse is true. The cultural resource guide, What’s Up With Culture? (www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/nofollow) notes that every culture has its own rules on the appropriate way to bring closure. Doing the culturally sensitive thing is likely to be greatly appreciated and remembered by those left behind.Customs and personal preferences will shape your individual departure experience, so be sure to allow yourself time and space to acknowledge your experience and begin the process of closure before you leave.
Re-Entry Culture Shock
Many students expect that their transition home will be relatively easy and are surprised when they experience re-entry culture shock.
Unlike the process of arriving in a host country where advisors and fellow students focused on cultural adjustment, your friends and family may expect you to fit seamlessly back into life at home. They may expect you to be the same person you were when you left, even though you may feel vastly different, and may have little understanding or patience for your new thoughts, behaviors, or critiques of your home country.
Your family members may not appreciate the changes you have made since you’ve been gone. Or you may find yourself unable to communicate the intensity of your experience and feel alienated from friends who “weren’t there.”
Just as culture shock has its own phases of adjustment, re-entry culture shock follows a similar pattern of acclimation. The initial phase is typically marked by excitement and joy of being home and re-connecting with friends and family. This may be followed by feelings of alienation, low-mood, feelings of loss and/or boredom. This phase, too, usually resolves itself within the first few weeks.
However, if you find yourself feeling out of sorts or emotionally unstable for a longer period of time, let someone know. Contact your college health servicesnofollow center or a trusted clinician. They can help you determine if you need additional supports as you readjust to your home country.
Like culture shock, the final phase of re-entry culture shock is characterized by adjustment and acceptance of cultural differences. Typically the most rewarding phase of return, this third phase is marked by personal growth, the integration of disparate ideas, thoughts and values.
Get more information on managing Re-Entry Culture Shock.
It’s likely that you’ll have discovered a lot of new things about yourself while studying abroad. You may have new attitudes, new thoughts and new opinions about a wide variety of issues that barely crossed your mind before. It’s important to take some time to reflect on the changes you’ve made and how your friends and family might experience the ‘new you’.
Just as you have changed, there’s a good chance that people at home have changed as well. New things may feel unfamiliar, and familiar things may feel strange from your new perspective. Expect to have some psychological and emotional responses to all this newness, and try to give yourself time for reflection and contemplation. Try to be patient with yourself and with others who are interested in learning about your experience, and who have also had experiences of their own while you were away.
Try to avoid making comparisons between cultures and resist the temptation to be too critical of home. It will take some time to fully integrate your experience, so try to remain flexible and open when resuming relationships. You may want to seek out students who have also returned from study abroad, or others who have had international experiences, to discuss your re-entry process.
Expanding upon the Abroad Experience
Many students struggle to integrate their study abroad experience with academics back on their home campus. We’ve compiled some tips on how to use the knowledge and perspectives you’ve acquired and make the most of your study abroad experience once you return:
If possible, select academic courses that will broaden and deepen the knowledge you’ve gained during your abroad experience. Look for courses that will allow you to present new perspectives and confront culturally ingrained ideas and attitudes.
Join or start an International Club or Foreign Language Club to maintain your connection with the language and culture of your host country.
Participate in campus-diversity forums. Offer to speak or organize a panel discussion for your campus on cultural sensitivity and awareness.
Volunteer to participate in your campus Study Abroad Fair. Most colleges and universities have annual fairs where prospective students appreciate the opportunity to speak with returnees.
Many colleges and universities have community outreach programs which prize experience in cultural diversity.
Continue to integrate your international experience into your daily life by maintaining cultural awareness, sensitivity and curiosity in all aspects of your life.
We suggest you check out the following links for more useful information on preparing for study abroad.
WHAT’S UP WITH CULTURE?
What’s Up With Culture? an on-line cultural training resource for study abroad focusing on cultural adjustment and reentry. www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/nofollow
STUDENTS ABROAD—GO FROM HERE
This website has been designed by the U.S. State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizen Services specifically for students preparing to travel abroad. www.studentsabroad.state.govnofollow
COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE (CIEE)—KNOWLEDGE SERIES
The Knowledge series is intended to enhance pre-departure preparation for both students and their parents with additional resources to assist in the process. www.ciee.org/program_resources/knowledge.aspxnofollow
STATE DEPARTMENT TRAVEL SITES
The State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) administers the Consular Information Program, which informs the public of conditions abroad that may affect their safety and security www.travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.htmlnofollow
CDC Travelers’ Health offers information to assist travelers and their health-care providers in deciding the vaccines, medications, and other measures necessary to prevent illness and injury during international travel. www.cdc.gov/travel/nofollow
Other PICA pages which may interest you:
- Check out our page on Cultural Activities.
- Check out the PICA Day Trips Page.
- Learn more about PICA Weekend Trips.
- Health and Safety Tips for your time in Paris.
- Learn about French Culture & Customs.
- Managing your Culture Shock when first arriving in Paris.
- How to Plan your Trips from Paris to the rest of France.
- Where to find Art & Photo Supplies in Paris?