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Returning home after your study abroad experience is often more of a challenge than any student realizes. Your new experiences, perspective, and, of course, your new friendships, are truly life-changing. When you return home you'll find that you now feel like a different person. You've experienced something entirely new, different and foreign to your normal way of life back home. To help adjust after your return we provide below a list of Reentry Challenges to consider. And we also share some suggestions to help you smoothly transition back to life at home and keep up with your Spanish after the program ends.
Your time abroad will surely be moving, and once you return, you might carry with you some intense emotion and nostalgia. This is completely natural and one of the best ways to transition back to domestic campus life is to meaningfully connect with others through social action or civic engagement like volunteering, integrating your new experiences into your academic and professional life, or finding ways to continue to embody the enriching global understanding that you learned abroad. Through any of these pursuits you'll find you address the emotion and passion of your time abroad.
Below are some ways to help with your transition home and share your experience with other students in the Sol Abroad community. We always welcome your comments and additions to this page (it is for you!) so please submit via email any additions or comments that can help other Sol Abroad returnees!
The following list is adapted from a handout entitled “Top Ten Immediate Reentry Challenges,” by Bruce LaBrack, University of the Pacific, distributed at the Metro Boston Study Abroad Re-entry Conference, September 2004. It addresses some of what you may experience as well as offering suggestions on how to cope with these feelings in a productive way.
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.
One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your experience as you will be in sharing them. 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.
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.
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. Feelings of loss are an integral part of international experiences and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.