In the Center for Global Learning & Engagement, we recognize that returning after an experience away is different for each person. The re-entry process isn’t always easy. Take a look through the top 10 struggles that some students report during this transition and how individuals have responded to each struggle.
Top 10 Immediate Re-entry Challenges and Student Responses (Adapted from Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific)
Boredom – Returning to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can also seem dull. It is natural to miss the excitement, but remember a bored person is also boring.
Alumnus Response: Sometimes boredom can be a good thing. It’s given me the time I need to process some of my thoughts and understand what I’m going through. It’s not always fun, but I’m glad I’m working through things. I’ve also had to make some adjustments and be much more intentional to plan things out. After having such easy access to my homestay family and people in my program, it’s been hard realizing how much I have to work to just spend time with people. Everyone seems to be so busy. For now, I’m working with where I’m at and finding ways to be intentional with the people I care most about. They all haven’t had the same experiences as me, but we are learning from each other.
No one wants to hear – Not everyone will be as interested in hearing about your personal adventures 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, further interest will mostly come from those very close to you. Be realistic in your expectations. Be brief.
Alumnus Response: I may have had unrealistic expectations of people when I first got back. Even though I had things to share, they did too! I ended up needing to do a lot more listening and be willing to share about my experience over time.
You can’t explain – It can be difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have a similar framework to reference. You can tell people about your trip, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. Meet people where they are. Try to relate what you want to communicate to something in their current life.
Alumnus Response: It was a huge relief to realize that I don’t need to be able to explain my entire experience abroad. After time, I’ve been able to share about a few specific things that happened when I was abroad that really affected me and also share about a specific person I was really close with while abroad. These helped lead the conversation even if I didn’t feel I could explain everything.
Reverse homesickness – It is natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to overseas. Feelings of loss are an integral part of travel and should be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of living abroad.
Alumnus Response: Many days I would love to go back again and be there. I guess this means it was a good experience. But I’ve been able to stay connected with some friends. At first I thought we’d Skype and write all the time, but that wasn’t realistic. We still keep in touch though, and I’ve found a place nearby that reminds me of my homestay family. I try to live out what they taught me and I know they will always have a place in my heart.
Relationships have changed – When you return, you will notice some relationships with friends or family 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. The best preparation is flexibility, minimal expectations, and optimism.
Alumnus Response: I knew that inside I had changed from who I was before, but I wasn’t expecting that others here would be different, too. I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me—we all grow and change over time. With all of the other changes going on around me, I didn’t want to have to put in so much effort and energy with the people I just wanted to just relax with. But those people are the most important to me, so it’s worth it!
People see “wrong” changes – People may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior/ideas and feel threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe bad traits to the influence of your time away. They may be motivated by jealousy, fear, superiority, or inferiority. Monitor yourself and be aware of others’ reactions.
Alumnus Response: It’s interesting to see how people have responded to me so differently. Some people have encouraged the changes they’ve seen in me, but others make me feel guilty for making any changes. I’m trying to give them some time and space to process my changes in their own way and am thinking through who I want to be close to for the long-term.
People misunderstand – A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that makes communication difficult. New styles or mannerisms may be viewed as inappropriate. References to foreign places or expressions are often considered boasting. Be aware of how your behavior is interpreted.
Alumnus Response: I’m trying to be as clear as possible, but some people don’t seem to understand me. I don’t have control over how others receive, but I am trying to focus on what I do have control over. I’m trying to be better about communicating in their communication style and not my own. When I was abroad, I learned a lot about what it means to be culturally appropriate. Even though I’m back in my home culture, I’m finding I need to think about how to be culturally appropriate here and now.
Feelings of alienation – When daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel alienated. Many develop “critical eyes”, a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain a balanced perspective.
Alumnus Response: When I first got back there were so many things about my campus, my church, and our society that bothered me. My home culture seemed to fail in comparison to where I just was. Over time I started to realize that I may have been over-romanticizing my program a bit. I guess there are problems everywhere, just different problems. I think there are definitely some things we can learn from where I was, but there are also some things that my home culture does really well that I’m so thankful for. I want to learn to live out the best of both places.
Inability to apply new knowledge and skills – Many are frustrated by their inability to apply newly gained social, technical, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be irrelevant at home. Change what you can, be creative, be patient, and above all, use the skills you acquired abroad to assist your own re-entry. The knowledge, skills, and perspectives you learned abroad can be incorporated into who you are in your relationships, vocation, daily choices, and more.
Alumnus Response: I’m still working on this, but my faith has already grown because of my experience. I’ve already been able to use some of what I learned in managing how to deal with people around me at home that are different from me and helping me work through changes that come up in life. Each of the people I studied abroad with had different personalities and strengths and I’m sure we’ll end up applying what we learned in different ways.
Loss or compartmentalization of experience (shoe boxing) – Many worry that they will lose the experience. They fear that it will somehow be compartmentalized like treasures kept in a box, only occasionally taken out, and looked at. But there are ways to integrate!
Alumnus Response: To me, “moving on” means I am still engaging in life, but also remembering all that has contributed to making me who I am. Being able to enjoy some of the things of my home culture doesn’t mean I’ve walked away from my experience abroad. I don’t want to have to pick and choose between what place or culture I feel connected to or identify with the most. They both have strengths and weaknesses that I want to learn from and incorporate into who I am.
The Center for Global Learning & Engagement wants to help students in any way we can. Our student development team is ready and equipped to help you debrief or navigate through whatever challenges you might be experiencing. We hope that you will take advantage of the offered resources and let us know if there are other ways we can partner with you in your transition.