Top 10 Reentry Challenges
According to Dr. Bruce LaBrack, a cultural anthropologist and South Asian specialist at the University of the Pacific, students have indicated the following ten challenges to be some of the most difficult to overcome upon return from study abroad.
Do you miss the new and exciting challenges of your host country? Are you feeling a little unchallenged, or as though there just are not enough fun new things to do at AU? Don’t worry. This is a natural feeling after having challenged yourself with a study abroad experience. We recommend you find ways to stay connected through on campus clubs, attending events hosted by AU Abroad, and looking up events hosted by your country’s embassy.
“No One Wants to Hear”
Most study abroad students have many stories that they wish to share in order to convey what their experiences meant to them. However, you may have found that your friends and family don’t always care to listen to the details. Your friends and family are not rejecting or undervaluing you. They just prefer to hear the highlights of your experience and then move onto the present. We understand that you had amazing experiences, triumphs, adventures, and challenges while studying abroad. By staying in touch with your friends from abroad, your homestay families, and other students at AU who went on your program, or a similar program, you will find willing listeners. You will also enjoy speaking with prospective study abroad students who will appreciate hearing insights about your experience. Additionally if you feel you are having trouble adjusting you may wish to seek out services at the AU Counseling Center.
You Can’t Explain
Sometimes it can be hard to articulate how you felt or what you felt while abroad. You may feel frustrated with your inability to convey the nuances of your experience even to the most sympathetic and engaged listeners. Just keep practicing. Try writing down how you feel to organize your thoughts. This may help you better articulate your feelings to someone later.
You may be missing the places, people, friends, and home stay family from abroad. One way to help counteract this feeling is by staying in contact. Keep up with those friends on facebook, twitter, by email, and even try to skype a few times. This will help ease the separation stress you are feeling.
Relationships Have Changed
You may have noticed that some relationships with friends and family have changed. This is normal. Just as you may have acquired new ideas and attitudes while abroad, people at home have too. Some changes may be positive, while others may be negative. If you feel that you need someone to talk to about these changes, we recommend you look into the counseling services provided by AU.
People See “Wrong” Changes
Sometimes others will perceive some small changes as negative, or ascribe “bad” traits to the influence of your study abroad experience. These perceptions may be tempered by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. In order to counteract these perceptions, you may need to actively monitor your actions and reactions to others. This phase is normally experienced within the first few weeks of your return home, and if you make an effort not to confirm these negative stereotypes, the phases will pass quickly.
Just as it took some time to learn to communicate with your host culture, it will take some time to relearn how to communicate with people back here at AU. What might have become normal or acceptable behavior while abroad, may now be misinterpreted at home. You may have a new style that while abroad helped you to fit in, but here, may be misunderstood as provocative, inappropriate, or as an affectation. You may notice that your friends, family, and classmates misunderstand your use of new language or phrases, or casual references to obscure locations as boasting or “showing off.” As a way to help reduce these misunderstanding, we recommend that you remain aware of how you may look to others, and that you pay attention to how your behavior and attitudes may be interpreted by others.
Feelings of Alienation
Sometimes being back “home” is not as easy, simple, or perfect as you remember it to be. This may be because you have developed a “critical eye” to your home culture, where you compare home to your host culture abroad, seeing many faults with “home” that you may not have noticed before. These perceptions can make you feel alienated from the place where you once felt familiarity. As you make these mental comparisons, you will slowly readjust to being back “home.” We recommend that, until you have readjusted to “home,” that you keep your comparisons to yourself, share them with your counselor, or write them down, as they could be misinterpreted or categorized as bad habits learned from abroad.
Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills
We realize that you may feel frustrated or disappointed with the lack of opportunities to apply your newly gained skills. These skills might be technical, linguistic, or social. Remember, that one of the primary skills you learned abroad was how to adapt to new, difficult, and challenging situations, how to overcome these situations, and how to make the most of the opportunities at hand. The AU Career Center can help you add these skills to your resume. You can absolutely continue to use these skills upon your return to AU.
Loss or Compartmentalization of Experience (“Shoeboxing”)
You may be worried that your experience abroad will become compartmentalized, like the souvenirs or photos you collected while abroad that you now keep stashed away and only take out when you want to remember your experience. You may worry that this time abroad will fade, or that you will simply lose the experience or knowledge gained. In order to help internalize and integrate this experience into your life, we recommend you fit a course or two into your schedule that helps your further pursue some aspect of your study abroad experience. That is, if you were intrigued by the T.V. commercials in your host country, seek out a communications course; or maybe you want to continue to work on your language skills; or maybe you want to understand the new lens through which you see your host country’s social sphere. By setting goals for your return, you will find that it becomes much easier to integrate your study abroad experience back into your life at AU.
Adapted from Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific, Training Design for International Transitions, La Brack and Pusch, SIIC