Stages of Re-Entry
Stage one: Disengagement
While abroad and your departure date looms near, you begin to move away from your abroad experience and start concentrating on your return. It is a feeling of having one foot in your host country and putting the other foot in your home country. You start thinking about wrapping up your time abroad and making plans for what you will do when you get home.
Stage two: Euphoria
In this stage, you get very excited about the prospect of going home. You think about how happy you will be to see your friends, eat your favorite foods and speak your native language. This may occur before leaving your host country or just upon arrival home. It may be quite brief, especially for those who were very well adjusted to their host culture. It is longer for those who were less attached to the host culture. Students who were unhappy while abroad may not experience return shock beyond this stage.
Stage three: Dampened euphoria
This stage occurs after a short time back in your home county and is characterized by feeling like a foreigner. You may feel frustrated, alienated and critical of your own culture. Things that were previously completely normal to you now stand out. For example, upon return, American returnees are often frustrated with their peers’ lack of knowledge or concern for international issues. You feel like no one really wants to hear about your experience and can’t relate to it. This is a good time to seek out other study abroad returnees. They can provide support and sympathy as you readjust to life back in your home country.
Stage four: Gradual readjustment
Things are no longer so shocking and you are less critical about aspects of your culture that bothered you during the dampened euphoria stage. You begin to analyze what you learned abroad and decide how you will apply it to your life in your home country. You may decide to adopt certain host culture characteristics or habits into your daily life. You will begin to think about how to apply what you’ve learned both academically and professionally.
Summarized from “Back in the USA: Reflecting on your study abroad experience and putting it to good work,” by Dawn Kepets
Common re-entry challenges and how to handle them:
After being abroad where a daily task was an exciting challenge and where you were meeting so many new people, returning to the comfortable routines of home may seem boring. However, with your new international experience and language ability, you can seek out new outlets to channel your interests – new friends, clubs, activities, etc.
“No one wants to hear”
Upon return, you may want to talk non-stop about your time abroad only to find that people don’t seem that interested. Or you feel frustrated that people ask, “How was it,” as if there is a simple answer to that question. Frequently, people who haven’t had an international experience will have a hard time relating to yours and may lose interest once they hear the highlights of your time abroad. You should seek out other study abroad returnees because they will be more receptive to listening to all the details about your time abroad and will have stories to share as well. When discussing your time abroad with less receptive audiences, remember to keep your stories brief and interesting. This is called the elevator speech – when you can answer “How was it?” in the time it normally takes to ride in an elevator.
It’s hard to explain
You experienced so much while abroad that it may be difficult to accurately explain all the feelings you had or describe all the sights you saw. You may feel that you can’t get people to understand it. This is a good time to talk to other study abroad returnees. Also, journaling or scrap booking may help you better articulate and express what you went through.
If you made good friends and grew to love the host culture, it’s only natural that you will miss it upon leaving. Luckily, technology has improved so much that it is easy to keep in touch with your new friends via Email, Skype, telephone, letters, etc. It may help to seek out and befriend people at home who are from your host country.
Relationships have changed
Just as you’ve changed while abroad, people back home have undergone changes while you were gone. You may notice upon return that you relate to people differently than before. Whether positive or negative, this is normal. Handle it with an open mind, patience and not losing sight of why you were close to the person in the first place.
People see wrong changes or misunderstand you
Some people may be upset by changes in your behavior or ideas upon returning to your host country. From holding your fork differently to changes in your musical taste to a new political ideology; some people may fixate negatively on these changes. This negativity is often rooted in feelings of jealousy, inferiority or superiority. This phase normally passes quickly if you are aware of how people react to you and are willing to explain these changes in a way that isn’t boasting or defensive.
Feeling of alienation or seeing home with critical eyes
After experiencing a different culture, you may find yourself critical of some aspects of your home culture. You may see faults all around you and feel very critical, remembering what you liked better about your host culture. Keep these comparisons to yourself and know that you had to go through these same feelings upon arrival to your host culture. In due time, you will gain a more balanced perspective and realize the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures.
Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
You might feel like your newly acquired linguistic, cultural and practical coping skills aren’t relevant at home. While ways to apply them may not be immediately obvious, have patience and you will find ways to use them. Your international office on campus should have resources to help you with this.
Loss/compartmentalization of experience
After getting back into the routine of life at home, you may feel like your experience is slipping away from you and it will become like photos kept in a box that you only take out and look at from time to time. Don’t let this happen. Keep the experience alive by maintaining contact with the friends you made while abroad and sharing your experience with those who can relate to it. Look for ways to apply your new skills.
Adapted from “International Study Transitions: Creating and Leading a Reentry Workshop,” by Alan C. Lerstrom