At the end of a study abroad experience, you’re hit with a lot of emotions. Part of you can’t wait to get home and see your friends and family, but part of you just may never want to leave. There are many reasons to look forward to going home, but there are also a number of psychological, social and cultural aspects that can prove difficult – often because they are unanticipated. Check out some of the most frequent challenges that students face after studying abroad:
1. Home is boring!
After all the newness, changes and excitement of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can sometimes seem very dull. It’s natural to miss the stimulation and challenges that come with studying in France, but it’s up to you to find ways to overcome those initial negative reactions. Join a French club, discover new things about your home town or university, and make home new and exciting, too!
2. No One Wants to Hear
Believe it or not, some people won’t be as interested in hearing about your adventures as you will be in sharing those experiences. Be realistic in your expectations of people’s attention spans when describing your experience and be brief.
3. You Can’t Explain
When given a chance to explain your experiences you had abroad, you can tell people about your trip, but it can be difficult make them truly understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It’s okay! Somethings are simply inexplicable. Commiserate with your AUCP classmates, they’ll always get it!
4. Reverse “Homesickness”
Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it’s natural to experience reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to overseas. Feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
5. Relationships Have Changed
It’s inevitable that when you return, some relationships with friends and family will have changed. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting no change to occur is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness and minimal expectations.
6. People See “Wrong” Changes
Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior. They may seem threatened or upset by your new ideas. Be aware of the reactions of those around you; this phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.
7. People Just Don’t Understand
People may misinterpret your words or actions. 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 French language expressions or words into an English conversation might be misinterpreted as boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.
8. Feelings of Alienation
Sometimes, being back at “home” just doesn’t feel the same as before you came to France. Just as you remember the good parts of French culture, try emphasizing the good in your home culture after your return. Know that it may take some time now that you may have different interests that you didn’t have before.
9. Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills
It can be hard to find opportunities to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. Be patient, and use the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.
10. Loss/Compartmentalization of Experience (Shoeboxing)
Being home, coupled with the pressures of job, family, and friends, often makes study abroad alums worried that somehow they will “lose” the experience. Not necessarily! Keep in touch with your French friends; seek out and talk to fellow AUCP alums (en français bien sûr!); practice your cross-cultural skills and continue thinking about intercultural communication; use your newfound language competencies to do better in French class. Keep using your study abroad experience to make your life back home that much more enriching.
(Taken from Module 2.3.4-“Ten Top Challenges” What’s Up With Culture? , School of International Studies, University of the Pacific, Bruce La Brack, ed. (2003), funding by FIPSE, U.S. Department of Education.)
For more on re-entry, check out the New Alumni page, here.