Hopefully the semester or internship from which you've just returned was a rewarding and challenging one. But here's the kicker: for that experience to bear real fruit personally and professionally, you need to put some work in NOW.
Often students don't realize the full impact of their time abroad until they return home. Sometimes re-entry into the good old U.S. of A. with its exceptionalism, corporate culture and materialism can be tough. Sometimes the depth of things studied or experienced abroad just requires time and processing. Reverse culture shock can be just as intense, all the more so for being rather surprising.
No matter how long you spend abroad, the experience will change you, as life has changed for your family and friends while you were abroad. Not being able to share everything and be understood by the folks you love and who love you can be hard. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your friends. Don't give up!
So what can you do?
Here are some resources to help:
- Take advantage of the events sponsored by the GEO for returners.
- Make use of the Gordon Counseling Center.
- IES ABROAD Re-Entry and Stages of Transition is an informative resource that highlights each stage of study abroad both away and during re-entry.
- Small Planet Studio is a good resource with relatable blogs about re-entry, tips on how to navigate re-entry and resources for if you want to intentionally process your experience abroad and forward launch the "new you."
Know the signs:
Re-entry stress manifests (like culture shock) in many ways. Here are a few examples:
- intolerance toward common U.S. behaviors, attitudes and social practices
- idealization of your host country's people, places, customs, etc.
Looks a lot like culture stress going the other way. Don't be daunted! Feeling this way is natural. The initial euphoria of returning home (to what's familiar) is just getting a reality check: you've changed. You see, understand and interpret differently. The question is what to do with what and how you feel.
Here are some resources:
- Reverse Culture Shock: on the stages and relevant questions to ask, as well as a checklist and resources.
- The IES ABROAD link listed in the section above also has explanations of each stage you might experience upon your return home.
Intervarsity has some really helpful terminology. They identify 3 patterns of behavior:
- Assimilators who slide back into their home culture with every appearance of adjusting well. In reality, they're just not integrating the "abroad" and home experiences, to find a third way.
- Alienators who reject the home culture. In their idealization of the "abroad" culture, they shut down any hope of integrating and moving forward constructively.
- Integrators who recognize and seek to understand the changes in themselves. By seeking to make a third way, between the two cultures, they establish new patterns, new choices and allow their experience abroad to truly transform them.
How to do this? Read over the Growthful re-entry section on Intervarsity's site. Even though they're talking about re-entry after short-term missions trips, their re-entry recommendations are exceptionally practical and relevant.
Aside from the emotional vagaries of re-entry, you want to think about making the most of your semester academically and professionally.
- Meet with your advisor or mentor on campus to discuss opportunities to engage and apply your abroad experience more deliberately in your course of study back at Gordon.
- Meet with Career Services to discuss how you can market your study abroad internship experience. Topics: language proficiency; cross-cultural acumen and sensitivity; tolerance for ambiguity; ability to communicate across cultures; adaptability; problem-solving; newly acquired/developed skills.
- Go to Continuing Benefits of Study Abroad and explore how you can continue to benefit from your international experience and explore new opportunities.