The Top Ten Immediate Reentry Challenges

There are lots of reasons to look forward to going home, but there are also a number of psychological, social and cultural aspects which can prove difficult—often because they are unanticipated. The following list was generated by interviewing students like you who have been through the experience and survived nicely. However, they say you should take the process seriously by being realistic and thinking about it and your possible reactions. They offer the following thoughts on reentry for your consideration…

1. BOREDOM

After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines can seem very dull.

2. “NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR”

One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences.

3. YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN

Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners.

4. REVERSE “HOMESICKNESS”

Just as you probably missed home for a time at the beginning of your stay overseas, it is natural to experience some “reverse” homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to while abroad. To an extent it can be reduced by writing letters, telephoning, and generally keeping in contact, but feelings of loss are an integral pat of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural part of study abroad.

5. RELATIONSHIPS HAVE CHANGED

It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while you were abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes. Alternatively, you may feel that you have changed a lot and “everything/everyone is the same” at home. That can be disconcerting.

6. PEOPLE SEE THE “WRONG” CHANGES

Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe any “bad” traits to the influence of your time abroad. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority.

7. PEOPLE MISUNDERSTAND

A few people will misinterpret your words and actions in such a way that communication is difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as humor and ways to show affection or establish conversation may not be seen as wit, but aggression or “showing off”.

8. FEELINGS OF ALIENATION/CRITICAL EYES

Sometimes the reality of being back “home” is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image of “home” while you were overseas. When real daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation, see faults in the society you never noticed before or even become quite critical of everyone and everything for a time.

9. INABILITY TO APPLY NEW KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS

Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of social opportunity to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all use all of the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.

10. LOSS/COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF EXPERIENCE

Being home, coupled with the pressures of job, family, and friends, often combine to make returnees worried that somehow they will “lose” the experience; somehow becoming compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen. Maintain your contacts. Talk to people who have experience similar to yours. Practice your skills. Remember and honor the hard work and all of the fun that you had while you were overseas.

Adapted from Dr. Bruce LaBrack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific.

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