Participants complete program evaluations at the end of each program. Check with a Study Abroad advisor for details about the Faculty Director's role in this, as the process generally takes place while students are still in-country.
Many students are unprepared for the shock of their return home. They expect the transition to be easy, since they will again be using their native language, and they already know the spoken and unspoken cultural rules of their home country. In fact, the shock of reentry can be even more jarring than the initial shock of arrival and adaptation overseas, precisely because it is so unexpected. Here is how a former UI study abroad participant described her “reverse culture shock.” Her experience is quite typical:
Returning to America can be a disturbing mixture of pleasure and pain. Pleasure because you are returning to all you love in the States, and pain at leaving all you have grown to love in your host country. Unfortunately, leaving a new home, new friends, and a new culture you have grown accustomed to, makes returning to the States quite a bit more complicate than stepping off the plane.
People students were close with when they left, even those they kept in good contact with, will be separated from them by the unique experiences they have had in each other’s absence. However, this separation is certainly not permanent, and new experiences can make for some very interesting conversation. Students should keep in mind that since both parties have changed, they won’t necessarily interact in the same way.
Sharing experiences from abroad
Since only the student has had the experience, there is no possible way that anyone can fully understand what she or he has gone through. While people will be interested in what the student did abroad, nobody will be quite as interested as the students themselves— despite their amazing storytelling skills.
Fitting the student's new life into the old one can be frustrating. Since every country has a unique approach to life, it can be difficult if one is used to operating within a cultural mode, or have made that approach to life a part of oneself, to return to the U.S. where the rules are different. It’s easy to become frustrated with aspects of U.S. culture that no longer make sense. Students should try to keep things in perspective, bearing in mind that every country has its flaws and its strengths. The student should also be prepared to return to all those little trials that were left behind.
For the student, returning home is wonderful in so many ways. They can talk to family and friends without a phenomenal fee, eat at their favorite restaurant, sleep in their own bed, and whatever else they were looking forward to doing. However, there is always the danger of falling victim to the “grass is greener syndrome.”
Just as it is possible to dramatize the glory of the return home, it is also possible upon return home to over-romanticize the experience abroad. Life is never cookie cutter perfect. Home is not the impenetrable haven of memory, and life would still not be flawless if the student were still abroad.
A few things might make re-entry a little easier: talking to others who have studied abroad, keeping in touch with friends met abroad, using the emotional momentum to continue cultural interactions (check out on-campus groups like Friends of International Students), and being patient with oneself and others. Students can savor the rare privilege of having two ‘homes’!