Office of Global Citizenship

Returning Home

The end of a study abroad experience is a period of mixed emotions. Students who have spent several months in a country likely have adjusted to their host culture, and they may be saddened to leave their new “home.” At the same time, students typically are excited to return to their home culture to see family, classmates and friends. The mixture of emotions alone can lead to a great deal of emotional confusion. In addition, students likely go through a “reverse culture shock” in their re-entry into their family, hometown and college or university.

Although returning home is filled with expectations of familiarity and comfort, the process is more complicated because study abroad is a period of intense personal growth and change. This situation seems to be a case of Heraclitis’s dictum: “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Study abroad changes a student, and the student’s friends and family have grown, too, but not necessarily in compatible ways. What used to seem normal and exciting activities at home or in college may appear mundane or immature after studying abroad. As the student’s worldview changes, family, friends, and classmates may have difficulty adjusting to the returned student, and vice versa. Some people in the returned student’s social network may even resent that the student was able to go abroad while others were left behind. Such tensions can be exacerbated by a returned student’s excitement to recount stories and adventures from the study abroad experience.

As with culture shock when studying abroad, there are no easy fixes but awareness of the adjustment process helps to make sense of the emotional turmoil that a returned student may feel. Coping with reverse culture shock often involves reconciling the confusing feelings of attachment to two (or more) cultures. Maintaining contact with friends in the study abroad site, keeping a journal, and finding ways to incorporate the study abroad experience into life at “home” are all ways to reintegrate. The USA Today has written a very helpful article on strategies for re-entry after studying abroad.

Some of the challenges that students are likely to face when they return from abroad include:

  • difficulty articulating the depth of their experience in short conversation
  • trouble processing their mixed emotions for the culture(s) that they visited and their home culture
  • feeling that they have matured while abroad and their friends have not
  • estrangement from friends and family
  • a sense of a loss of responsibility upon returning home
  • inability to relate their study abroad experience to their course of study at Sewanee

All of the above difficulties are to be expected, and the Office of Global Citizenship seeks to help students successfully re-enter life on campus. The Office is developing short courses to help students address the above issues and to encourage academic and personal reflection on the time spent abroad.

For more information about coping with re-entry, students and families should consult this section.