"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." --Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Processing Your International Experience
Returning home from fieldwork or a study abroad experience provides you with an excellent opportunity to consider changes in your perspectives on your host culture, your home culture, and yourself. Below are some questions that may assist you in integrating your experience. If you kept a journal while abroad, you may gain some insights into these changes by re-reading your entries:
About the host culture:
- What have I learned while in the host culture(s) that I did not know previously? How has this changed my view of the host culture(s)?
- What was I able to learn about different aspects of the host culture(s) including non-academic areas; for instance, how are children and the elderly treated in the host culture(s)?
- What stereotypes did I have of the host culture(s) before I lived there? Have these changed in any way?
- Did I pick up any new stereotypes or biases? Are they valid?
- If I studied a language, how has that changed my views of the host culture(s)? Is my language study complete or do I need to study it further in order to perfect my language skills and understand the culture?
- What can I do to continue deepening my understanding of the host culture(s)?
About your home culture:
- How have my attitudes about my home culture changed? What has caused these changes?
- By being abroad and able to compare my culture with a different culture(s), what have I learned about the history, values and traditions that make up my home culture?
- What can I do to continue deepening my understanding of my home culture?
- How have I changed during the sojourn abroad? Do I feel more confident, independent or cosmopolitan? How can I express these changes to my friends and family in a non-threatening manner?
- What new skills do I possess? For example: knowledge of a different culture(s), adaptation skills, second-language proficiency, creative problem-solving, tolerance, increased human relations skills, etc.
- In what ways can I apply what I learned abroad for personal, academic or career-related development?
- How have my personal values changed because of my experience?
Handling Reverse Culture Shock
Reentry, or reverse culture shock, is a very common reaction to returning home from time abroad. It can range from feeling that no one understands how you've changed, to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don't have an outlet to pursue new interests that were sparked abroad. As you go through this transition period, you may find the following tips helpful:
- Recognize possible symptoms: restlessness, boredom, depression, uncertainty, confusion, isolation, wanting to be alone, missing the people, places, attitudes or lifestyle of your host country, changes in goals and priorities, negativity or intolerance towards the U.S., including American behavior, attitudes, customs and common social practice.
- The coping skills and strategies that were successful in helping you adjust to your host culture will be just as helpful coming home: get involved, identify a support group of other students, suspend judgment until you understand a situation, keep a journal, and always keep a sense of humor.
- You may recognize that many of your values and beliefs have changed. Learn to incorporate new and meaningful values and beliefs in your life.
- Understand that your friendships and relationships might change as a result of your new experiences. Explore new places and people with whom you can share your international experiences.
- Find ways to take care of yourself and ease into your surroundings.