Returning Students

The most emotional part of your study-abroad experience will probably not come, oddly enough, until you leave your host culture and return “home.”  Even though this is a moment you may have longed for while in culture shock, chances are when the moment finally comes, you won’t feel ready; there will be things you haven’t yet seen, people you still want to meet, people you don’t want to leave.  You may not have realized, until you contemplate leaving, just how much you’ve adapted to, and grown comfortable in, the host culture.  All the little things about wherever you are that made it unique and different, from the view to cars to local sounds to the market, will all be sorely missed within a short time (a matter of hours to weeks) of getting off the plane back home.  This leads to a process called “re-entry” that often comes with its own “reverse culture shock.”

You’ll have to readjust to life in America and find ways to deal with this “reverse culture shock.”  The entire process is a challenge not unlike what you went through when you left Williams; in many ways, it’s like entering a culture for the first time, but without the initial period of euphoria and everything being different.  Readjustment challenges usually result from several factors in combination:

-Trying to re-establish yourself in your own culture at the same point at which you left.

-A sense of anger and frustration at feeling you are a stranger in your own country.

-Resentment at having to leave the host country, especially just when you were beginning to feel comfortable there.

What You Can Do

A good starting place to enhance re-adaptation is to use the skills and interests you’ve gained from your experience abroad. Recognizing that it was life changing is important; it’s equally important to recognize the ways in which it has better prepared you for life.  Your growth will continue as you creatively apply what you’ve learned.

The most important thing you can do is to GET INVOLVED! Here’s one person’s top-10 list:

  1. Get involved in the international club, the Davis Center, go to language tables, and meet the foreign-language Teaching Assistants. They’re more than happy to make new friends, especially new friends who know a little about their culture or at least what it’s like to live abroad.
  2. Spend time with people who’ve shared similar experiences. Branch out! Involve yourself with people from lots of different perspectives. Most everyone who’s had study-abroad experiences will have some things in common; and yet, everyone will have their own unique views. These can be fascinating, and you can definitely learn from people who have lived bi-culturally.
  3. Pursue continued language learning. Take additional language courses, go to language tables, visit the Teaching Assistants, check out movies in your host-country’s language, tutor, surf the web for host-country pages, and read books (Sawyer Library’s full of interesting books, including novels, in all kinds of languages).
  4. Assist the International Education and Study Away Office. Participate in campus information sessions and encourage other students to study abroad. The office maintains a list of recent returnees organized by country for prospective students to ask a returnee questions about a country or program; it’s a great way to get a captive audience!
  5. Share your experience by giving presentations to children, students, and adult groups. Contact the International Education and Study Away Office for more suggestions.
  6. Learn more about your host country. In addition to taking language courses, you can take history, political science, literary studies, and other courses that touch on your host country. Build up knowledge by reading newspapers and books, watching films, and perhaps even using your host culture as a jumping -off point for a research project or a thesis.
  7. Investigate international careers. Visit the Career Center at Williams and find out more about the Foreign Service, the Peace Corps, international development agencies, teaching abroad, and any business that might need bilingual employees.  You can also visit the Fellowships Office for information on International Fellowships, such as the Fulbright and the Watson.
  8. Volunteer to work on campus or in the community. Help organizations that support community service and development, especially with immigrants, refugees, or the elderly. Each will make good use of your recently acquired listening and empathy skills and patience. North Adams has many such opportunities — so you can explore, as you did abroad, a whole different world from Williamstown.
  9. Keep in touch with your experience. Write to your overseas friends and keep up-to-date with events in your host country. Send photos and updates to keep your program friends informed about you. Plan a return trip back to your host country, and invite friends to visit you. There’s nothing quite like having our friends from “abroad” in your world back “home.”
  10. Integrate the best of two cultures. Don’t feel like you have to give up one at the expense of another.