Re-entry Adjustment After Returning to the U.S.
When you return from studying abroad, it is very common to go through a period of re-entry adjustment. Coming home from study abroad can be a challenging and difficult time full of confusing feelings, but it can also be the time when you learn the most from your cross-cultural experience.
Why does this happen?
I. Realities vs. expectations
While abroad, many students combat homesickness and culture shock with thoughts of how terrific things will be once they return home. When the return home doesn’t meet those expectations, it can make adjustment harder.
II. Personal changes and growth
Most students returning from an overseas experience feel that they’ve learned a lot, grown as a person, acquired new attitudes and knowledge, etc. Many students come back to the same old thing at home and find that friends, family, and school don’t recognize or appreciate the new you.
III. Becoming ordinary
As international students, many returnees got used to being automatically considered interesting, asked for their opinion as the American, or invited to interesting events, simply because of their status as a foreigner. Students also typically spent their free time doing exciting things (taking weekend trips to other countries, going to festivals and other cultural events, etc.) Coming back to the U.S. and returning to ordinary life and no longer being considered unusual can contribute to feelings of isolation and depression.
IV. Changes at home
While you’re excited about and want to share your experiences from abroad, people here may not seem very interested or are more interested in sharing with you what you missed here at home.
How You Might Feel
There is no standard reaction—your experience, whatever it is, is normal. You may experience disruptions in sleeping or eating habits, fatigue, irritation, problems with concentration (mentally wandering abroad), feelings of isolation, and depression.
Ways to Combat It
First, do not expect to come home to the home you left. Think about all of the changes you’ve gone through during your time abroad and realize that, while they haven’t ventured to a different country, your family and friends have also gone through changes while you’ve been away. Learning to expect a period of adjustment is the first step.
There are many ways to integrate your experience abroad with your life here. Think about some of the ways that you got over culture shock while you were abroad; becoming involved with activities, forming a routine, trying to interact with host-country, international, and other U.S. students. These can also be very helpful ways to re-adjust once you are home.