While adjusting to life abroad may be rough, coming home is often even harder for many students, especially after a life-changing study abroad experience. Here are four strategies that I have used to help students prepare for the difficulties of returning home.
1. Talk about it. This strategy may seem obvious, but is often ignored. Plenty of talk goes into preparing students to go abroad both officially at pre-departure orientation and unofficially as friends and family share in students’ excitement about going abroad. While abroad, there is typically a focus on living in the moment and getting the most out of the experience. The return home often gets lost in all the excitement. Making students aware that reverse culture shock exists will help them cope with what they feel when they return home.
2. Create a change inventory. In addition to raising students’ awareness about the challenges that they may face when returning to their home country, it is also a good idea to encourage them to reflect on how they have changed as a result of their study abroad experience (e.g. Do they see their home country from a different perspective? How has their view of the way people should interact with each other changed? Have they become more adventurous as a result of the experience?) and create an inventory of these changes. This list will be useful to them as they work through returning to their home environments as different people.
3. Decide on a way to maintain contact. In addition to navigating a new identity in the familiar environment of home, students will also need a way to hold on to the experiences that changed them while abroad. Encourage students to decide on a way to maintain contact with the study abroad experience — whether through e-mailing a host family, cooking new foods, or continuing to learn a language — these activities will help students remember that their experiences were real.
4. Life-long learning. Most importantly, it is important to help students view study abroad as the beginning of an adventure and not the end. Integrating study abroad experiences into students’ future plans — how students’ new sense of self and identity fits in with who they will become in their home environment — is essential to a successful study abroad program.