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Returning from Abroad

There’s no question that those who study abroad return changed individuals. Your time abroad will likely been an intense mix of meeting new people, adapting to new customs, exploring new places, and learning to see the world through a new lens. After your return, that evolution will continue. Your new perspective will make invaluable contributions to your academic accomplishments and career.

Sometimes, this adjustment back to familiar spaces and faces can be equally as challenging as the adventure of initially going abroad. The Office of International Education offers programs tailored to help you navigate this experience. Each semester, we offer The Return, an experience that encourages you to see UR in new ways with the skills you developed while abroad, in addition to events that bring together students who are returning from abroad with new international students arriving to study at Richmond.

We also encourage all students to talk about their experiences, stay connected to global programs on campus, and not to be shy about seeking out the resources they need to help make their transition back to Richmond as smooth as possible while recognizing the importance of how you’ve grown through your experiences.

Challenges

Believe it or not, coming home can be as difficult an adjustment as going abroad.

While people traveling abroad usually expect “culture shock," many are surprised to experience a similar range of emotions when they return home. 

The ways you coped with adjustments abroad will be useful to you again. Be patient, stay flexible, try to keep your sense of humor, and you will make the adjustments you need to make.

Here’s a list of the challenges commonly faced by returning study abroad participants, and some strategies for coping.

  • Boredom. After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, returning to family, friends, and old routines can seem dull. You can work against this feeling by making as much of an effort to find fun and rewarding experiences at home as you did while abroad.
  • No one wants to hear. No one will be as interested in hearing your stories as you will be in sharing them. Be considerate of people who have only a casual interest; just give them the highlights. Save the full details for those who ask for them.
  • You can't explain. It is very difficult to convey your experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. Remind yourself that you will not always able to understand when other people are passionately fulfilled by their interests or hobbies.
  • Reverse "homesickness." You might feel homesick for the people, places, and things that you grew so fond of while abroad. You can stay in touch with people you left behind, but also be aware that missing things you did and people you met while abroad is an occupational hazard that comes from having had enriching, irreplaceable experiences.
  • Relationships have changed. While your experiences abroad will have changed your ideas and attitudes, people at home who have not had the same experiences will not have the same points of view. It will be less jarring to your relationships with your family and your pre-travel friends if you introduce the different aspects of the “new you” to them gradually instead of all at once.
  • People see the wrong changes in you. People you knew before you went abroad may ascribe any "bad" traits to your experience abroad. These attitudes may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. This usually passes once they get to know the “new you."
  • Feelings of alienation. When daily life seems less enjoyable or more demanding than you had remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation, to see faults in the society you never noticed before or even to become quite critical of everyone and everything for a while. Remember that even if it was more stimulating in many ways, life in your host country was not perfect, either. In time, you'll regain your cultural balance. 

Parents and your return

The Office of International Education understands that your family’s response can influence the smoothness of your re-entry process, so we have written and sent a letter to them. 

Returning study abroad participants often experience frustration in dealing with parents. You have lived on the other side of the world…learned to speak Afrikaans…learned to cook for yourself…changed flat tires at night in the desert…and they still want you home at 11 p.m.?

Be patient with them. Above all, be mature and responsible so they will (eventually) understand that you have grown from your experience abroad, and so you will not give them any reason to treat you as a child.

Not feeling well? Need to talk?

Some people who are transitioning from one culture to another report a higher-than-average rate of stress-related health issues. This can include headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, difficulty in focusing, trouble in getting along with people, feeling overwhelmed or having a sense of regret about going abroad or returning to UR.

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t deny yourself the services that are available to you as a UR student.

  • Contact CAPS (extension 8119). Their staff includes counselors who specialize in cross-cultural issues.
  • Contact the Student Health Center in the Special Programs Building (extension 8064). Let your physician know that you have just returned from study abroad; this may help with their diagnosis.
  • Remember to have Tuberculosis (TB) testing 8-12 weeks after returning from any country with a high incidence of TB. TB testing is available at the SHC during the academic year.

Please note that both of these offices are closed over the summer and at term breaks; you will need to seek alternate sources of treatment during those times.

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