3 Awesome Strategies for Supporting Study Abroad Students in Re-entry

Big thanks to Julie L. Parenteau for offering to write about how to use the Re-entry Roadmap workbook with returnees! 

C.S. Lewis once stated that “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” I can’t think of a more positive way to start a book on re-entering your native culture after being gone for an extended period of time.

Home, however you might define it, is never the same. Many people struggle with going back, longing for what they had abroad, but Lewis’s words remind us that looking ahead is far better than dwelling on the past.

One of the best people to guide wayward travelers, study abroad returnees and other global nomads along the re-entry path is Dr. Cate Brubaker. Why? Not only is Cate an incredibly creative, friendly and vibrant person, but she has made it her mission to help returnees reframe their overseas experience into the foundation for an amazing global life at home.

Filled with exercises and reflection questions, The Re-Entry Roadmap can be adapted to fit most any individual or group of returnees, but I think is particularly useful for study abroad students. Let me tell you a bit about how you might implement these activities on your university campus.

Strategy #1: Identify Effective Coping Strategies To Deal With Life After Returning Home  

Convincing students to take time away from their busy academic and social calendars to reflect on their study abroad experience can be a trying task. However, the importance of taking the time to identify the coping strategies that they are using shouldn’t be overlooked.

For instance, advisors could initiate a conversation on the topic by encouraging students to think about the strategies they use to cope with exams. Do they sleep less? Run more? Eat less/more? Then, using the guide in the Re-entry Roadmap, encourage students to consider how they might be coping with re-entry.

Stopping and reflecting on their feelings in a supportive environment of peers may reveal that they are struggling more than they want to admit while others may be quite content with their adjustment. Whichever the case, be sure to have a support team in place before the meeting so that anyone needing extra help has it.

Strategy #2: Meet The New You Post Study Abroad

It’s impossible to deny that we change as individuals as a result of living in another country, but articulating those differences in ways that make sense to us and those around us is a whole other task. That’s why I would applaud any efforts to inspire students to reacquaint themselves with the image staring back at them in the mirror.

The discovery questions and thinking prompts in the Re-entry Roadmap are ideal for leading this conversation with students. As a former study abroad participant, I know that getting to know the new me on a deeper level would have had a significant impact on my life and may have helped me get where I was going a little faster. Knowing myself better may have also strengthened relationships with family and friends.

Strategy #3: Pinpoint What (and who) is Most Important After Returning From Abroad

The re-entry phase can be a very confusing time period. Many students are uncomfortable in situations they used to find normal and don’t know why. Or they are blind-sided by the fact that they are incredibly annoyed by certain characteristics their friends demonstrate.

In order to help students break down those feelings and determine why they feel the way they do, try the exercise in Re-entry Roadmap. By pinpointing what (and who) is most important to them, students can identify the skills they’ve developed and which relationships are really worth investing the effort to nurture.

But this is not easy to do. Discovering that perhaps the friendship they’ve had since kindergarten is no longer important weighs heavily on students. Such realizations again require sensitivity and support from advisors as well as reflection on the part of the student.  

Continue To Address Reverse Culture Shock in Students Returning From Overseas

Establish follow-up meetings at periodic intervals following re-entry to aid the transition back “home.” Encourage each student to sit down and think through how they currently feel and whether or not the coping strategies they are using to acclimate are in fact, effective. Inspire them to get reacquainted with who they are now and how their experience abroad has shaped them. Review their list of who and what is important to them, asking that “why” question throughout.

Use The Re-Entry Roadmap to help students get to the bottom of their re-entry process because it will open their eyes to many new insights, but will also help prepare them for a life of closing chapters and opening others.

Soon, these students will graduate and will step away from the college scene and move to the professional scene. That, in itself, is scary. But if they have been through this process with an experienced advisor, it’s more likely that they will handle that transition better and make bigger impacts more quickly at their new jobs.

It’s easy to get busy with life and neglect any kind of reflection. Whether you’re a study abroad student, expatriate, international volunteer or global wanderer, re-entry is a time when you should love yourself enough to focus on reflection and check in with yourself on a regular basis.

The Re-Entry Roadmap is the perfect tool to keep you on track—and it’s versatile enough to be used with different types of groups who are confronting other kinds of life transitions as well. So dig down and investigate why you feel the way you do and how you might make this transition better!

Julie Parenteau is an interculturalist of all trades and self-proclaimed AmeRican. By day she teaches and trains expatriates and local employees how to thrive culturally and linguistically in Puerto Rico, while by night she salsa dances her way through half time of the Green Bay Packers games. With more than a decade of experience spanning intercultural training and education, teaching English and Spanish, and helping dozens of expatriates adjust to living in Puerto Rico, Dr. Parenteau knows what it takes to build communication bridges between cultures and engage students and faculty in critical discourse surrounding social justice and diversity and inclusion issues. As Director of Global Perceptions, Dr. Parenteau is committed to designing curriculum and training programs that foster cultural awareness and global citizenship in Puerto Rico and beyond. When she is not hard at work, you can find her working in her garden, playing with her rescue dogs or doing some beachfront reading. Connect with her via Twitter @relocationpr or @drjparenteau.