Return hard for abroad students
Jennifer Metz, The Observer
Issue date: 1/30/07
culture shock affects some as they re-adjust to campus life
For students who study abroad, returning to the
familiar campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's means seeing old friends and
professors and walking familiar paths to old classroom buildings. But for some
students, returning from abroad can cause a reverse culture shock and lead to
feelings of alienation and frustration rather than comfort.
To help students deal with the stress of returning to school, the University
Counseling Center offers counseling sessions for returnees, said Staff
Psychologist Dr. Wendy Settle.
"Many times readjustment can be even more challenging that the initial culture
shock when studying abroad, because it can take you by surprise," Settle said.
Re-entry shock begins with disengagement as the mind shifts toward home, then
turns into euphoria as the student gets more excited about going home, Settle
said. The student may feel frustrated and alienated from his peers but can then
begin a gradual readjustment and start to feel less unsettled by his
Claudia Kselman, director of the Office of International Studies (OIS) at Notre
Dame said students should consult the Counseling Center if they experience
severe reverse culture shock that impedes their normal daily functions.
"Otherwise, they should eat and sleep well, exercise, get involved with campus
activities and get together with their friends from the program and others,"
Kselman also advised students to come to OIS returnee sessions organized by
program, where they can talk about their transition back to campus as well as
their semester abroad.
"The staff of [OIS] is happy to talk with returnees individually as well,"
Junior Liz Howard returned this semester from the Notre Dame Toledo program. She
didn't experience reverse culture shock, but said she didn't experience culture
shock to begin with in Spain.
"I had an amazing experience, but it's very comfortable to be back on campus,"
Notre Dame junior Erin O'Shea studied in London
in the fall. She said she attended a London reunion.
"It was nice to see people. It wasn't a formal reception, just a tea party," she
Dr. Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the Center for Women's InterCultural
Leadership at Saint Mary's said most students do experience "at least a little
bit of reverse culture shock upon returning to [the College]."
She strongly encouraged returning students to take advantage of the
opportunities the College provides to process their experience because many feel
a little disconnected from their old friends who have not studied abroad.
"A very few find it deeply stressful emotionally, and these we refer to our
counseling center, who have skills in supporting these students and collaborate
with us in doing so," she said.
Saint Mary's offers a range of programming to support students' re-entry once
they are back. There was a general returnee event to welcome all those returning
to campus and help them make their transition from abroad. Further get-togethers
will be facilitated as desired, Meyer-Lee said.
Readjusting to campus life
One reason for feelings of frustration upon return could be the students'
residence situation. Some returning students aren't able to return to their
dorms and either switch to a different dorm or move off campus.
Howard did not have a problem in securing a room in Cavanaugh Hall upon her
return, but knew people in her program who had to switch dorms or move off
The Notre Dame Office of Residential Life and Housing did not respond to
Observer phone calls on this issue.
At Saint Mary's, all students who wish to live on campus for spring semester
have guaranteed housing, said Meyer-Lee.
"We at Saint Mary's do everything we can to make the logistical aspects of their
transition smooth and welcoming," she said.
Students who study abroad in the fall have the opportunity to pick their own
rooms in advance during the spring housing process and those studying abroad in
the spring are able to participate in the process for next year via proxy,
For students who want an academic opportunity to reflect in-depth on and
articulate their learning while abroad, and how it relates to their education
and intercultural experience, Saint Mary's offers a re-entry course entitled
"Analysis of Study Abroad Learning."
"Many schools have realized recently the importance of integrating this powerful
education experience rather than letting it be sort of a surreal memory in a
vacuum for students, and are interested in starting such courses," Meyer-Lee
The Center for Women's InterCultural Leadership has presented on this course
nationally and written a chapter on it in a book on study abroad curricular
integration. The College is also starting a list serve for interactive
discussions of key issues for this course.
Spirituality after study abroad
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart held a welcome-back liturgy last Tuesday for
all those returning from abroad. O'Shea, a member of the Folk Choir, found it
"[The liturgy] was just another way for abroad students to get back into their
spiritual core here," she said. "The sermon spoke well to the different emotions
you feel when coming back.
It has been hard for her to be away from close friends for so long, but O'Shea
believes her time abroad was a worthwhile experience - one she recommends to
"There's a different dynamic on campus now you have to find your place again it was definitely a transition," O'Shea said. "I don't recognize some of the
faces [on campus]. But I see [new] faces, my friends from abroad. You can't
expect things to."