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Adapt & Appreciate

Be Prepared to be an Active Learner

Even after your massive preparatory study on your host culture, you've discovered that it's the actual cultural confrontation when you step into your new environment that brings about the physical and emotional reactions characteristic of "culture shock." Usually, culture shock is caused by the gradual accumulation of anxiety, frustration, and confusion from living in an unfamiliar environment. While not everyone experiences some kind of isolated event or “shock,” everyone does go through some stages of adjustment to their new environment.
Stage 1: Cultural Euphoria
At the start of your study abroad there is an initial excitement about being in a new culture.This is often called the “honeymoon stage.” Everything is new and wonderful, and you are eager to explore it all.
Stage 2: Cultural Confrontation
The initial excitement you felt when you arrived diminishes and the process of cultural adjustment begins.This stage is typically characterized by confusion and frustration and, as such, is the most difficult stage. Your feelings can shift quickly from very positive to very negative.
Stage 3: Cultural Adjustment
This stage represents the transition out of culture shock into significant cultural adjustment. You feel increasingly comfortable and competent in the culture, and these feelings prevail over the times you have felt frustrated or out of place.
Stage 4: Cultural Adaptation
You have reached a stage where you have a great deal of confidence in your ability to communicate and interact effectively.  Navigating your environment is a new skill that you feel comfortable with. You have a deeper understanding of the influence that culture has in people's lives.You have acquired considerable cultural knowledge, but you realize that there is still a vast amount that you still don't know or understand. 

Being an Active Participant in Your Learning

Keep a Journal or Blog
We encourage you to think, reflect, and write about your time abroad.  Writing about this experience will provide you with:
  • Factual events that you witnessed/experienced
  • Your interpretations of your experiences abroad
  • A creative outlet for what you're experiencing and interpreting
  • A summary of what you have learned
  • Connections between your experiences and your academic interests and work/life choices
  • A good way to share your experiences with your friends and family when you return to the States
Learn on-site during your program:
  • Note how you feel about the experience 
  • Identify the skills you are developing

Reflect on what you have learned:
  • Compare what you had expected with what you actually did
  • Identify your impressions of your international experience
  • Consider how your semester abroad can lead to other opportunities

Coming Home: Readjustment

You′ve been focused on the journey, but returning home is often an equally challenging experience.To make the most of your international education, learn what to expect after your travels.

10 Immediate Re-Entry Challenges

1. Boredom. After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges that characterize study in a foreign country, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome negative reactions.

2. “No One Wants to Hear.” One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else.

3. You Can’t Explain. Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is unlikely that you'll be able to convey them to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your trip, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way.

4. Reverse Homesickness. Just as you probably missed home for a time after going abroad, it is just as natural to experience “reverse” homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student overseas. To an extent it can be reduced by keeping in touch over Facebook, Skype, writing letters, etc., but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.

5. Changes at Home. It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some changes will have taken place at home: relationships among friends  family may have gone through some changes, people may have moved away, new people will have arrived, etc.  Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes, too. These changes may be positive or negative, but expectation that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.

6. People See the “Wrong” Changes. Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe any “bad” traits to the influence of your time abroad. The incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimize them it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.

7. People Misunderstand. A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication is difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as humor (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc.) and ways to show affection or establish conversation may not be seen as wit, but aggression or “showing off.” Offers of help in the kitchen can be seen as criticism of food preparation, new clothing styles as provocative or inappropriate, references to your host country or use of a foreign language as boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.

8. Feelings of Alienation/Critical Eyes. Sometimes the reality of being back “home” is not as natural or enjoyable as you remember or hoped it would be. When real daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you had remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation, see faults in the society you never noticed before or even become quite critical of "everyone and everything" for a time. This is no different than when you first left home. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural footing and a balanced perspective.

9. Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills. Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all, use all the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own re-entry.

10. Loss/Compartmentalization of Experience. Being home, coupled with the pressures of school, family and friends, often combine to make returnees worried that somehow they will “lose” the experience, that somehow it will become compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen. Maintain your contacts. Talk to people who have experiences similar to yours. Practice your skills. Remember and honor both your hard work and the fun you had while abroad.
(Grateful acknowledgement is made to Dr. Bruce La Brock from the University of the Pacific for this list).

Reacting to the Changes: Journal or Blog About It!
Returning to your home environment isn’t always easy for a number of reasons, including how much you have changed, how much you understand these changes, and how much your friends and family accept these changes. It’s important to take time to consider what the particular frustrations are for you. Record your reactions to these questions and statements:
  • I know that I’ve changed as a result of my experience because…
  • My friends do seem to understand ________ about me, but they don’t understand _________.
  • My re-entry experience would be better if…
  • Now that I am home, I worry most about…
  • The one thing I have learned about myself is…
  • I wish I could explain to my family and friends that…