Faculty & Staff
Health & Safety
Incoming Exchange Students
Practical Advise -- In the Host Country
The important thing to remember is to be supportive, patient and a good listener. Here are some additional suggestions for the time that your friend or family member is abroad:
Be prepared to receive phone calls and letters from participants expressing either great excitement or complaints and frustration about the host country. Take these feelings seriously; show support for the new experience and empathy for the difficult challenges. Please keep in mind that participants may not call home immediately as it may be too inconvenient, complex, or difficult. Also remember that there is a tendency for participants abroad to call or write home when things are not going well and not to call or write when things are going fine.
During a stressful telephone call, constructive advice can emphasize adaptability, a sense of humor, and a lot of common sense. Encourage participants to allow time to become accustomed to the cultural differences. It may help to remind them about the cultural adjustment curve to validate their feelings, while at the same time encouraging them to think about the positive things they have learned about the new culture.
The encouragement and support of friends and family at home is a powerful tool in the adjustment process. Of course, remember to take participants’ needs and concerns seriously and be on the lookout for problems that may indicate that a participant is experiencing more than culture shock such as, severe depression, drastic changes in eating habits, excessive drinking, self-isolating. If you are concerned about the safety and well-being of a participant, please to contact the International Education Office.
Encourage your friend or family member to write down experiences and feelings in a journal. Keeping a journal has two major benefits: 1) writing about the experience can help the participant understand what is happening and the feelings taking place and 2) past journal entries provide a means of documenting experiences as well as an interesting way to identify what has been learned.
Save correspondence from participants. Letters and post-cards also function as documentation of experiences and participants may want to look back on them upon return home.
“My year abroad was a great adventure. It became a 24-hour-a-day obsession to take advantage of where I was, the time I had, and the people with whom I lived.
I had never been so continuously stimulated intellectually and personally. It was a let down to return home.”
Personal growth, new insights into our own culture, deep connections with people abroad, a new understanding of the issues facing our changing world, and new language skills are just a few of the changes noted by returning participants. In some cases, the academic experience provides a new perspective on academic or career goals. As a result, participants may question or change their own long-term pursuits.
“I think that some people feel intimidated because they don’t understand the experiences I’ve had. They don’t know where I’m coming from and can’t grasp how it would be to live somewhere else”
Participants have returned from an unusual social experience. They will have adapted to a different way of life and may find it difficult to fit back into the former expected roles. Sometimes returning participants want everyone to share in their newfound knowledge and to adapt as they have to new ways. They may also find little in common with old friends and find it difficult to communicate effectively because friends and family have not shared their experience. The people who knew the participant before the study abroad experience may also be unprepared for the changes in the participant’s values, attitudes and lifestyle.
“I was so much more critical of things that are considered “normal” in the US once I had adapted to another culture that did things differently. When I was overseas, I ate differently, I looked at time differently, I socialized and studied differently. Once I arrived in America, I felt as though I really didn’t have a ”home culture” anymore”
People generally take their country and its culture for granted until they go abroad. While abroad, differences in beliefs, customs, resources, and values become apparent. Out of necessity, participants adjust. Once they have returned home, their new awareness may give them critical insights. They may unconsciously accept the conveniences they missed while abroad yet, at the same time, be sharply critical of practices that they once took for granted. They look at the US with new eyes and may be critical of such things as the amount of waste, the emphasis on productivity rather than relationships, and the importance of efficient use of time. Their home culture, from social conditions to mass media, may no longer be entirely to their liking. Political changes, economic developments, and even fads in fashion and music that they may have missed may make them feel like a stranger in their home country. They may even feel awkward speaking English again if they developed other language skills abroad.