How to Readjust and How to Go Back: The Connecticut Study Abroad Reentry Conference

Patricia Oprea

They say you only study abroad once. Well, even that’s a slim chance. According to Association of International Educators, only 1.5 percent of students have studied abroad in 2014, and this number is up from the previous year. With foreign institutions often being cheaper than ones the USA, and the ability to live in a foreign culture being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it begs the question, why do so few students study abroad? Perhaps they are hesitant, perhaps they don’t know enough about the process, maybe they don’t have leeway in their scheduling, or possibly, they love their campus, friends, family, city, and a separation would not be ideal.  Then, the students who have studied abroad may think it’s difficult to return, not realizing that going abroad doesn’t have to be just a one-time experience.

The Third Annual CT-Area Study Abroad Reentry Conference was held on February 6 at the University of New Haven, a day packed with speakers and information about the different options of international education.

Any study abroad alumni was invited to attend, whether they had been abroad for one month or one year. The main goal was to demonstrate to students that educational and experiential learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom, nor the country.  Lessons focused on teaching students the “after” of studying abroad.

In Session 1: Unpacking your Study Abroad Experience, a panel of speakers presented on reentry, the process of returning home. This was described as the “reentry worm,” a line from initial excitement of being home, the judgmental stage of finding fault in the old environment, the realization phase of noticing significant changes in oneself, leading down to reverse culture shock, marked by frustration.

This is normal, and it is important to remember that the curve will go up with balanced reintegration, and finding ways to cope with reentry. The speakers suggest keeping a journal during this time, reflecting on your experience, and your new perspective upon reentry. If you find daily life less enjoyable, are more bored and frustrated, find yourself making comparisons and wishing you were back, think about these feelings, speak with other study-abroad alumni, and revisit old memories. Why not continue the sense of adventure back at home? Find some new cultural events to explore, meet other internationals, the USA is full of tourists; share your culture with a foreigner. The speakers advise to plan ideas for new civic engagement, academic reintegration, and professional development, to not let experiences get “shoeboxed” away. Find a language partner to practice with, become a tutor for international students, volunteer at a center for immigrants or refugees, become a tour guide for your own city, and of course, research more international opportunities.  Above all, don’t discredit the good in the present moment, and be patient with the adjustment.

In Session II: Going Abroad Again, the panelists spoke of just how many ways it is possible to return to the international environment. They highlighted work and interning abroad. API, CIS, and CEA are known not only for their study-abroad programs, but also for their internships. In fact, API has a 5-month or 10-month paid work program to Colombia to teach English, for only a $400 application fee. There is a monthly stipend, training, and health insurance provided, as well as sources to help you find accommodation in the country. API also has paid program to China for the summer, semester, or year to teach English, including the monthly stipend, housing, training, and health insurance.  The panelists also discuss that there is a possibility to receive government-sponsored grants from the country you teach in, one citing her experience in Austria and with the Austrian government.

Working abroad can include being an Au pair, which is essentially a combination of nanny/babysitter, and language instructor for a local family. Many countries, like Spain, have a high desire for foreigners to teach English. Being an au pair guarantees you room and board, as well as a weekly stipend, plus direct cultural immersion.

The speakers also highlighted graduate schools abroad and awards. Often times, school abroad is cheaper, and can be completed in less time. One panelist, who received his MBA in Ireland, completed his program for $10,000, and all in one year. Some countries, like Germany, offer free tuition for many undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, and many are taught in English. It certainly can be cheaper to receive your degree abroad, it is important to make sure that the degree is something that will be recognized and accepted in the United States. The Boren Scholarship, the Fulbright scholarship, Critical Language Scholarship, and Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, are all fully funded and offer students the opportunity to study and travel outside of the US, either short-term or long-term.

Finally, the panel discussed volunteering abroad and the Peace Corps. The speakers said that many volunteer programs will have program fees, and that short-term volunteering may even do more harm than good.  Volunteering is not for someone to take pictures with the locals, to post status updates, it is to spend as much time as possible in an area and donate your time and talents to the community.  Don’t combine vacation time and philanthropic intent. If you volunteer abroad, make sure it is in an area of interest. If you don’t like children, you’re not going to enjoy an unpaid position in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language.  In terms of volunteering, some places can offer accommodation in exchange for skills.

The day wrapped up with ways to present your experience abroad on a resume, and to potential employers. Including all involvement is valuable, perhaps adding an “International Experience” part of the resume. 73% of interviewers ranked study abroad as important when seeing the resume of a potential candidate; in a highly globalized world, outside experience is more valued than ever!

Anyone interested in studying, working, interning, or volunteering abroad is encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Office in Kaplan 210.