Although maybe not as obvious, preparing to return, and actually returning home are just as important as preparing to go. By anticipating social, psychological, and cultural challenges prior to returning, you can make a plan to address them and minimise their impact. Remember – you have already been through a similar transition in the first few weeks of your program, so you have some experience to help guide you!
Content in the first 3 sections has been adapted from the Online Cultural Training Resource for Study Abroad "What's Up With Culture" by University of the Pacific, which includes additional tips for re-entry.
Take the time to say goodbye. Depending on how long you have been abroad, what were once the new and unfamiliar sights and customs of your host culture may have become routine by the time your program comes to an end. Whether it is by sharing contact details with your new friends, writing down your memories while they are still fresh, or taking a photo of things, places, and people that are important to you, take a moment to plan how you will remember and connect back to your experience when you are back in your home country. You may have shared some of this on social media already – consider how you will retain and access your posts in the future (perhaps when you are a lot older, even!).
You should also attempt to understand if your host culture has specific ways to say goodbye. For example, in some cultures distributing small gifts to those you are leaving is appropriate, while in others this would not be the case. This can be difficult in cultures where norms are not explicitly identified. Doing the culturally sensitive thing is likely to be greatly appreciated and remembered by those you are leaving.
The longer you leave it before you reflect on your experience, the greater the likelihood is of your memories fading or becoming exaggerated. You may wish to consider the following questions and writing down some answers before you leave.
- What were the things you enjoyed most about studying abroad? What were the things you enjoyed least?
- What have you most missed about Queen’s and Canada/your home country? What have you not missed?
- What was the greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
When you are abroad, images of home life can become idealized or romanticised. It is easy to forget or minimize the problems or issues that once were sources of stress in your everyday life. Re-encountering them can be disconcerting.
At the same time, there will have been changes at home. However major or subtle, things will likely be different. You, the people around you, and your culture will have changed. Sometimes this is obvious and immediately observable, sometimes it is “hidden” and only comes out under certain circumstances-which are usually unpredictable and therefore unsettling.
You will also likely experience reverse culture shock, and it’s also likely that many people in your home culture will be unfamiliar with this concept. Upon re-entry the pressure to conform quickly and substantially can be intense and tolerance can be in short supply.
And so, although there are often always lots of reasons for looking forward to going home, re-entry into your home culture can seem both as challenging and as frustrating as living overseas. Contrary to the expectation that going "home" is a simple matter of resuming your earlier routines and re-establishing prior relationships, re-entry has its own set of special social and psychological adjustments.
While the onset of culture shock abroad usually takes many weeks or even months, reverse culture shock can take hold within hours of arriving home. There are many contributing factors that might intensify and accelerate the process during re-entry.
Whether you are heading into the world of work or planning further study, your study abroad or international experience can propel your application to the front of the line. However, do you know how to articulate your experience so that you stand out from your competition?
The Experiential Learning Hub offers student reflection workshops that will help you think more broadly about your experience and its applications, and how you can use the skills you have developed in the future.
Take part in the Re-Entry Session for Students Returning from an International Experience. Come and share your experience with other returnees, learn how to deal with reverse culture shock, and how to keep that intercultural experience alive. Details of this session are released each Fall.
For returning Queen's students that are able to do so, there is a wide range of opportunities to further your international experience while at Queen’s. You may choose to be a peer adviser for students interested in applying for exchange or an international buddy to new students arriving from all over the world. Many opportunities are offered by the Arts & Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) and the IPO.
If you are an exchange student leaving Queen's your home university may offer similar opportunities.
The IPO typically advertises for one paid work-study student to work for one or two semesters, with preference going to students who have been on an exchange or study abroad program, including BISC and departmental programs. Returning students will be emailed before or at the start of the Fall semester. Full details of the work-study scheme are available through Student Awards. We also run Exchange Connect! which is an opportunity for prospective exchange students to meet with both students who have been overseas on exchange and students who are currently at Queen's on exchange. Returning exchange students will be emailed with details of this volunteer opportunity.
The IPO also recruits volunteers for the Peer Advising Program, which is designed to give returning students an opportunity to pass on their knowledge and experience to students interested in applying for exchange.
Founded in 2008, the ASUS (Arts and Science Undergraduate Society) Exchange Buddies Program offers Queen’s students the chance to pair up with students arriving to Queen’s from all over the world. More information about this program can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. ASUS also looks for student leaders to participate in NEWTS week.
Volunteer opportunities at QUIC allows you to form new friendships and share your international knowledge and experience. A detailed description of volunteer opportunities with QUIC can be found on the QUIC website, but include:
- Country representative program
- English Language
- Support International Resource Library
- Pre-departure orientation sessions
- Volunteer hosts
- Photo contest
Returning home can be stressful and we encourage you to access counselling if you think may need it - see Student Wellness Services for available services. You may also be interested in connecting specifically with one of the counsellors identified below:
Dr Arunima Khanna, Psychologist, Cross Cultural Adviser - email@example.com
Dr. Arunima Khanna is a psychologist who provides counselling and therapy to racialized and international students, and training and workshops on multicultural competencies, cultural humility, and issues relating to diversity, equity and anti-racism.
Dr. Khanna is also a good resource for non-QTBIPOC students given her background in cross-cultural advising.
Shannon Gendron, LGBTQ2S+ Counsellor - firstname.lastname@example.org
Shannon works through a feminist, anti-oppressive, intersectional, and trauma-informed framework. She is committed to empowering students in living meaningful, authentic, and self- compassionate lives that are aligned with their values.
Everett Lawrence Adams II Psychologist, MA, EdS, CPsych
E.L. is a clinical and educational psychologist in the Kingston community who provides individual counselling sessions and group support for Black-identified students. E.L. has a contract with Queen's. To book your first session with him, you must contact Susan Daggit in Student Wellness Services