2.5.1 - Twelve Tips for Welcoming Returnees Home


Twelve Tips for Welcoming Returnees Home


  1. Understand that "reverse culture shock" is a real possibility and learn to recognize its symptoms so you can offer appropriate support to the returnees.

  2. Realize that returning home is often not a predictable process and can be more stressful than either the returnee or you anticipate. Be prepared to offer support long-distance as s/he anticipates coming home and especially after his or her return.

  3. Understand that most returnees are, in some ways, different than they were before they left home. They may initially seem to be "strangers." It is hard to know what their experiences have meant to them and how they have changed. It may be necessary to "renegotiate" your relationship with returnees, but your history together will provide a basis for this process.

  4. Be aware of your own expectations of the returnees. You may wish that they would just "fit back in" but it is more helpful if you avoid forcing the returnees into old roles and relationships. Allow them space and time to readjust and reconnect.

  5. Be conscious of all those things that have changed at home. Help returnees to understand what has taken place both in the society and among friends and family. Even if they have heard about these events, the impact at home may not have been obvious. You have much to tell them and they can tell you how events at home looked from their overseas location.

  6. Avoid criticism, sarcasm, or mockery for seemingly odd patterns of behavior, speech, or new attitudes.

  7. Create opportunities for the returnees to express their opinions, tell their stories, show their pictures. Listen carefully and try to understand the significance of their overseas experiences. Seek to know what is important to them.

  8. Acknowledge that all returnees experience some sense of loss. Strange as it may seem to others, returnees often grieve for what they have left behind. They may be missing overseas friends, a stimulating environment, the feeling of being special, experiencing greater freedoms or responsibilities, or special privileges.

  9. Encourage the returnees to maintain personal and professional contacts with friends and institutions in the former host country(s). They will regret it if they do not.

  10. Offer to mark and celebrate the return of your friend, sibling, or child. Discuss his or her preference for how and when to do so. Be careful of "surprise" parties.

  11. Expect some critical comparisons of culture and lifestyle. Keep your responses neutral. It can increase your chances to learn something important about the returnees and how their world view has changed. Don't take their comments personally.

  12. Make contact with people who have successfully gone through the experience of returning home and refer the returnee to themóit may help both you and the returnee through a difficult period of readaptation.

 © 2001 Adapted by Bruce La Brack and Margaret D. Pusch from a handout originally created by Dr. Peter Stadler, Solothurn, Switzerland, for distribution at the SIETAR Congress, Munich, Germany, 1996.



.. Memories..


One important piece of advice we give those at home is to offer to mark and celebrate the return but discuss preferences for how and when to do so with the person coming home (Item #10). Our advice to you is to decide how you want that event to go and be specific in asking for something you will enjoy.   

The initial period of coming home can be a time of relief, but it can also be a time of anxiety. Often there is too much to do in too short a time. The simple logistics of getting settled in at home or school can be daunting and time consuming. Although you may think about the recent overseas adventure constantly and want to discuss it with anyone willing to listen, eventually the daily reality of home life begins to set in and just keeping up with class and/or work schedules, laundry, friendships, and impending graduation and job searches is difficult enough. The overseas experience can fade over time. 

One common result is the tendency to "shoebox" the experience. This can have two related meanings. One is to literally put your mementos (letters, ticket stubs, photos, brochures, etc.) in a box and put it away to be taken out and looked at when you feel the need to reconnect with or relive your experience. 

The other meaning is to mentally compartmentalize the experience as a completely or largely separate part of your college experience. You might draw upon it at a party as conversation starter or perhaps in an academic setting when it seems relevant, but in general you donít really know how to integrate the experience into your ongoing life so you donít even try. The next section will give you some reasons not to shoebox the experience and suggest ways you can continue to learn from the study abroad sojourn. It will also offer ideas on how to apply the lessons learned abroad to a wide variety of current social, academic, professional, and personal contexts.