Here are some re-entry tips for parents of students returning from uganda:
What your child/student may experience upon return
Just as your son and daughter missed home after arriving in Uganda, it is natural that they will miss the people, places and things they became accustomed to while studying abroad. . To an extent, writing letters, telephoning, emailing, and generally keeping in contact can reduce this, but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
Inability to articulate
They just can’t explain it. Finding the right words to sum up four months of life changing moments is difficult. Doing it in 30 seconds is nearly impossible. However, students find that most people want just the highlights of their time abroad. How can they tell the most relevant tales of their trip and most exciting growth they experienced? Students find it hard to explain all that they saw, heard, and learned.
No one wants to hear. Although USP warns students during debrief, they are surprised that not many people are interested in hearing about their adventures or seeing their photos. This can be disconcerting and make students feel alienated in their experiences and new perspectives.
Ignorance about what has changed in their absence
Relationships have changed. It is inevitable that when students return that they will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Students are so caught up in their own adventure in Uganda that they do not take time to consider what life changing things are happening to family and friends at home. This is especially difficult for students who have wrongly remembered home or their home campus as utopia. When the reality of home comes into focus, some students may feel let down, especially if home has changed significantly.
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 at home. These annoyances will be relieved with time as students learn to integrate their experiences.
Loss/compartmentalization of experience (“shoeboxing”)
Being home, combined with the pressures of job, school, family, and friends, often conspires to make returnees worried that they might somehow “lose” the experience. Many fear that it will become compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. Where possible, students are encouraged to integrate their overseas experience into ongoing life and activities.
PHASES OF RE-ENTRY
- Initial Euphoria: Students are happy to be home & everyone is glad to see them.
- Irritability and Hostility: After the initial euphoria they may become irritated and hostile towards others for any number of reasons.
- Gradual Adjustment: It may take time for them to readjust to the way life was before their trip.
- Adaptation: They have been changed. Life went on when they were gone and it may take time for your son or daughter to catch up. Give them time; be patient.
What Can You Do to Help?
Acknowledge and Expect Reverse Culture Shock
- Understand that “reverse culture shock” is a real possibility and learn to recognize its symptoms so you can offer appropriate support to your son or daughter.
- 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 your son or daughter anticipates coming home and adjusts to re-entry.
- Understand that most students 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 son or daughter, but your history together will provide a basis for this process.
- Be aware of your own expectations on the returnee. 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.
- Be conscious of all the 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 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.
Affirm and Value Their Experience
- Avoid criticism, sarcasm, or mockery for seemingly odd patterns of behavior, speech, or new attitudes.
- Create (but don’t force) opportunities for the son or daughter to express their opinions, tell their stories and show their pictures. Listen carefully and try to understand the significance of their overseas experiences. Seek to know what is important to them.
- Acknowledge that all returnees experience some sense of loss. Strange as it may seem, students 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.
Help them to integrate their experience into life back home rather than compartmentalizing it.
- Expect some critical comparisons of culture and lifestyle. Keep your responses neutral. This is part of their processing how their experience might be integrated with previous beliefs and actions. It can also increase your chances to learn something important about their experience and how their worldview has changed. Don’t take their comments personally.
- Make contact with people who have successfully gone through the experience of returning home and refer your son or daughter to them—it may help both of you through a difficult period of re-adaptation.